Exegesis of The Smurfs
What’s the deal with the silly smurf names?
In the comic, the smurfs are one-dimensional caricatures of their names. I’m not saying that the comics are poorly written, rather that the plot is carried by anonymous characters and most of the smurfs are not drawn distinctively or named in dialogue. Usually the smurfs are only identifiable when they are saying or doing something which fits a profession or personality, like Handy is carrying a ladder, Brainy is moralizing or Vanity is admiring himself.
But in the cartoon, the smurfs are well-rounded. The cartoon shows the core group of smurfs thinking, reacting and struggling in a variety of situations. It is always apparent which smurf is which because the cartoon tweaked the character models to make the smurfs more visually distinctive and cast excellent, recognizable voice actors that suit each character. Thus, for example, viewers don’t just see Greedy when he’s being “greedy,” but also when he’s going to Gargamel’s castle to rescue another smurf. And many of the same smurfs appear from week to week for practical reasons related to television production. By giving the smurfs an opportunity to respond organically to conflict, the audience comes to understand who the smurfs really are, making the characters multi-dimensional. So Gerard Baldwin, showrunner of the cartoon, might have been a little unfair to himself and the other writers on the show when he said, “With the exception of Papa Smurf they are all one-dimensional characters. Handy is certainly handy and that’s all that he is. Brainy is certainly brainy and that’s all that he is. Vanity is vain and that’s all that he is. Etcetera.”
A few specific examples of how the characters differ beteween the comic and the cartoon might help.
Take Brainy for example. There is nothing in the original French comics that suggests that Brainy is smart, not even his name: in French, he is simply “Schtroumpf à lunettes,” or “Glasses Smurf.” From the beginning in the comic, his defining characteristic is being a brown-noser, i.e., that he curries favor with authority. In the comic where Brainy was introduced, Papa Smurf leaves the village for a while to obtain a magical ingredient. Immediately afterwards, Brainy tries to take charge of the village, arguing that he should be in control because he is Papa Smurf’s assistant. This suggestion causes an uproar, and to resolve the issue, the smurfs decide to hold an election. As you might expect, Brainy loses the election. But he wastes no time in kissing up to the unnamed smurf who won. This characteristic continues in the original Peyo comic stories which followed, where Brainy’s signature characteristic is annoying the other smurfs by lecturing them about what Papa Smurf (or another source of authority) said on a previous occasion or by tattling to Papa Smurf. In other words, in the original comics, Brainy was written as a self-aggrandizing teacher’s pet. He might have absorbed the teachings of Papa Smurf a little better than the other smurfs, but that doesn’t mean he’s smart in the sense of having any wisdom or ideas of his own.
Brainy is still a sycophant in the cartoon, but he’s also a know-it-all, arrogant and overconfident. Brainy imagines himself to be an expert on every topic, but has learned much less from Papa Smurf than he thinks he has. Most of the time, Brainy’s factual assertions are wrong, his attempts at using magic go awry, and he causes problems by meddling in the affairs of others, thinking that he knows better. Brainy shirks work, on account of the special position he thinks he has above the other smurfs, and is quick to make excuses and slow to admit mistakes. His speechifying, including quotations from his innumerable self-published books, annoy the other smurfs. No surprise, Brainy has few friends in the village. The smurf who despises Brainy most of all is Hefty, the village athlete, who unlike Brainy has the skills and strength to back up his confidence. In fact, Brainy’s only friend is Clumsy, who being the stupidest smurf is fooled into thinking Brainy is smart. Brainy holds himself in such high regard that he is oblivious to his lack of friends and takes Clumsy’s friendship for granted.
In both the comic and the cartoon, Handy has a spot-on name: he builds and repairs structures and machines. The comic version of Handy does not have a deeper characterization. In the cartoon, Handy is helpful and well-liked. He has the personality one might expect from an engineer: kind, humble and intelligent, more of a contributor than a leader and sometimes naïve about the consequences of what he builds. In other words, he is “smart” but he is not “wise” in the way that Papa Smurf is. With such a pleasant demeanor it is no surprise that he has a girlfriend, one of only three smurfs to have one.
For the most part Vanity is one-dimensional in both the comic and the cartoon but there is an interesting subtext of homosexuality in the cartoon, discussed below.
As for Smurfette, Peyo himself gave a detailed description of her comic personality, saying that she was intended to be a caricature of human women.
Yvan adds: “Everything was quite simple until the Smurfette had to be defined. Peyo started by saying that she was “very feminine.” He is asked to clarify his thought. Then he continues: “She is pretty, blonde, she has all the characteristics of women...” Knowing the climate of feminism in the US, I translate diplomatically as “all qualities.” I counted on the fact that Peyo did not understand what I said, nor the Americans what he meant. He is obviously asked to say more. He continues: “She seduces, she uses cunning rather than force to achieve her ends. She is unable to tell a joke without revealing the punchline. She is talkative but has only superficial remarks. She constantly causes huge problems for the Smurfs but blames others...” I tried somehow to mitigate the misogynist tone of this description, but one of our interlocutors asked her: “She is still able, when the Smurfs are in danger, to make a decision that will save them?” When I translated this question to Peyo, he looked stunned, ‘What, do they want to make her a gym teacher?’ I obviously did not translate that remark.”
