Monday, October 26, 2009

Astérix Lives!

BBC man-in-Paris Hugh Schofield has some critical things to say about Astérix, the comic book hero and plucky symbol of Gaullist resistance. To Schofield and other fans, the indigenous warrior with the drooping mustache and magic potion has been phoning it in since 1977, when writer René Goscinny died.

What's revealing about Schofield's eulogy is the allegory to Franco-Belgian exceptionalism, under siege by a homogenized pax americana. Other critics saw parallels to other struggles--deriving from various French premiers, Corsican separatists, and even the Nazis. But the current foe is a loss of aboriginal identity to more powerful sibling nations. Astérix outwitted his cloddish Roman imperialist foes, and likewise sophisticated Europe sees itself as a bulwark against consumer culture.

But if Astérix is treading water, then what does that say for Europe's self-image? If he falls prey to Hollywood, as have his compatriots Tintin and Blake and Mortimer, then would that be an unpardonable cultural capitulation?

No, it wouldn't. Astérix is another distinctively European phenomenon that has become global. Just look at the comments page on Schofield's story: worldwide fans thrill to his antics in over 100 languages. His fiftieth anniversary is being feted in Angola. Lost amid the accounts of Europe's decline or its identity crisis is the view that the world has become European.