Fear of a Blue Planet
I hate the Smurfs.
I have always hated the Smurfs.
But Dave, I hear you cry en masse (or at least the 3 of you reading this rant), how can you hate the Smurfs? They’re so cute and lovable. They’re always happy and singing. They’re so perky and enthusiastic and optimistic. How can anyone hate the Smurfs?
Some people (mostly Americans, God love ‘em) look at the Smurfs and they see a dangerous Socialist/Communist conspiracy aimed at poisoning the minds of the West’s children. Sure, Papa Smurf looked a bit like Karl Marx but he looked just as much like Santa Claus and, OK, the Smurfs might live without money, each using their trades and talents for the common good, but these days, is that really such a Socialist principle? Isn’t that the point of Our Fearless Leader’s concept of the Big Society? Aren’t we all supposed to be happily Smurfing away on community projects right now, organising organic social actions, building cooperation and a sense of responsibility in our increasingly fragmented society?
Others look at the Smurfs and see proto-fascists. The Smurfs are after all a homogenous, omni-skinned, almost entirely male society. OK, there was Smurfette but, bar the blue skin, with her luxurious blonde locks, some would argue there was something distinctly Aryan about her. And don’t those white pointy caps they all wear look a little bit like Ku Klux Klan hoods? And there was that whole Black Smurf racial incident. What? You never heard of the Black Smurfs? That was the time one of the Smurfs got bit by a fly, his skin turned black, he went insane and went on a violent rampage, biting other Smurfs and turning them black. Strangely, when they did the cartoon of that particular episode, the Black Smurfs were re-coloured and became the Purple Smurfs, airbrushing the Black Smurfs from Smurf history. Make of that what you will. And didn’t evil wizard Gargamel always look a teeny bit, well, Jewish?
I have always looked at the Smurfs and found them unbearably smug and bland. And I hated them for it. I hated the Smurfs for the hold they had over my little sister who religiously collected the figurines (she was 3). I hated the Smurfs for their constant use of the word Smurf, substituting it in conversation for perfectly good words, rendering language obsolete and unintelligible. Nothing Smurfing matters when everything’s Smurf. I hated their annoying earworm song, burrowing into my skull, into my brain, into my soul. 30+ years later it’s still there, squatting in the dark of my unconscious, waiting, patiently waiting, for the chance to break free and la-la, la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la-la. I hated them for The Smurfs And The Magic Flute, the longest, most painful 74 minutes of life stolen from my childhood.
I’ve had heart surgery that was pleasanter.
I hated them because they’re so relentlessly happy and constantly singing. I’ve always instinctively found them creepy, I was automatically suspicious of them. Why were they so mindlessly happy? What did they have to be so happy about? Was it something they were putting in the Smurf-berries? Then I realised they were happy because they were all the same. As they spoon-fed their tweenage audience a message of conformity, I rebelled.
I hated the fact that they were all the same, defined only by their main character trait. Even as a child, I hated their lack of individuality, their mindless acceptance of Papa Smurf’s totalitarian rule. So what if he’s over 400 years old? Haven’t they ever heard of democracy? Freewill?
I hated their anti-intellectualism. The only characters in the Smurfs that ever even seem to have read a book were Gargamel and Brainy Smurf who’s defined by his glasses and his utter lack of usefulness. Smurf Village, to me, seemed like Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge; a mindless, unquestioning, accepting collective of peasantry. Had the other Smurfs singled out Brainy for wearing spectacles, tortured him and buried him alive in a mud pit, I wouldn’t have been too surprised. And ruling over them like a despot, Papa Smurf, keeping the books under lock and key in his mushroom house along with his potions and spells. Keeping the Smurfs ignorant, docile. Happy.
At some point, my hatred became a fear, almost a phobia. Spotting a Smurf toy in a store would make me shiver, break out in a cold sweat. The theme tune instilled in me an almost Pavlovian response; the opening bars were enough to send me running from a room, battling for control of the remote control. With the imminent release of The Smurfs 3D movie, I knew I had to get a grip, I had to learn to control my irrational fear of the Smurfs, my consuming hatred of the little blue imps. I’m an adult. No matter how irrational and deranged I may be (jury’s still out on that one but bear in mind I have spent in the region of 1700 words whining about a shower of fictional blue people, 3 apples high), I can’t spend the Summer throwing myself into a hedge every time a bus goes past with a Smurfs poster emblazoned along the side. I knew drastic action was required.