Smurfette fits Peyo’s description to a tiddle in the comic where she is introduced. Gargamel decides to create a smurfette to sow discord among the smurfs. So he creates a smurfette out of clay and brings her to life with magic. But she’s ugly with stringy black hair. (She doesn’t look like the Smurfette we know.) Gargamel leaves her in the forest. The smurfs find her there, crying, helpless and alone, and bring her back to the village. She’s chatty but has nothing interesting to say, and she does not realize how much she annoys the other smurfs. The other smurfs start to bully her about her appearance. Papa Smurf gives her plastic surgery to make her sexy. With her new appearance, the smurfs are no longer bothered by her prattling. In fact they become obsessed with her and cater to her foolish whims. Eventually she asks Poet to open the dam so that she can see what happens. He reluctantly complies, and the village is nearly washed away. After Papa Smurf closes the dam, he demands to know why Poet opened the dam. Poet explains that he did it for Smurfette, causing Papa Smurf to rage at Smurfette, saying that since she arrived, everything has gone wrong. She declares that she will return to Gargamel. The smurfs are shocked; they did not know that Gargamel had created her. The smurfs put her on trial, with Jokey defending her and Brainy prosecuting her. Jokey wins by pointing out that Smurfette only became a disruption after Papa Smurf improved her appearance. But after her acquittal, the other smurfs are still obsessed with her. Smurfette finally realizes the disruption she is causing, so she leaves the village.
(Before moving on to Smurfette’s portrayal in the cartoon, it is worth pointing out three points about the comic book story. First, Papa Smurf shifted his blame from Poet to Smurfette when he learned that Smurfette had asked to see the dam open. It is, he thinks, natural for a man to succumb to the wiles of a woman, and the fault is entirely the woman’s for seducing the man. When a woman riles up a man’s emotions just by being present, the comic implies that logical solution is to send the woman away. And, Jokey defeated Brainy at trial, implying that Brainy is no more clever than other smurfs.)
The cartoon has the same story beats but makes significant changes. In the cartoon, Smurfette has agency and is not oblivious to her effect on the other smurfs. She’s still created by Gargamel, but in this version of the story she is sent as a covert operative to lure the smurfs to him. The smurfs find her crying in the forest and take her back to the village, but her crying is just a ruse. She tries to seduce the smurfs, but her clumsy tactics only alienate the other smurfs. Then she tries sabotaging the dam to flush the smurfs out of the village. She’s caught and put on trial, where she confesses and pleads for mercy. The other smurfs are moved to tears. Smurfette asks to be made into a real smurf and Papa Smurf obliges, with his magical powers. But the transformation also makes her pretty and the male smurfs relentlessly hit on her. She doesn’t feel like she belongs. Later, Gargamel contacts her through a magic mirror and deduces that Papa Smurf has made her good. He asks her to invite all the smurfs to the woods for a celebration to repay them for their kindness. So she takes the smurfs out to where Gargamel is waiting. He captures all the smurfs except her. Smurfette manages to free the other smurfs and finally feels that she belongs. She declares that she is now a real smurf, and unlike in the comic, she stays in the village.
How does the cartoon name the smurfs, if they aren’t one-dimensional stereotypes?
Basically, smurfs are named by other smurfs and don’t get to choose their own names. Even if a smurf’s name is demeaning, he is stuck with it unless he can find a unique quality that would fit a new name. It’s basically the same way that fraternity pledges are nicknamed.
The episode The Fake Smurf suggests that Papa Smurf doesn’t even know all the smurfs’ names, and if he doesn’t recognize a smurf he just invents a nickname on the spot. In this story, the evil sorceress Hogatha transforms herself into a fake smurf and infiltrates the village. When she arrives, the smurfs are all practicing their dancing and she is forced to join them. Of course she does not know the choreography. Papa Smurf scolds Hogatha for dancing poorly, calling her “Snorty Smurf.” (Hogatha has a vocal tic of snorting, which she kept as a smurf.) And then the other smurfs call her Snorty Smurf for the rest of the episode, until she is revealed to be an imposter. To be clear, Hogatha didn’t change herself into a specific smurf, and the other smurfs don’t confuse her for another smurf. They recognize her as a smurf, just one whose name they do not know. Instead of asking for her name, Papa Smurf notices how she snorts, gives her a name and the other smurfs use it.
Gargamel was named twice without consent. He was named “Gargasmurf” in an episode where he shrinks to smurf size but keeps his human form and is allowed to live in the village. He was also named “Nosey Smurf” by Vanity in an episode where he transforms himself into a smurf with a big nose and infiltrates the village. Yet again the smurfs encounter a smurf they don’t know, and instead of asking the smurf’s name, they just make one up and keep using it.
Sassette and Wild were also named without their consent. Painter came up with Sassette’s name while she was still what Papa Smurf called “evil,” so her name reflects her most negative qualities. Wild achieved an extraordinary level of civilization on his own and would probably not pick that name for himself.
According to Papa Smurf, each smurf is, was, and always will be what his name represents. Papa Smurf can hand out a smurfy new name, but only if the new name fits the unique quality that makes the smurf special. A few smurfs changed their names: Dreamy to Astro (temporarily), an unnamed smurf to Reporter, Nobody to Somebody and Timid to Actor. Papa Smurf doesn’t insist that a name be a trenchant description of the smurf: Nobody changed his name to Somebody after discovering that he was good at hiding, Harmony is a terrible musician and Brainy is not as smart as he thinks he is.
Apparently smurfs are not required to change their names if their unique quality changes: Grouchy and Jokey did not change their names when they became happy and serious, respectively.
What was this about gay smurfs?
Is the portrayal of Smurfette as an unmarried female smurf in a community of 100 male smurfs accurate?
While we’re talking about 🐓, is Baby a boy or a girl and is Azrael a tomcat or queen?
Baby’s gender is never stated at any time in the cartoon.
Many people assume Baby is a boy because Baby was delivered by stork and all other smurfs delivered by stork are male. However, Baby was misdelivered to the village; Baby was supposed to go somewhere else, which must logically be another community of smurfs. It is possible that this other community is entirely female or is mixed gender. And more importantly, the writers of the cartoon wrote every line of dialogue to keep Baby’s gender ambiguous through the entire series. It is undeniable that seven years of gender ambiguity is intentional. Therefore, the writers wanted viewers to consider that Baby could be a girl.
In Jokey’s Medicine and A Bell for Azrael, the male pronoun is used for Azrael. Azrael is a tomcat.
