Smurf this! Scholar sees Stalin in comic-book realm

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Just in time for Global Smurfs Day and a Smurfs movie in 3-D comes a little blue book from a French academic that has some fans of the sock-topped comic book characters seeing red.

Antoine Bueno, who lectures at the high-brow Paris Institute of Political Studies, thought he was just having fun when he penned his 177-page analysis of the politics of Smurfland that's just been published in France.

"Smurfs society," writes Bueno by way of hypothesis in his work of spoof scholarship, "is an archetype of a totalitarian utopia" bearing the hallmarks of Stalinism and Nazism.

It's an orderly, harmonious and male-dominated world in which Smurfs eat together, work together, apparently do not own their own homes, and never bicker over money because there is none.

Not only is Papa Smurf "all-powerful and omniscient," writes Bueno, but his white beard gives him a curious resemblance to Josef Stalin or Karl Marx, with the bespectacled Brainy Smurf standing in for Leon Trotsky.

As the Smurfs' sworn enemy, scheming sorcerer Gargamel -- a hunch-backed misanthropic loner with a cat called Azrael -- represents a perennial capitalist threat, in Bueno's opinion.

"I am myself a child of the Smurfs, and I did not take it seriously when I compared Papa Smurf to Stalin," Bueno told AFP.

"I imagined that this analysis of the little world of Smurfs as a totalitarian utopia might amuse readers -- but I never expected the strong reactions that it provoked."

But it did.

"Idiot... fraud... dream-wrecker... opportunist," are some of the one-word broadsides hurled at Bueno on the Internet.

"It's typical of political correctness that sees racism everywhere," groaned one disgruntled Smurf fan, while another said: "How shameful to so gratuitously destroy the stories of our childhood."

"These are sad times when ill is seen everywhere," sighed a third blogger.

Bueno's "The Little Blue Book: A Critical and Political Analysis of Smurf Society" comes as Smurf fans look forward to this summer's 3-D release of "The Smurfs" directed by Raja Gosnell, who notably did the "Scooby Doo" movies.

To promote the film, Sony Pictures is declaring June 25 to be Global Smurfs Day and inviting families to dress up accordingly in hopes of setting a Guinness record for "the greatest number of people dressed as Smurfs".

In April, the 29th Smurf album in French -- "Les Schtroumpfs et l'arbre d'or" (The Smurfs and the Golden Tree) -- was published by Brussels comic book house Le Lombard.

Bueno takes pains to say that his book is by no means a personal critique of Pierre Culliford, who under the pen name Peyo created the Smurfs in the late 1950s in his native Belgium.

Culliford died in 1992 at the age of 64, and his son Thierry Culliford remembers him as apolitical. "At election time, he'd ask my mother: 'Who must I vote for?'" he told the French news magazine L'Express.

Bueno "can peel apart the albums, even if I do not support his interpretation ... so long as he does not attack my father," added Culliford, who oversees the Smurfs brand worldwide.

But as the Parisian scholar points out, the elder Culliford, as a teenager, did personally experience Nazi Germany's harsh occupation of Belgium during World War II.

"A work can channel imagery that an author, in good faith, does not support," Bueno said. "Thus the Smurfs could be more a reflection of the spirit of the times than the mind of their creator."

© 2011 AFP

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