When I first heard London’s O2 Arena was hosting Global Smurf Day my first impulse was to be anywhere but London. My second was what a great chance to ridicule Smurfs fans. After all, what kinda weirdoes choose to spend their weekend dressed as Smurfs? To congregate in a concert arena. It was going to be like some kinda Smurf Nuremberg Rally! I should go down there! I could sneak in…I could dress as a Smurf! They’d never know I was a mean-spirited curmudgeon until it was too late, until I’d exposed them in their mindless saccharine inanity. The more I thought about it, the more I realised however, the only way for me to ever be free of the Smurfs was to walk among them. To conquer your fears, you must confront them. Like Colonel Kurtz you must make a friend of horror. Which is how, on Saturday 25th July 2011, the anniversary of the birthday of Smurfs creator Peyo, I came to be one of the 4891 people in 11 cities around the world who painted themselves blue and dressed as a Smurf as part of Global Smurf Day.
And it really wasn’t that bad. Don’t get me wrong; it was horrible. The event itself was exactly what I thought it would be like; the Nuremberg Rallies. If they’d been organised by Pontin’s bluecoats. Too perky Essex girls and camp men with bleached hair singing S Club 7 songs and whipping the crowd into a frenzy of expectation before the 3D trailer and a special message from the film’s Smurfette, Katy Perry. One of the camp men helped me with my make-up as I transformed myself into the grumpiest Smurf in Greenwich. On the Tube on the way there, I saw dozens of wannabee-Smurfs, exclusively adults. They’d woaded up, painting themselves blue, taking time over their costume. People had come from around the world to dress up as a Smurf. I spoke to Japanese Smurfs (not that big a surprise really) but also English Smurfs, Scottish Smurfs, Welsh Smurfs, French Smurfs, German Smurfs. Some lived in London but some had purposefully come from other places, from around the world, to dress as a Smurf, perhaps seeking acceptance, understanding. There were a lot of children but most looked slightly befuddled, slightly shell-shocked. Like they’d been brought there by parents who’d promised a fun day-out then suddenly painted them blue and stuck some 3D glasses on their face. A surprising, nay, a disturbing number of Smurfettes on closer expression proved to be Smurfs. But if you’re going to dress up as a cartoon character, what’s a little gender reassignment between geeks? It’s no weirder than being a Trekkie (or insisting it’s Trekker). Or dressing like Sailor Moon. Hell, some people meet their spouses through cosplay. If you’re a 46-year-old civil servant and you want to dress up like Smurfette, good luck and may your God go with you. I hope you find your Papa Smurf. I heard later Brittney from Glee walked among us dressed as a Smurf but I never saw her. Probably just as well. At the appropriate time we, were herded, corralled, counted, the number of Smurfs added to a global tally. It was horrible. But it really wasn’t as bad as I thought it’d be, hoped it’d be, needed it to be. I even got a certificate out of it.
But nothing prepared me for the O2 itself. I’d never been to the O2 before. A white elephant poised by the Thames, surrounded by the wasteland and detritus that is the shabby end of Greenwich, the O2 is almost like a mythical, promised land from a Tarzan movie, the Elephant’s Graveyard for chavs. I’d never been to a concert or event there but I figured that was what the O2 was for. I never realised that white van men courted there, that chavs brought the family there on a day-out, that it was filled with burger bars, pizza joints, chain pubs, a Harvester, that for some people visiting it was a special treat. I never realised there was a section of society that saw the O2 not as a means to an end but as an end in itself. The kind of people that watch The Only Way Is Essex. The kind of people that appear in The Only Way Is Essex.
Damn the Smurfs, gazing down that chavtastic avenue of tacky high street chain restaurants, I experienced an epiphany. Watching these shaven-headed f***knuckles in polo shirts and Clearasilled oiks who’d been dressed by Burtons sneering at the fans dressed as Smurfs, I had an “I am Spartacus,” moment and knew whose ranks I’d be joining. I was going to dress as a Smurf. I may regret it. Almost immediately probably. But I knew which group I belonged with. Much as I hated and feared the Smurfs, I understood them. The Smurfs fans just wanted to believe in something bigger than themselves. A sense of community. To live in a world that’s essentially nice. That is good. I understand that need, that desire. But to spend a sunny afternoon in a Harvester inside what is, essentially, a big metal tent? Smurf that!