While we’re talking about smurf sausage, are the smurfs vegetarian?
It appears most of the smurfs are ovo-lacto vegetarian. Greedy might be pescatarian: he talks about how to prepare snapper in A Fish Called Snappy and eats a fish in The Littlest Viking. Hefty eats a hotdog in King Smurf, maybe for the extra protein.
In the comic “Smurf Soup,” one of the dishes Chef Smurf prepares is not vegetarian (un aspic de pointes d’asperges légèrement schtroumpfé au vin clairet), though the aspic may have been made from fish. (In the cartoon adaptation Soup a la Smurf, the dish is just “cold asparagus tips.”)
Where did the female smurfs come from?
In the cartoon, Smurfette was made by Gargamel with special clay and magic for evil purposes, and then she was changed by Papa Smurf into a real smurf. The same magical process was used to make Sassette, this time by the Smurflings using Gargamel’s formula, and again changed by Papa Smurf into a real smurf. But Nanny’s origin is never revealed. She is too old to have been made by Gargamel, but it is possible that another wizard made her a long time ago. It is also possible that she was delivered by stork, in the same way it is possible that Baby is a girl.
What does Gargamel want to do with the smurfs?
In 112 episodes, Gargamel wants to catch smurfs to eat them. In 25 episodes, Gargamel does not give a reason for wanting to catch smurfs. In 23 episodes, Gargamel plans to eat the smurfs and use them to make gold. In 20 episodes, Gargamel simply wants to destroy the smurfs. In 10 episodes, Gargamel appears but he does not seek the smurfs. In nine episodes, Gargamel wants the smurfs only for making gold. There are four episodes in season 9 where a Gargamel-like character has a sui generis reason for seeking the smurfs, for example to use as bait for a sea serpent. In three episodes Gargamel wants the smurfs to impress other wizards. In two episodes, Gargamel is after the smurfs’ “treasure.” In another episode, Gargamel is after the smurfs’ diamonds and in one he wants the smurfs for test subjects. And in 214 episodes, Gargamel does not appear at all.
Gargamel’s lust for gold is likely just a pretext for his singular desire to catch smurfs: In Flighty’s Plight, Gargamel gives up Balthazar’s gold-making book to get a bag of three smurfs.
Isn’t Star Trek: The Next Generation just a remake of The Smurfs?
The similarities are truly overwhelming.
For starters, both the village and the starship Enterprise are patriarchies led by a bald-headed philosopher king. See The Tallest Smurf to see Papa Smurf bald, and any episode of Star Trek: TNG to see Captain Jean-Luc Picard bald. According to Plato in book five of The Republic, a “philosopher king” is an ideal ruler, who is brave, loves knowledge, renounces ambition, is truthful and wise, is temperate and not covetous. This describes both Papa Smurf and Picard.
|Loves knowledge||Papa Smurf has great learning about the natural world and regularly conducts experiments to expand his knowledge. He shares what he learns with other wizards, see Papa’s Last Spell.||Picard has an intense interest in archaeology and Shakespeare, and other learning as well. For his interest in archaeology, see The Chase, Booby Trap, Bloodlines, Contagion, Samaritan Snare, The Perfect Mate, Rascals, Lessons, Gambit, Part I and Qpid. For his interest in Shakespeare, see Encounter at Farpoint, Hide and Q, The Defector, Ménage à Troi and Time’s Arrow, Part II. Other interests include semantics, literature and art, see Samaritan Snare.|
|Renounces ambition||In Gargamel’s New Job, Papa Smurf refuses an appointment as court magician to Prince Theodore, and in The Good, the Bad and the Smurfy, Papa Smurf refuses a reward from King Argon.||Picard refuses promotion to admiral in Coming of Age. His first officer Command William Riker, who leads in a similar style, likewise refuses promotion in The Icarus Factor and The Best of Both Worlds and mentions in The Arsenal of Freedom that he gave up the chance to command in order to serve under Picard.|
|Truthful||Papa Smurf tells the truth (other than white lies for politeness, for example in A Gift for Papa’s Day) and always encourages the smurfs to tell the truth. For example in Fire-Fighting Smurfs, Snappy is forgiven when he confesses to starting a forest fire. In Smurflings Part III, the smurfs are about to die and yet Papa Smurf and Grandpa honor a promise to save Gargamel’s life, even knowing that Gargamel would not honor the promise if the situation were reversed.||Picard believes that the first duty of every Starfleet officer is to the truth, see The First Duty. In The Pegasus, Picard risks the destruction of the Enterprise to demonstrate to the Romulans that a rogue Federation admiral had developed a cloaking device in violation of the Treaty of Algeron. Riker likewise risked his career to tell Picard that he participated in the testing of the cloaking device as a young officer.|
|Wise||Papa Smurf regularly devises solutions to whatever problem is facing the smurfs; in fact there are few episodes where Papa Smurf does not solve the problem. Papa Smurf always considers the perspective of others, for example understanding that an ugly, ill-tempered imp in Smurf a Mile in My Shoes is deserving of sympathy and deciding that Gargamel’s life is worth saving in For Love of Gargamel. Papa Smurf also considers long-term consequences where other smurfs do not, for example considering resource depletion in Waste Not, Smurf Not and preparing for winter in S-Shivering S-Smurfs.||Picard is a skilled diplomat; as seen in episodes like The Ensigns of Command (where he outmaneuvers an alien race with administrative red tape), Darmok (where he makes first contact with a species despite a language barrier), The Measure of a Man (where he earns Data his right of self-determination), Aquiel (where he forces a Klingon governor to cooperate with a murder investigation) and Unification, Part I (where he wheedles a cloaked vessel from the Klingons). Picard does not act rashly without considering all relevant perspectives. See for example Ethics (where, after Worf is paralyzed, he respects Worf’s choice to commit suicide as well as Worf’s choice to undergo risky surgery to correct the paralysis), Lower Decks (where he gives a young officer a chance to redeem herself where other captains would have pre-judged her) and Silicon Avatar (where he chose to attempt communication with an entity that had destroyed entire planets rather than immediately destroying it).|
