Friday, July 29, 2011

Blue? Or Maybe, Gay?

The above title is a play on words: blue/sad and gay/happy, but it also has a different meaning. As some of you may know, the Smurfs movie opens in theaters today. I remember watching the Smurfs on Saturday morning as a kid, it ran on NBC from 1980-1989, my prime years of watching cartoons. But to be honest, I didn't remember much about them except that they were blue, they substituted the word smurf and various versions of it for other words, and that their nemesis was Gargamel and his cat Azreal. So, being the curious person I am, I looked up the Smurfs on Wikipedia. The article was quite enlightening. From Wikipedia:
The Smurfs (French: Les - Schtroumpfs) is a comic and television franchise centered on a group of small blue fictional creatures called Smurfs, created and first introduced as a series of comic strips by the Belgian cartoonist Peyo (pen name of Pierre Culliford) on October 23, 1958. The original term and the accompanying language came during a meal Peyo was having with his colleague and friend André Franquin in which, having momentarily forgotten the word "salt", Peyo asked him (in French) to pass the schtroumpf. Franquin replied: "Here's the Schtroumpf — when you are done schtroumpfing, schtroumpf it back" and the two spent the rest of that weekend speaking in schtroumpf language. The name was later translated into Dutch as Smurf, which was adopted in English.
Papa Smurf
I had no idea that the Smurfs had been around since 1958. Moreover, I didn't realize some of the odd criticisms that the Smurfs has received. Not only were there allegations of the Smurfs representing a communist utopia, with Papa Smurf (the only one to wear red) as a representation of Karl Marx and Brainy Smurf as representing Leon Trostky. Regarding these accusations, Thierry Culliford, son of Peyo and current head of Studio Peyo, said the accusations were, "between the grotesque and the not serious."

Brainy Smurf
There were other allegations that the Smurfs were homosexual society. Now if you remember the Smurfs, you may ask yourself, what about Smurfette. In the original Belgian versions of The Smurfs, Smurfette did not exist. Hal Erickson said in Television Cartoon Shows: An Illustrated Encyclopedia 1949-1993 that the inclusion of Smurfette was "bowing to merchandising dictates" in order to "appeal to little girl toy consumers." Jeffrey P. Dennis, author of the journal article "The Same Thing We Do Every Night: Signifying Same-Sex Desire in Television Cartoons," said that the inclusion of Smurfette in the cartoon version of The Smurfs was likely to serve as an object of heterosexual desire for the other Smurfs and to end speculation arguing that the Smurfs were homosexual. In a response to Dennis's statements, Martin Goodman of Animation World Network, said that Dennis had not taken into account Erickson's comments about merchandising. Goodman further argued that capturing the young female audience would increase ratings, so the networks were more likely trying to pander to young girls than trying to defuse accusations of homosexuality; Smurfette was the most frequently merchandised of the Smurfs.

Smurfette
After reading about Jeffrey P. Dennis's work, I decided to look into him a little more. Jeffery P. Dennis received his Ph.D. from SUNY Stony Brook in 2001 and is currently an Associate Professor of Sociology, SUNY, College at Oneonta. He is interested in the intersection of deviance and criminology with issues of gender, masculinity, and sexuality, especially the historical representation of deviant youth and bullying, harassment, and delinquency among LGBT youth today. Dr. Dennis is the author of Queering Teen Culture (2006), We Boys Together: Teenagers in Love before Girl-Craziness (2007), and many chapters, articles, and research presentations. However, I wanted to look more closely at his article "The Same Thing We Do Every Night: Signifying Same-Sex Desire in Television Cartoons." Journal of Popular Film & Television. Fall 2003. Volume 31, Issue 3. 132-140.

