Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Reporters without Borders, Explorers on Safari

Did you see the article about the Tin Tin documentary in the New York Times today? Actually, the film is about Herge, Tin Tin's Belgian creator, a journalist who created the comics about a young, adventurous, traveling reporter, and wrote them in the 1930's and 1940's. The documentary, by Anders Ƙstergaard, is showing on PBS's acclaimed, independent POV series. I'll post my review tomorrow.

Strangely, the Times reporter's dry review brought back a flood of childhood memories about the cartoon series. Tin Tin was a fixture in entertainment in my household. At our house, the BBC reigned over NBC, and so for my brother and I, Tin Tin was at the very least on par with Archie, Spiderman, and even Choose Your Own Adventure Books. What memories of Tin Tin's travels! Tin Tin and the Temple of the Sol, Tin Tin in Tibet, Tin Tin in "the Blue Lotus." Everywhere he went on his globetrotting, Tin Tin was accompanied by Snowy (a terrier with the French name "Milou"), the adorable, white-furred, spunky and loyal companion who was ever-at-the-side of his master. Though he was no more than a cartoon, Tin Tin inspired me. I admired him for his courage and dreamed of traveling to the places that he did. By the time I graduated from college, I'd actually made it to a few of them.

But there was the dark side of this comic, one that even at the age of 9 or 10 I vaguely remember being disturbed by. Like the image of Tin Tin, threatened by the man-eating, fire-toting naked savages of the Congo. Herge was an explorer of "exotic" foreign lands, a man who caricatured cultures through his writing. Arguably, he was the worst kind of colonizer, since he'd not even traveled to most of the places he wrote about. And so for me this morning's story suddenly raised all kinds of ambivalent feelings. Here I am, the Brooklyn-based writer of the Global Parish, writing about places and events which open a window into a wider world, countries I have not always been ready or able to dwell in. Finally, after years of denying my inner adventurer, I've been exploring the real possibility of returning overseas to work in the area of human rights reporting. But at the end of the day, really, what makes an intrepid reporter different from a Livingstone explorer, or a travel writer, or worse, a sedentary journalist with a colonialist bent? With no answer in sight, I can only think of poking fun at my own dilemma. So I'll post some funny travel anecdotes later.


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