|Temperate and not covetous||Though Papa Smurf has absolute control over the village, and has lived hundreds of years longer than most of the other smurfs, he has not acquired more material possessions than the other smurfs; for example, his house is no nicer than any other smurf’s. He lusts after Smurfette, see Romeo and Smurfette, but he almost always refrains from pursuing her.||While powerful, being the captain of the Federation’s flagship, Picard enjoys the rustic life, see All Good Things, Attached and Family, and horseback riding, see Starship Mine. Picard is able to withstand the romantic affections of a metamorph specially adapted to be his perfect mate in The Perfect Mate.|
|Brave||Papa Smurf has sacrificed his life to save the lives of other smurfs. In Handy’s Kite, Papa Smurf offers himself to Balthazar in exchange for the lives of Dreamy, Handy, Clumsy and Brainy. In Baby’s First Word, nearly all the smurfs including Papa Smurf agree to sacrifice themselves to save Baby.||Picard has not hesitated to sacrifice his life for a greater purpose. For example, in Chain of Command, Picard goes on a secret mission into Cardassian territory from which he was not expected to return, and in Chain of Command, Part II, Picard refuses to break under torture. In Unification, Picard goes on a similarly dangerous secret mission to Romulus. In Time Squared, Picard sacrifices himself to an energy vortex in hopes of saving the Enterprise. In Tapestry, Picard chooses to be stabbed in the heart (knowing he would ultimately die from the injuries) rather than live a mediocre life. In Who Watches the Watchers he allows himself to be shot in the chest by an arrow to convince a primitive people that he is not a god. In Shades of Gray, Riker was about to die but continued to crack jokes. He believed that he had to set an example as the first officer of the ship and that facing death is the ultimate test of character.|
“Patriarchy” is based on Greek words meaning “rule by the father,” but a patriarchy is not literally a society ruled by the biological father of his subjects. As Plato explains in Meno 71E, patriarchy means that male leadership is seen as natural in the society due to males’ inherent competence, leaving women for domestic work. In other words, from a modern perspective, a patriarchy is a kind of fake meritocracy. The leaders claim to be the most competent members of society, but in reality they are mostly men who have accumulated power over a lifetime based on political connections, wealth and opportunity. (If they seized power overtly, there would be no illusion of meritocracy.) These men therefore tend to be older. In this fake meritocracy, the leaders claim that the reason they are in power, and women are not, is because they are more competent than the women who might challenge them. Being excluded from men’s power structures, when women in a patriarchy work outside the home, they have caregiving occupations. They are also seen as romantic and sexual objects for powerful men.
The fact that the leader of the smurf village is named “Papa Smurf” by itself suggests that the smurf village is a patriarchy. “Papa” is a title not a literal statement that Papa Smurf is the biological father of any smurf. Papa Smurf is the undisputed authority figure in the village. He is supremely competent, solving the problem facing the smurfs or their friends in almost every episode, even if there is a subordinate smurf with specialized expertise. In Papa for a Day, Papa Smurf intervenes to stop the collapse of an underground cavern. Both Miner and Handy were present but neither prevented or stopped the collapse. And in Papa’s Day Off, despite the efforts of all the other smurfs, Papa Smurf is again the only one who can save the village. Papa Smurf is also the only village physician (e.g., Calling Dr. Smurf) and surgeon (Jokey’s Funny Bone and the comic “La Schtroumpfette”).
The sole adult female smurfs are Nanny and Smurfette. As one might infer from her name, Nanny is a caregiver. She is also the romantic partner of Grandpa. Smurfette performs domestic labor; her only regular job is watering flowers. In fact, she has net negative productivity because there’s a shoe cobbler smurf named Cobbler, whose only customer is Smurfette. Smurfette is depicted as a sex object: always she wears high heels and seems to have a perm, and almost every male smurf (including Papa Smurf) has pursued her romantically at one time or another.
Star Trek: TNG
Star Trek: TNG is the same. In the show, Picard is wiser than other characters, shown for example in Ethics where he is comfortable with Lieutenant Worf’s choice to commit suicide but Riker is not. In Cost of Living, Picard devises a modification to the deflector dish on the spot to destroy an asteroid after a photon torpedo and the tractor beam fail. The Star Trek: TNG movies take the captain’s competence to an extreme, making him better suited to any task than his subordinates. In Star Trek: Insurrection, Picard is able to hear a microscopic difference in the torque sensors. This ability would be more believable for the chief engineer than the ship’s captain. In both Star Trek: Insurrection and Star Trek: Nemesis, Picard takes it upon himself to engage in hand-to-hand combat, even though Worf is younger, stronger, trained in combat and has always wished to die in battle. In Star Trek: First Contact, the Enterprise arrives at the scene of a battle against the Borg where Picard immediately informs the fleet how to destroy the Borg cube. Riker credulously mentions Picard’s “experience” with the Borg, but if it were as simple as knowing where to shoot, surely Picard would have previously told his superiors about the Borg cube’s weak point. This implausible demonstration of expertise is used to burnish Picard’s status as patriarch. In Star Trek: Generations, Kirk makes modifications to the deflector himself, even though he was never shown to have technical expertise in either Star Trek or Star Trek: The Animated Series or the six Star Trek movies.
In Star Trek: TNG, there are three main female characters, Counselor Troi, Lieutenant Yar and Dr. Crusher. Two of them are caregivers and all are romantic objects for superior officers.
As ship’s counselor, Troi is a caregiver, with little competence in the manly arts. She wears a low-cut unitard until midway through season six. According to the book Gene Roddenberry: The Myth and the Man Behind Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry conceived of Troi as “a four-breasted, oversexed hermaphrodite” until D.C. Fontana convinced him otherwise. Troi is the main romantic interest for Commander Riker, and they eventually marry.