Though I could not get a look at this article, I did find in Soundscapes—Journal on Media Culture, the article "Queertoons: The Dynamics of Same-Sex Desire in the Animated Cartoon" by Jeffrey P. Dennis, which seems to be remarkably similar, if not the same article under a different name and publication In this article he discusses same-sex relationships in cartoons, though the article is in need of being updated in regards to present-day Fox Network adult-oriented cartoons, such as The Simpsons, American Dad, and Family Guy. The article was quite interesting, but I think he is extrapolating ideas that aren't intentional by the cartoonists. I want to end by quoting what he has to say about the Smurfs:
Vanity Smurf
[J. Marc] Schmidt finds a "homotopia" in The Smurfs (1969-1986), a group of small blue humanoids named after their primary personality characteristics ("Hefty", "Brainy", "Clumsy"), because all but one was male, and because the Smurf named Vanity was a self-absorbed dandy who might be read as a homophobic stereotype. However, male Smurfs never developed exclusive or even close relationships with each other, whereas they often developed goofy crushes on Smurfette. The back story reveals that an evil wizard created Smurfette to introduce discord into the all-male village; more likely the character was introduced specifically to provide an object for the Smurfs' heterosexual desire and defuse conjectures that they might be "really" gay.
Some of these arguments, I find to be quite humorous. People will read so much in a simple cartoon. I remember with G.I. Joe, and a few other cartoons of the same time, having a moral at the end of the show. "Now you know, and knowing is half the battle." I just thought that this was interesting and wanted to share. So what do you think? Were the Smurfs a homosexual/communist utopia? Was Smurfette merely a cover-up, i.e. the smurf's beard?

11 comments:

Mack said...

I think this suggestion about the Smurfs (and Bert and Ernie) is pretty common. I don't think Peyo intended to put in homosocial or marxist overtones, but I can see where people are coming from on that.

Jay M. said...

I wasn't into the Smurfs too much, as I was out of the cartoon watching stage by then, but I remember friends sniggering about them, and their 'gayness".

Now the one I got into was H.R. Pufnstuf, because I had a crush on the human kid Jimmy (Jack Wild), who winds up on Pufnstuf's island with his talking flute called Freddie. (I refreshed my memory from Wikipedia.) He was the same age I was, and I was in love!

Peace <3
Jay

JoeBlow said...

Mack, I think that we try to read more into things than are really there sometimes. Thanks for your comments.

Jay, yes, they were a little gay acting, but then again, most children's shows are. They are meant to be more asexual. I have to admit though that H.R. Pufnstuf always kind of freaked me out. I don't know why, but I think it is like clowns, they were just always a little scary, LOL.

Jay M. said...

Yeah, but Jack Wild caused certain physical reactions in me, even back when I was 11...I sure didn't know why, but I knew!

Peace <3
Jay

JoeBlow said...

Jay, I had several guys in TV that did that to me, but H.R. Pufnstuf was cancelled before I was born, so I never watched it. I just know of it.

Jay M. said...

Youngster!

Jay

JoeBlow said...

LOL, Jay.

mistress maddie said...

Ha! What a great post! I love the smurfs when I was young, watched it every saturday. I would buy they were a gay clan, and I think smurfette was a drag smurf. Since they are all boys, how did a girl smurf show up. I remember the Magic Flute movie they were in, I believe it was a orginal smurf movie, mostly musical!

JoeBlow said...

Thanks, Mistress Maddie. Oh, and the way a girl smurf showed up was that Gargamel created her to fuck with the other smurfs. He thought that a female would cause trouble. Apparently, Papa Smurf turned her into a real smurf with magic--he must have put her in drag, LOL.

Dean Grey said...

JoeBlow!

What a smurf-errific post!

I grew up with 80's cartoons and watched the Smurfs as well.

Including Smurfette for merchandising purposes makes total sense since girls would want to watch the show too.

And if you recall, two little children smurfs were added towards the end of the series (a boy and girl), along with a grandpa-type smurf.

Thanks for this informative post! Brainy Smurf would be proud of you!

-Dean

JoeBlow said...

Thanks, Dean. During the TV series they did add a few more characters, but the comic strip had been around for over thirty years with only male smurfs. I agree with you that I think the others were added for merchandising.