Earlier this week, the New York Times published an article about what to do with racist children’s books. Do we pretend they don’t exist? Use them as a conversation starter to discuss present and historical issues of racism with your children? Ignore the racist parts and hope your kids don’t pick up on them? Well, there’s one book that is too infamous for any of those things, and that book is Hergé’s classic Tintin in the Congo. This book is the source of many a college research paper and is pretty much sidestepped by all parents everywhere because it is just that offensive. There are some books you don’t even need to bother trying to ban because it’s almost universally understood that no children should ever read it. Which is why it’s the perfect candidate for our Tintin Drinking Game! RIP, my liver!
Tintin Volume 2: Tintin in the Congo
In which Tintin goes to Africa and fixes all the black people's problems.
Number of drinks taken: 7,000,000 × Infinity + 1
In the words of Hazel Grace, some infinities are bigger than other infinities. And this is pretty much the biggest infinity I can imagine.
Drinking Game Award: Colonialism
So, I thought I was prepared for how offensive this book would be, based on the horrifying cover and the notorious reputation, but it turns out that nothing could have prepared me for this book. It’s not just the appallingly racist artwork or the general motif of Africans being stupid and lazy. The overall pro-colonialist theme is way more disturbing than just mere racism. Tintin just barrels in, shits on absolutely everything, and in return, is worshiped like the fucking mesiah by the native Congolese people. Awesome.
Captain Haddock and Inspectors Thom(p)son aren’t even in this book, so offensiveness is really the only thing factoring into this round of drinking.
Jesus. Where to even begin.
For reasons that are not clear to me, Tintin goes to the Congo. This is supposedly because he’s a hard-hitting reporter, but I’m pretty sure it was actually so that he could live out his Teddy Roosevelt dreams of killing EVERYTHING, because I didn’t notice him actually reporting on anything during the entire book. Meanwhile, he is directly responsible for the deaths of at least two dozen wild animals, including, but not limited to: 6-10 crocodiles, a herd of antelope, some large pythons, a chimpanzee, an elephant, a buffalo, and a rhinoceros which he killed by drilling a hole into its back, sticking in a stick of dynamite, and blowing it up. No really, this actually happens in the book. I don’t fucking know.
Anyway, Tintin and his trusty dog Snowy head to the Congo, and... not much happens. I mean, plenty of stuff happens, but none of it seems related or interesting. Basically this is a book composed of subplots. Snowy keeps getting into hilarious scrapes and needs to be rescued constantly (the first 15% of the book is devoted to him getting into a fight with a parrot on a boat). Meanwhile, Tintin hires a Congolese servant named Coco who looks like a monkey and is also the most useless human on the planet. I don’t even know why he’s there; he doesn’t even drive the car for Tintin. And as Tintin’s off shooting something, Coco hides in the bushes while a white guy steals his car.
Tintin chases the white dude down on foot and ties him up, but he escapes. Then comes my favorite part of the book, where Tintin gets his car stuck on some railroad tracks, hit by a train, and then the train derails. Then he yells at all the people about how lazy they are, forces them to upright the train he just derailed without lifting a damn finger himself, and then tows the train to the nearest village with his car. He is celebrated like a hero and soon all the villagers are worshipping him like a god.
A bunch of more nonsense happens on which I can’t really be bothered to elaborate, but two main things occur systematically: a disgraced witch-doctor tries to discredit and even murder Tintin, who has usurped his position of power in the village as a Wizened White Person, and the thief who tried to steal Tintin’s car keeps trying to murder him in a Wile E. Coyote/Roadrunner type scenario. Eventually the witch-doctor gets caught out in one of his own bad plans and is saved by Tintin, and then he switches teams. The thief gets his comeuppance when he is eaten by crocodiles. It’s also revealed that he is a part of a gang of Chicago mobsters, whom Tintin also round up.
Tintin shoots some more stuff and then heads back to Belgium. The natives are sad forever.
What The Hell Did I Just Read? Or: The Real Deal:
Tintin goes to the Congo and proves that colonialism is great! All the Africans need white people to visit them and fix all their problems! Also, Africans look like monkeys!
Villain Badassery: Pathetic
So in full disclosure, I kind of fell asleep while I was reading the end of this book and had zero interest in re-reading it, so I’m not entirely clear on what happened. But like, what kind of car thief keeps coming back and trying to murder the person they stole from, after they’ve already escaped? One who belongs to a Chicago gang, I guess. This only raises more questions. What are the Chicago mobsters doing in The Congo?
I think the most offensive part is that Hergé couldn’t even be bothered to make the villainous sub-plot in ANY WAY related to the setting. Like, if you’re going to write this racist book about Africa, at least make the Africans the villains. It’s even more insulting that they’re portrayed as too stupid and/or two-dimensional to be the source of any real conflict. He had to import villains from America!
Don’t even get me started on that witch-doctor. His grand plan to screw over Tintin involved dressing up as a leopard while Tintin was out leopard hunting. MAKES LESS THAN NO SENSE.
Comparative Liquorature: Those Little Shot-Sized Packets of Grain Alcohol You Can Buy In Africa
So I have this friend who did the Peace Corps in Malawi, and while he was there, he and his friends invented a drinking game called “Slap Shot.” You take one of those little plastic pouches of liquor, drink it, and then the person next to you slaps you as hard as they can. That’s your chaser, because that is just how bad the alcohol is.
This book is terrible, but not for the reasons everyone usually cites. I mean, don’t get me wrong, those are all horrible too, but I thought for all the infamy I’d at least get a salaciously offensive plot. But no. This book does for racism what Flowers in the Attic did for incest. Which is to say, nothing and everything, because nothing and everything happens all at the same time. It’s really impressive that Hergé managed to create a book so dull that despite being captivatingly offensive, I still fell asleep while reading it, and couldn’t be bothered to go back and check if the villains really were Chicago gangsters, or if I’d just hallucinated that part. If it weren’t for the notoriety, no one would ever read this book. And even with it, no one should ever read this book.