Yar’s occupation as chief of security is not a caregiver, but she is regularly depicted as a sex symbol. Even though Yar died before the end of the first season, this was enough time for characters in three different episodes comment on her beauty, the “fully functional” android Lieutenant Commander Data (her superior as the second officer of the Enterprise) to have sex with her and for Yar to suggest to Picard that she would consort with him if he were not her captain. This oversexed characterization is consistent with Gene Roddenberry’s description of Yar in his original draft of the writers’ bible for the show:
Tasha’s (unspecified) Ukrainian descent gives her an unusual quality of conditioned-body beauty that would have flabbergasted males of a few centuries earlier. With fire in her eyes and a muscularly well-developed and very female body, she is capable of pinning most crewmen to the mat—or being just an exciting sensual and intellectual challenge to males who enjoy (win or lose) full equality between the genders. Neither Number One nor Captain Picard is blind to these qualities in Tasha, but she finds it difficult to treat these “saints” as mere mortals.
Crusher is also a caregiver, as chief medical officer. For many years Picard viewed Crusher as a romantic and sexual object, even while she was married to his friend Jack. When Jack suddenly died, Picard resolved never to tell Crusher of his love for her because he felt that Crusher belonged to Jack forever. He did not care that Crusher had feelings for him, too, or as that a young widowed mother, she might have been grateful to have a partner. When Crusher requested a transfer to the Enterprise, as chief medical officer of the Federation’s flagship, Picard tried to stop the transfer by gaslighting her. He was uncomfortable with his feelings for her and did not consider how her career would be damaged by stopping her promotion. Picard confessed this piggish behavior to Crusher years later. Yet she was not angry, because the show lacked the self-awareness to criticize patriarchy. Additionally, while Gates McFadden’s characterization of Crusher is professional and not sexed up, Gene Roddenberry’s described Crusher as a sexual object in his original draft of the writers’ bible for the show:
Although Wes considers his mother as being impossibly “ancient”, a 20th century woman would have to be ten years younger to have this same look. The romantic Picard can not help noticing that Beverly’s natural walk resembles that of a striptease queen—and he found it increasingly difficult to refuse the mother’s request to let her son observe bridge activities.
Picard again treats a woman’s career as disposable to protect his own feelings when he dates the Enterprise’s head of stellar cartography. He makes her choose between becoming a housewife or transferring off his ship, and he faces no criticism within the show for his actions.
Both The Smurfs and Star Trek: TNG feature paternalism, which is where a leader acts as a parent would for a child by restricting the choices of other people, purportedly because those people are incapable of making good decisions for themselves. Paternalism and patriarchy are connected. Patriarchs are not the most qualified to make decisions yet their decisions must be followed under the guise that they know best in order for them to maintain power. This connection is strong in the area of reproductive control. Reproduction is biologically the purview of women and important to society, either because children represent an important resource (e.g., in an agrarian society) or cost. In order for male leaders to justify their control over reproduction decisions, they must make the argument that they are more qualified than women to make those decisions.
Papa Smurf controls the reproduction of female smurfs in the smurf village. Female smurfs are magically created out of clay, full grown and speaking fluent English, and the magic is not difficult. Early on, Smurfette was the only female smurf in the village and she badly wanted another to be her friend. Papa Smurf could have made Smurfette a friend—even ten of them—anytime he wished, but he chooses not to. When the four smurflings take matters into their own hands and make Sassette to be Smurfette’s friend, Papa Smurf punishes them. Evidently, Papa Smurf views the female smurfs as an economic burden (inasmuch as they only do women’s work) or a distraction to the other smurfs. This idea that female smurfs are economically worthless and require little effort to make—compared to male smurfs, which must be delivered by stork and then raised for 150 years, and who are always welcomed into the village when they arrive as adults—comes close to suggesting that female smurf lives are expendable.
Star Trek: TNG
For its part, Star Trek: TNG has the Prime Directive. As stated in the original draft of the writers’ bible for the show:
Starfleet General Order Number One says that we do not have the right to interfere with the natural process of evolution on any planet. We do not have the right to interfere with the culture of the people who live on the planet. We do not have the right to interfere with the natural processes of life.
There are only two possible exceptions to the Prime Directive: 1) When the safety of the starship is jeopardized. 2) When it is absolutely vital to the interests of the Federation.
Any Captain who does find it necessary to violate the Prime Directive had better be ready to present a sound defense of his actions.
On its face, it might seem strange that a policy of non-interference is tantamount to a policy of limiting the choices of other people. For the reasons stated below, the Prime Directive in practice actually amounts to a paternalistic, post-hoc justification for doing what the Federation wants.
A good example is “first contact,” which is when the Federation introduces itself to a planet soon after the planet develops warp drive. In essence, the Federation has unilaterally decided that the right time to tell a planet that its people are not alone in the universe and that they are being watched by powerful extraterrestrials is when the planet develops warp drive. There is no logical reason for the Federation to assume that a planet’s technological development should equal its societal development. Even within the Star Trek universe, this assumption is empirically wrong: the Ferengi have roughly the same technology as the Federation but are more culturally primitive. First contact by itself would obviously have a huge impact on a planet’s society, which would seem to violate the Prime Directive. And continuing contact would exacerbate the problem. Federation ships regularly visit non-Federation planets for trade and information exchange. From real-world history, it is apparent that rapid introduction of technology such as transporters, replicators and weapons would have an immense effect on the planet’s society and not necessarily for the better. The unspoken justification for first contact’s impact on a society seems to be that this impact is a price worth paying for the planet’s technological advancement, or worse, that it’s all right for the society to pay the price for whatever gains the Federation receives from trade and information exchange. In either case, this paternalistic attitude smacks of colonialism. Waiting until a planet has developed warp drive also means that the Federation does not give moral consideration to planets until they have met an arbitrary standard of technological development. The Federation could make first contact at the earliest opportunity and offer its help when a planet is being threatened by disease or famine or natural disaster. Or the Federation could wait until one of the planet’s ships happens to meet a Federation ship in open space, which would respect the planet’s right of self-determination.
