Smurfs: Metaphor for Socialism?
By Chung Ah-young
Several years ago, Internet surfers were struck by an article about one of the most popular kids cartoons, ``The Smurfs,'' which viewed it as a metaphor for socialism. The story was the talk of Internet users at that time.
The writer who brought forth that viewpoint was the Australian author Marc Schmidt. Schmidt has recently published a book ``Secrets of Popular Culture'' in Korean, delving into the hidden messages of popular culture including his analysis of ``The Smurfs.''
He originally wrote the story about ``Socio-Political Themes in the Smurfs'' in 1998,
shortly after he left university.
``At the time, in the late 90s, `discursive analysis' was in vogue in my university's English department. The idea behind discursive analysis, as I understood it, was to analyze a text from a different social `discourse,' or point of view,'' Schmidt said in an email interview with The Korea Times.
He said other discourses could be and were being ignored, such as the feminist point of view, or the gay point of view, or the socialist point of view, to name a few.
``(So) The main effect of trying to do a discursive analysis on 'The Smurfs' was to get me to think deeply about a cartoon. I've been interested in popular culture since those days,'' he said.
The Smurfs, created by Belgian artist Peyo, first aired in the 1980s. He describes the Smurf village as a ``Marxist Utopia,'' because it is self-reliant and the entire collective of all the Smurfs own the land.
He analyzes each character to support his argument, saying Papa Smurf represents Karl Marx. Papa Smurf is not so much the leader of the Smurfs as an equal revered by the others for his age and wisdom. He has a beard, as did Marx, and thus could conceivably be a caricature as well. And lastly, he wears red, which is the traditional color of socialism.
Brainy Smurf could represent Trotsky. He is the only one who comes close to matching Papa's intellect. With his round spectacles, he also looks like a caricature of Trotsky. He is often isolated, ridiculed or even ejected from the village for his ideas. Trotsky was banished from the former Soviet Union.
The book says the Smurfs are all equal; there is no feeling that certain Smurfs are superior or inferior to others because of their work, or level of skill, because ultimately, everyone is first and foremost a Smurf.
But that's not all. The evil wizard Gargomel represents capitalism, he says. It embodies everything bad about capitalism ― greed, ruthlessness and the pursuit of personal gratification.
Gargomel's ginger cat, Azrael, represents the worker in the ruthless, free-market state that is Gargomel's house. He is uncomplaining, or, since he has no voice, like Trade Unions, is metaphorically unable to complain.
``To this day I am not sure whether Peyo consciously intended 'The Smurfs' to be a metaphor for socialism, whether socialist ideas crept in unconsciously, or whether it is all a great big coincidence. I do find it difficult to believe that he did not think about political ideas at all when he created `The Smurfs.' `The Smurfs' is, among other things, about a society; how it is structured and run. That is politics,'' he said.
Schmidt also gives his idea on one of the Koreans' characteristics.
Concerning the hostility to Japan due to past history, he says ``I hate the Japanese,'' sounds a little too close to ``I hate the Jews.''
``We know what happens when you go down the road of hating an entire race of people. We've seen the end of that road, and there are a lot of people still alive who remember it. And we think ― no, we know, that the Holocaust was the worst thing that one group of people has ever done to another group of people, ever, throughout the entire history of human existence,'' the book says.
Schmidt also introduces an analysis on the Korean films like the hit film``Friends'' which he says is the quintessential Korean gangster movie.
``I think the themes of 'chingu' or friends, of brotherhood, betrayal and sentimentality for a past when life was simpler and everyone was friends, before the violence tore the friends apart, is what struck a chord with cinemagoers, and really reflected the spirit of the times of the Sunshine Policy. Kim Dae-Jung's administration did not wish to view North Korea simply as a foreign country or an enemy, but more warmly, as a wayward friend or family member. Thus, I think gangster movies were and are a really good metaphor for the conflicted and unresolved feelings South Koreans have about their Northern brothers and sisters, including attraction, disgust, fear and grudging respect,'' he said.
He also discusses the subject of ``blood purity'' and the power of the classes in ``Harry Potter'' and the change in the concepts on homosexuals through ``Brokeback Mountain'' and ``South Park.'' The book includes the author's illustrations.
Then why does he look for hidden meanings in popular culture? The author says that popular culture is everywhere in developed countries, influencing people, especially children's values and beliefs.
``I think that is why I seem negative about it. A lot of popular culture, especially on the Internet and TV, is trash, like junk food ― fun to indulge in now and then, impossible to live on, and it's wise to know what it's made of before you start consuming it,'' Schmidt said.
The author has lived in Korea for about two and a half years between 2000 and now. He is also working as a cartoonist for ``Egg Story'' and ``Eating Steve.''