Do Smurfs provide a model for a good society?


Smurf world record collector Stephen Parkes: 'They bring back lots of memories of my childhood'

Smurf fans around the world are celebrating the birthday of the famous cartoon strip's creator and awaiting a new blockbuster movie adaptation. But could the blue creatures offer a model for society?

There is a place where the neighbours are always willing to lend a hand, where everyone has a certain skill and is willing to employ it, without personal reward, for the benefit of everyone.

Before you think about checking out property prices in the area, bear in mind that the neighbours are blue, stand three apples high and live in mushroom-like houses.

The Smurfs, created in 1958 by the Belgian artist Pierre Culliford also known as Peyo, have proved hugely popular.

Their original name is Les Schtroumpfs, a word born during a meal Peyo was having with his friend in which, having temporarily forgotten the word "salt", Peyo asked him to pass the schtroumpf.

The two continued to talk, in French, using that word instead of recognised terms, and so the concept was born.

Smurf statistics

  • Merchandise and marketing has accrued a cumulative business worth about $8bn (£5bn)
  • More than 40m music CDs sold
  • 500m figurines
  • 8m DVDs
  • 6bn sweets sold in France (2% of market share)
  • 50m comics and magazines

Later Peyo, already a successful artist whose father was English and mother Belgian, introduced little blue imp-like creatures into his existing stories about a medieval page and his sidekick, called Johan and Peewit.

The Smurfs - as these creatures are called in English, having been taken from the Dutch name De Smurfen - were an instant hit and following pleas from children, Peyo began a dedicated comic strip.

In 1981, Hanna-Barbera began to produce a cartoon series that resulted in 256 episodes, dubbed into some 30 languages and still being shown on more than 120 television channels around the world today.

Peyo died of a heart attack on Christmas Eve in 1992, but his family's work - his son Thierry runs his studio - continued.

Saturday is Global Smurfs Day, an event which celebrates the birthday of Peyo. It's also intended to whip up interest in the forthcoming Smurfs movie, due to be released in August starring Hank Azaria as Gargamel and Katy Perry as the voice of Smurfette - the first of a trilogy of films.

Veronique Culliford and William Auriol IMPS is run by Veronique Culliford and William Auriol

Each Smurf is known by their particular skill - Handy for the one who's good at DIY, Brainy for the clever one, Barber for the one who cuts hair etc. They're all organised by Papa Smurf, the eldest and wisest one, and their village is run as a collective without any use of currency.

Devoid of any particular cultural cues, the Smurfs have proved popular around the world.

"They are unique creations. They don't do politics or religion, they are multi-cultural, everybody around the world can recognise themselves in a Smurf," says Peyo's daughter, Veronique Culliford, who started International Merchandising, Promotion and Services in 1984 to look after the Smurf merchandising.

"Everyone can apply their very nice values of friendship, kindness and helping others to their own lives, regardless of where they come from."

But there is evidence of their genesis in 1950s Belgium. The lack of female characters - there are only three, and only one of them major - is down to the influence of the Catholic Church in education, says Willem de Graeve, director of the Belgian Comic Strip Center in Brussels.

The Belgian Comic Strip Centre's Willem De Graeve on the social and political origins of the Smurfs

"That was a totally different era, when there was a very strong separation of genders in Belgium. This was a consequence of the Catholic education. It was not the done thing to show boys and girls having an adventure together."

And Peyo did occasionally use the Smurfs to convey political messages, such as in the King Smurf story, where one character seizes authoritarian control of the village in a metaphor that's anti-dictatorship.

Smurfs around the world

  • Belgium: De Smurfen or Les Schtroumpfs
  • Spain: Los Pitufos
  • Italy: I Puffi
  • Sweden: Smurfar
  • Japan: Sumafu
  • China: Lan jing ling
  • Finland: Smurffit
  • Wales: Y Smyrffs
  • Arabic: As Sanafir
  • South Africa: Smurfies

There has even been debate about whether the artist intended the Smurfs to be a metaphor for socialism, but there is room for anyone with a political ideology that emphasises co-operation and community to interpret them through their own prism.

The Smurfs lived without money, using their individual skills for the common good, without individual reward, to ensure their community thrives.

You can even see echoes of the British government's Big Society idea, part of which encourages individuals to form community groups and engage in social action, particularly through volunteering, says Prof Ellis Cashmore, a sociologist from Staffordshire University.

"There are similarities between David Cameron's idea of the Big Society and what we see embodied in Smurf society.

"Cameron [is asking people to get] organised with their local community, have organic collectivity and work for each other, like we used to before industrialisation came along and fragmented society."

Smurfs have done overt politics more recently - in 2005, a Unicef advertisement featuring Smurfs was aired in Belgium, in which their village is bombed by aircraft, to raise funds for African children.

The Smurf empire is moving onto new platforms, taking advantage of the social gaming trend. A Smurf smartphone game targeted at women aged between 18 and 34 has had 12 million downloads so far.

Female gamers seem undeterred by the dearth of female Smurfs.


More on This Story

In today's Magazine

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 154.

    @Marcus: Your knowledge of the Smurfs is sadly very limited and influenced by one YouTube clip that is actually anti communist propaganda rather than an informed critique of the Smurfs. The clip says also that it is merely a theory not based on facts. Smurf cannot be an abbreviation because the word is originally Schtroumpf in French and smurf in Dutch to which the alleged meaning do not fit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 153.

    Smurfs were huge in Germany - where they are known as Schluempfe. Don't forget Father Abraham, singer Pierre Kartner and his Smurf Song.. as well as the Barron Knights version.

  • rate this

    Comment number 152.

    Smurfs providing a good role model for society? are you having a giraffe? They're nothing more than communist propaganda. In Smurfland there are no personal possessions, only collective ones. Their society is a closed-market commune where no money ever changes hands and everyone has a job allocated to them that benefits the community. Oh, and the word smurf stands for Soviet Men Under Red Father.

  • rate this

    Comment number 151.

    Do Smurfs provide a model for a good society?
    I can hardly believe this editorial post.
    Who are the BBC employing at Wood Lane and White City?
    I feel ashamed to be a strong supporter of the BBC.
    If BBC ARE dumbing down,it looks as though they started with their editorial staff.

  • rate this

    Comment number 150.

    Where are you all coming from ?
    We're from Dartmoor on the run ,
    What were you in Dartmoor for ?
    ,We' borrowed a safe from the bank next door,
    How did you work out your route ?,
    We followed the arrows on our suits.
    Why do you all talk this way ?
    Coz we're from Catford ain't we ay !

    Apologies to the Barron Knights. It gets to you in the end :)


Comments 5 of 154



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.