There are several other examples in Star Trek: TNG where the Prime Directive is used as a post-hoc justification for whatever Picard (or another authority figure) wants to do, even when the affected society clearly states its wishes to the contrary.
- In Justice, Wesley Crusher commits a capital offense on a planet where the Prime Directive applies. The local lawgiver notes that that there was “a visible transgression, ample witnesses, and an admission of guilt.” However Picard refuses to allow Wesley to be executed for no other reason than he finds the law unjust.
- In First Contact (episode), Picard says that the Federation has developed a policy of infiltrating and spying on pre-warp civilizations before first contact, even though this violation of the Prime Directive is not without consequence when the spying is discovered. Picard defends the spying on the basis that it ”prevent[s] more problems than it create[s].”
- In Symbiosis, Picard encounters a broken down ship traveling between two planets. He is initially willing to repair the ship, at the request of representatives from both planets, until he learns that one planet grows nothing but drugs and receives everything it needs from the other planet in exchange for the drugs. Then for no other reason than his own distaste, Picard changes his mind and decrees that the Prime Directive prevents him from repairing the ship, which will result in the population from the addicted planet overcoming their addiction and destroying the economic arrangement between the two planets.
- In The Outcast, Picard refuses to grant an asylum claim without permission from that person’s government, which is inherently contradictory to how asylum works. Same in The Mind’s Eye. By contrast, in Half a Life and The Defector, Picard does allow an asylum claim despite the lack of permission from that person’s government. This shows that when it comes to asylum, Picard makes decisions to get the outcomes he wants, regardless of the Prime Directive.
- In The Hunted, the Enterprise initially helps a prospective Federation planet (i.e., a non-Federation planet) hunt down a prisoner. Picard learns the prisoner’s life story and deems it tragic. The prisoner escapes the Enterprise and, with several of his comrades, storms the planet’s capital and holds the government at gunpoint. Picard informs the government that he will not rescue them as the issue of the prisoners is an internal matter and the Enterprise flies away. Picard muses that the government is likely to concede to the prisoners’ demands.
- In Star Trek: Insurrection, the Federation Council decides that it is acceptable to move 600 people from a planet of immortality to harvest the immortality for the benefit of the Federation, on the basis that the planet is in Federation space and the 600 people are not indigenous to the planet.
Other plot and concept similarities
Moving past philosopher kings, patriarchy and paternalism, there are numerous other similarities between The Smurfs and Star Trek: TNG. To name a few, in the smurf village and on the Enterprise:
- a lot of plots involve meeting strange new people and their cultures and customs
- plots are frequently resolved by Papa Smurf concocting a potion or saying a spell or by Star Trek technical mumbo jumbo
- there’s a useless token woman (Smurfette, whose unique contribution is watering flowers, and Troi, an empath with no knowledge of science, at least until late in the series)
- money is not used
- there’s very little conflict among the smurfs (other than with Brainy) or Enterprise crew
- the men wear tights
- the main characters are vegetarian
- the show was ruined by young characters (the smurflings and Wesley Crusher, respectively)
- each person pursues self-enrichment and nobody has material needs
- violence is a last resort
- the answer to almost any question is in Papa Smurf’s books or the Enterprise’s computer.
Both shows strongly identify with stoic eudaimonic values. Eudaimonia is the ancient Greek concept of human prosperity. The stoics rejected the idea that eudaimonia comes from physical beauty and wealth and believed that eudaimonia was achieved by (and only by) moral virtue, such as justice, honesty, moderation, simplicity, self-discipline, resolve, fortitude and courage. From the discussion of the “philosopher king” above it is apparent that both shows embody these virtues, and both shows say that these virtues should be maintained in the face of death. In Smurflings Part III, Grandpa says that the smurfs must honor their values, even to an enemy who would not do the same to them, when the smurfs are about to die. In Shades of Gray, Riker was about to die but continued to crack jokes. He believed that he had to set an example as the first officer of the ship and that facing death is the ultimate test of character. Three examples of Picard choosing the right course of action even at personal risk are when he was willing to jeopardize his career to protect Data’s daughter in The Offspring and when was willing to risk the Enterprise to protect an asylum seeker in Half a Life and to expose a violation of the Treaty of Algeron by a rogue Federation admiral in The Pegasus.
There are also pairs of episodes with very similar plots:
- A character is permanently duplicated and the original and duplicate irritate each other (Vanity in The Hundredth Smurf and Riker in Second Chances)
- Allegories about diabolical crack cocaine dealers (Lure of the Orb for The Smurfs and The Game for Star Trek: TNG)
- The robot character (both shows have robot characters) gets a female robot companion (Handy makes Clockwork Smurfette for Clockwork and Data builds Lal)
- The disabled character (both shows have disabled characters) considers getting “fixed” in an episode about dead people (Laconia in Smurfing in Sign Language and Geordi La Forge in Loud as a Whisper)
- Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 is recited (Clumsy in The Smurf Who Could Do No Wrong and Picard in Ménage à Troi)
- A character grows a beard to command respect (Brainy in Symbols of Wisdom and Data in The Schizoid Man)
There are numerous episodes of both shows where sentient beings are treated as slaves or destroyed without a second thought. In The Smurfs they are:
- Smurfette’s Flowers – Papa Smurf prunes a sentient flower against its wishes.
- The Clockwork Smurf – Handy builds Clockwork, a mechanical slave. Clockwork cannot talk but shows emotions and can understand spoken language and do virtually any task a smurf can do.
