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Babar the Elephant and so called Political Correctness

The term “Political Correctness” is seemingly always used pejoratively by the right wing gutter press and is usually followed by the words “gone mad”.  We are then regaled with a completely exaggerated, or even made up story about how some Labour run Council is oppressing people by stopping them celebrating Easter, or not allowing a nativity play in case it offends (generally) Muslim sensibilities.


The latter example always makes me laugh as, if you check out the Koran, Muslims are expected to believe in the Virgin Birth as literal truth whereas Roman Catholics aside, it’s optional within Christianity.


PC is usually deployed by the right wing brigade to scare people about the Left, and caricature progressive ideas.


But if you think about it, the best example of PC is the Local Government Act 1988 and it’s infamous Clause 28 which stated that teachers should on no account “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship".


So the Law, in best Stalinist terms directs teachers how to influence their pupils. How much more “Politically Correct” can you get?


Ther sheer base offensiveness of the sentiments expressed in Clause 28 sum up how it is the Tories, and not always the Left who want to indulge in thought control, Orwell style.


What it means is that I was meant to make my gay and lesbian pupils feel even more confused and worthless (the most common initial reactions to sexuality issues) by telling them that their feelings and lifestyle choice were beyond the pale? No way.


How many prosecutions resulted from Clause 28? Err, umm precisley none. In some ways that makes it worse, as the Clause was inserted purely for malfeasance. The Nasty Party at it’s best.


Why this preamble?


Because what I am about to relate, to some will constitute that dreaded PC label.


Babar the Elephant. Good old Babar.


He has attracted criticism from philosopher Ariel Dorfman who says, "In imagining the independence of the land of the elephants, Jean de Brunhoff anticipates, more than a decade before history forced Europe to put it into practice, the theory of neocolonialism”.


I can see Dorfman’s point, as the idea is that Babar is “civilised” by contact with Westerners and aims to promote such values in his own Kingdom.


But at the end of the day it’s a kid’s story about elephants, so I’m not going to into all that stuff about banning it and indeed Babar appears in one of Conor’s anthology books, and we have read and enjoyed it.


So, when he spied Babar’s Travels on the shelf at Hull Central Library, we got it down and began to read…


All is going swimmingly until Babar and his Queen, Celeste have balloon accident and end up on a (seemingly) deserted island.


They make camp and settle down for the night.


This is where it starts to get ugly.


Barbar and Celeste are rudely awakened by what the text describes as “wild savages”. Borderline, but what drives the thing into the realms of downright offensiveness is the illustrations, which evoke Boris Johnson’s description of black people as “grinning piccaninies with watermelon smiles”.


Charm less and quite the most witless portrayal of black people that you could conceive.


On the subject of Boris the Buffoon, the word “picaninny” was used by Enoch Powell in his infamous 1968 Rivers of Blood speech, something that Johnson is well aware of. Draw your own conclusions.


I understand that Babar was written in the ‘Thirties and context should be allowed for before we condemn writer Jean de Brunhoff as a racist, but could you imagine a remake of the Dam Busters with the dog’s name (the “N” word) remaining intact? Or how about a re launch for Agatha Christie’s Ten Little N+++++?


This edition of Babar was published by Egmont last year. No excuses. Everyone I have shown it to has been shocked by it, or at least can see how it would be offensive.


I showed the Librarian, who agreed with me and withdrew it from display, but when we went back three days hence, the book was again on the shelves.


Whilst not wanting to become Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells, I feel a letter coming on…


About dermotrathbone

Writer and co author "Through Red Lenses". Activist Unite the Union, Save Our NHS Hull. Fan of Yorkshire County Cricket Club, Hull FC, Munster and Ireland Rugby. Views are mine alone and may not reflect the organisations concerned.


One thought on “Babar the Elephant and so called Political Correctness

  1. Reminds me of TinTin in the Congo – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tintin_in_the_CongoI hope the publishers have simply done a re-print without considering the content and when they realise will withdraw it.Anyway see if they have this in the library –         http://www.amazon.com/Should-Burn-Babar-Childrens-Literature/dp/1565842588

    Posted by Richard | April 7, 2008, 7:44 pm

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