October 12, 2013

Is Asterix and Obelix anti-American propaganda?

As a kid, I loved the Asterix and Obelix comics. I grew up on them, like most of my friends here in France, reading them whenever I could. Teachers even encouraged them for their historic accuracy (It captures Gaulle/Roman times very well, excepting the magic potion parts). So I was shocked to hear what the entire story actually "meant"... and more shocked once I realized it was completely true.

For those of you who don't know Asterix and Obelix, I recommend you pick up a book and read it right now. It's alright, this post will still be here when you come back. Take you time.

You read one? Good!
The basic premise is that all of Gaulle is invaded by the Romans, except for one little village, which manages to resist oppression thanks to a "magic potion" from their druid, which basically makes them invincible. It increases their speed, strength, and makes them practically invulnerable to anything the Romans throw at them.
There are no real French superhero comics, but one can argue that Asterix and Obelix are Super Heroes in their own right, even without capes or secret identities and so on.
And let's not forget the detailed inner workings of the Roman military force, the original city names of famous french towns, the Gaulle and ROman religious beliefs, dates and facts about famous battles and victories? These are places kids are seeing everyday, without realizing that history has been made where they stood. It's no wonder kids love "L'antiquité", or the age of antiquity, the age of Romans and greeks; you see it everywhere around them. And Asterix and Obelix bring that history to life - along with superpowered underdogs.
It's a story about friendship, and teamwork. Working together, the small village manages to remain Gaulle, and don't give into the Romans.  Just as France doesn't give into American influence and increasing globalization.

Wait, What?

Thin about it: Gaulle, the traditional, down to earth nation of hard working people. And the Roman empire is the modern, western civilization, which conquers and spreads its people and culture far and wide. We always see the Roman empire as being something grand and majestic, educated, civilized - but it invaded and erased many cultures they found to be lesser than they.
When the first Asterix and Obelix came out, in 1961, France was still recovering from the second world war. During this time, though, America was strong, a leading superpower in the world. Baby Boomer teens were buying american products left and right: listening to their music, watching American films, dressing in American jeans... It was almost an American invasion. America was involved with everything, from the victory, to the ERP (Marshall Plan), even pushing for the creation of what would soon become the European union.

But France is a proud country. Even today, even as we see large TNCs taking their steps into the Nation, as we see French traditions becoming mere tourist attractions, there are people taking a stand agains this loss of national identity. Taking a stand against globalization. And, most importantly, taking a stand against American influence.

You see the connections now?

France is the small Gaulle village, resistance the advance of the Roman invasion, or the American influence, by use of their magic potion, their sense of national identity. The comic book depicts a struggle between the little guys who don't want their country lost. Many of the books depict this. In Asterix's Tour of Galle, Asterix shows the Romans what for by bringing them the best of each region and using the country's strong heritage to his favor. In another (more modern by Asterix and Obelix standards), the "Domain of the Gods", The Romans build luxury apartments near the village in an attempt to reduce them to tourist attractions and slowly take over their culture by introducing the roman goods. Wow, this looks very familiar.

France fears globalization because it fear losing its identity. It fears how American influence will make them forget their country's heritage. How traditional processes are being changes for modern ones for money. It sees itself as fighting a battle for their home.  Just like Asterix and Obelix.

So maybe they are superheroes, in a way. I sure respect them.


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