- Bigmouth’s Friend – after a lengthy discussion at the beginning of the episode about how Clockwork is no mere toy but is a sentient being, Clockwork is sent on a suicide mission to attack a wooden colossus.
- Jokey’s Shadow – Jokey’s shadow becomes sentient from magic pollen, then its sentience is ended because Papa Smurf needs the magic pollen for Mother Nature to bring spring.
- Gargamel’s Dummy – Jokey’s ventriloquist dummy is made sentient by Gargamel, then Jokey takes away its life without hesitation.
- Snappy’s Puppet – Papa Smurf destroys Snappy’s sentient puppet, although this time he gets permission from the puppet first.
- The Gingerbread Smurfs – a great number of sentient gingerbread smurfs are destroyed without hesitation.
- Cut-Up Smurfs – Sassette creates sentient paper dolls. The paper dolls seem to express fear and happiness, are able to play smurfketball, can sense their impending destruction and have a limited ability to speak. Papa Smurf destroys the paper dolls. Strangely, before that, Papa Smurf is willing to risk smurf lives in a rescue mission when the paper dolls are captured by Gargamel. Papa Smurf also creates (and presumably destroys) male paper dolls to help in the rescue.
- Smurfiplication – Papa Smurf destroys five duplicate Brainies in spite of their protest.
- A Maze of Mirrors – Papa Smurf destroys magical duplicates of Vanity.
In the episode The Survivors of Star Trek: TNG, the Enterprise encounters an immortal being of immense power called a Douwd and what appears to be his human wife. Picard knows that the wife had in fact died years before, so he says to her, “I can touch you, Rishon. Hear your voice. Smell your perfume. In every respect you are a real person with your own mind and your own beliefs, but you do not exist.” The Douwd then makes Rishon vanish so that he can speak privately with Picard. After Picard concludes his business with the Douwd, Picard tells him that he is “free to return to the planet and to make Rishon live again.” Thus, Picard tells Rishon that although she is sentient and tangible and a living being, she does not “exist” as far as Picard is concerned because the original Rishon had died, and further, none of the Starfleet officers present are perturbed when the Douwd destroys Rishon. Yet Picard is still pleased at the thought that the Douwd will “make Rishon live again.”
Many holodeck episodes present the same moral problem. There are many holograms which behave so much like a human that it is difficult to understand how they are not themselves considered sentient, for example the Leah Brahms hologram in Booby Trap or the entire hologram Enterprise full of hologram crew members in Ship in a Bottle. The Leah Brahms hologram, for example, behaves exactly as a human, is self-aware that it is a hologram and has control over the real-life Enterprise. Those are the same characteristics which led Picard to conclude that the Moriarty hologram is sentient; the only time that a hologram was held to be sentient in-universe in Star Trek: TNG. That these sentient holograms are programs running on the computer and can be created with only a few sentences of instruction to the ship’s computer raises the question of why the computer itself is not considered sentient. On two occasions the show contemplates whether the ship’s computer is sentient. In the episode establishing Data’s sentience, The Measure of a Man, the question is raised and immediately dismissed. In Emergence, the computer is upgraded to a level where it is considered sentient, but downgrades itself at the end of the episode which removes any in-show ethical quandary.
On a new topic, why was the live-action movie so terrible?
Sony released a live-action movie in 2011 called The Smurfs, starring Neil Patrick Harris and Hank Azaria and featuring computer-animated smurfs, and it was not good. The easy explanation is that Peyo’s heirs are running the business and they don’t understand the characters very well. (It’s the same reason that so many middling smurf comics have been released in recent years.) But this isn’t just my opinion: After a respectable box office for this movie ($142 million domestically and several times more worldwide), a sequel was released two years later which grossed almost exactly half as much domestically: $71 million. Once bitten, twice shy.
So let’s talk about the characters.
Papa Smurf has the most personality in the cartoon. He’s wise, the smurf with the answers. He is patient and cares for each and every smurf in a fatherly way, whether or not the smurf is helpful to the rest of the village. For example, Papa Smurf tolerates Brainy as his assistant despite Brainy’s bungling and includes Clumsy in important missions despite the fact that his clumsiness regularly endangers the other smurfs. Papa Smurf is the unquestioned authority in the village, and while the smurfs are sometimes disobedient, they always come around before too long. As mentioned above, in the opinion of Gerard Baldwin, showrunner of the cartoon, Papa Smurf is written as the most three-dimensional of all the smurfs.
In the movie, Papa Smurf has the half-aware personality of a nursing home patient. (It doesn’t help that movie Papa Smurf is voiced by a decrepit-sounding Jonathan Winters, who voiced Grandpa in the cartoon 30 years prior.) Movie Papa Smurf doesn’t tell the smurfs how to solve problems and doesn’t know what is safe and unsafe. He lacks fatherly affection for the other smurfs. Twice he hurts Clumsy’s feelings by telling Clumsy to stay behind. And this Papa Smurf is not obeyed by the other smurfs. Apparently, the reason that Papa Smurf is not a wise, fatherly figure to the other smurfs is that the writers drained his essence and put it into Neil Patrick Harris’s character, named Patrick, and Patrick’s wife Grace. As stated in the production notes:
“When the Smurfs come into his life, [Patrick] has to behave in a very patient, even parental way with them, and when he does that, he realizes the potential to be a great dad that he has inside,” says Harris. “Grace is a more naturally maternal giver of wisdom to the Smurfs, while Patrick is an accidental participant who sees growth and change.”
Ironically, the actual plot of the movie is that Gargamel tries to drain Papa Smurf’s essence and use it for himself.
Cartoon Brainy has a bumbling overconfidence. He thinks he’s smart, but he’s not actually smart. His factual assertions are rarely correct; Papa Smurf would never defer to his judgment. Brainy’s meddling regularly causes problems for the other smurfs. Brainy is annoying almost all the time, making long didactic speeches, which are truly irritating to the viewer, until another smurf assaults Brainy to make him stop talking. His personality is so offensive to others that he has no friends in the village, other than Clumsy, whose friendship Brainy often takes for granted. In sum, Brainy’s purpose in the village is to cause conflict which drives the plot, i.e., he is often an antagonist.
In the movie’s production notes, Brainy is described this way:
If every village has its idiot, every village also has a BRAINY. Overeager and a bit overeducated, he’s a “know-it-all” who really doesn’t know it all. Brainy is Papa’s self-appointed right-hand Smurf, and even if he’s annoying at times with his encyclopedia-like knowledge, he might just be the Smurf you want to cast a spell when Papa’s not around.
In other words, the other smurfs in the movie—including Papa Smurf—think of Brainy as a semi-competent backup wizard and trust his terrible ideas, such as Brainy’s deduction that Patrick must have a “stargazer.” When the viewers can see how silly these ideas are, it makes the smurfs (including Papa Smurf) seem foolish. Further, Brainy in the movie does not drive conflict among the smurfs. He causes only mild annoyance. He doesn’t moralize, only talking a little too much with a voice that is slightly annoying. His ego doesn’t cause problems for the village, and he doesn’t have poor relationships with other smurfs or a good relationship with Clumsy. Without conflict among themselves, the smurfs are basically a single collective character in their interactions with Patrick and Gargamel, like a swarm of blue bees.
The cartoon understands the universal truth that clumsiness and stupidity are related concepts, see Land of the Lost and Found (where Handy loses his handiness and also becomes clumsy) and The Smurfs Christmas Special and The Smurfs’ Time Capsule (where Clumsy is shown to be illiterate). It is apparent from Clumsy’s southern accent that he is stupid. He has a droopy hat, similar to the Disney character Dopey. There is no suggestion in the cartoon that Clumsy is younger than the other smurfs.
The movie version of Clumsy is described this way in the production notes:
Anton Yelchin’s performance as Clumsy is a little different than the Clumsy that diehard Smurf fans might remember. “I was familiar with Clumsy from the TV series, where he had that Southern twang,” he says. “I went back and watched that, and then Raja, Jordan and I talked about it. We decided to make Clumsy a little simpler, a little sweeter. His voice is pitched higher than my normal speaking voice―it’s full of joy, optimism, and enthusiasm for life. Clumsy isn’t trying to mess anything up for anybody―he’s just clumsy, and actually, he’s tired of being clumsy.”
“Full of joy, optimism and enthusiasm for life” is not an accurate description of Clumsy in the movie. He seems sad, as one would expect from a smurf who is regularly excluded by the other smurfs: once from the dance early in the movie, and twice by Papa Smurf. But regardless of whether Clumsy seems “full of joy” or “sad,” Anton Yelchin’s voice does not suggest a smurf who is “clumsy.”
As Gerard Baldwin said, Smurfette is one of the most well-rounded characters in the cartoon. But in the movie she has no personality other than an interest in girly things like dresses and unicorns.
Grouchy is a fairly one-note character in the cartoon, just like in the movie. But the movie adds a bizarre subplot of Grouchy falling in love with an M&M figurine and making a pillow replica to snuggle with. This subplot is out of character and gross; the smurfs are supposed to have the personalities of human children. And Grouchy has an inappropriately strong voice in the movie, like a Hefty-type character.
The movie adds a new character, Gutsy, who is belligerent like Tuffy with a touch of Hefty’s strength. Unfortunately, Tuffy was a one-note character and so is Gutsy. Gutsy doesn’t have any particular relationships with other smurfs. His voice is quite Scottish. But Scots are more commonly known for drunkenness and parsimony, so a Scottish voice doesn't immediately imply toughness.
Almost everything the filmmakers thought about Gargamel is wrong. Here is now he is described in the production notes:
If ugly had a name, it would be GARGAMEL. And if obsession had a face, it would look like Gargamel. This evil wizard is consumed by all things Smurfs: they’re all he thinks about, all he talks about, and all he’s ever wanted. A zero when it comes to magic and a negative 100 in the hygiene department, Gargamel is nevertheless always scheming up convoluted ways to capture the fabled Smurfs and drain them of their “essence”―the key ingredient in creating the most powerful spells! Gargamel will do anything to capture a Smurf, including chase them into New York City, all in order to become the most powerful wizard in the world! Hank Azaria takes on the role of the wannabe wizard. “Gargamel is evil and pretty proud of it,” says Azaria. “He aspires to make the move from an awful wizard to a great one. That‘s why he is obsessed with Smurfs―he needs their magical blue essence to make himself more powerful.”
But Gargamel’s relationship to the Smurfs isn’t explained quite that easily. “I think he just hates the Smurfs―they’re such a happy family and he’s so alone with only his cat. He‘s driven by just plain-old hate. He’s a pretty juicy character on so many levels.” Settling on Gargamel’s vocal characteristics required a mix of different approaches.
“Gargamel’s very theatrical―not only does he want to be a great wizard, he wants to be worshipped and considered a genius. He wants all that good press,” says Azaria. “We had a long discussion about whether he should sound Shakespearean and self-important, as if he was an old stage actor, or if we should make him more sarcastic instead of yelling all the time. In the end, you can’t play Gargamel without screaming your head off. It just can’t happen. The second you see a Smurf you have to lose your mind, or you’re not Gargamel.”
In the cartoon, Gargamel does have bad hygiene and is always scheming up convoluted ways to capture smurfs. But he is not a “zero” when it comes to magic; his magical power is roughly comparable with Papa Smurf’s. Gargamel is almost never scheming to become more powerful; he wants to capture the smurfs and either eat them or use them to make gold. What makes Gargamel compelling as a character is that his goals are ridiculous and his greed is his downfall. He’s ill-bred and vulgar; the filmmakers should be embarrassed that they “had a long discussion about whether he should sound Shakespearean.”