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While Tintin shoots off on adventures around the world, street urchins Quick and Flupke have a whale of a time creating havoc on the streets of Brussels. When it came to creating his two cherished scallywags Hergé drew on his childhood for inspiration, having rubbed shoulders with several 'Quicks' and 'Flupkes' from the Marolles quartier of the Belgian capital. Although the comic-strip comrades come from a different era - the 1930s to 1950s - we are going to find out what has happened to their descendants!
Being faithful fans of tintin.com, you will of course know that Quick and Flupke first showed their faces on the pages of Le Petit Vingtième on 23 January 1930. Back in those days their cheeky pranks were guaranteed a laugh. Their practical jokes also appear pretty innocent and tame by the standards of some children's behaviour today. It is important to note that each generation has had its own criteria for judging acceptable behaviour. One example of the difference in criteria between generations is the language used by Quick and Flupke, which seems very polished coming from the mouths of street kids. What would have been bad language to the ears of parents and grandparents has become part of normal conversation at the beginning of the 21st century.
Quick and Flupke in historical context
The Quick and Flupke series evokes the eternal battle of wills between the young and the old, a struggle which has been ongoing since time immemorial. In Roman times, during the first centuries AD, children had practically no rights at all, just like their mothers. Roman law did not recognise that children were responsible for their actions and considered them as 'half-citizens'. The situation was similar among the Greeks and the Egyptians, although the latter didn't hesitate to enthrone a young boy as pharaoh (see the previous report about Tutankhamun).Stranger still, citizens were considered children until they had attained the age of majority. Ancient customs and regulations didn't recognise adolescence; instead at a certain age 'children' became 'adults' from one day to the next. At the time of ancient Greece, the age of maturity was 26 years old! It certainly seems odd today to imagine 26-year-olds as children.
Even though they didn't have any rights and although society only recognised them as half-people, children were victims of circumstance just like everyone else. At one time war broke out between Athens and Sparta during the 5th century BC, and suddenly the age at which boys became men dropped from 26 to 15 years old. This wasn't by chance of course: only adults were allowed to carry weapons. We are not the first people to have conceived of child soldiers, but even today children are often the first victims of conflicts started by adults and on occasion they become active fighters on the front line of battle. In the Middle Ages, children were often left to fend for themselves in disorganised societies where there was no such thing as human rights.
Quick and Flupke in the 21st century
The idea of child soldiers may seem far removed from the daily life of young people living in western urban society, yet if we look a little closer we might find that things are not quite as they seem. The behaviour of children is simply a reflection of adults' attitudes. Quick and Flupke express themselves in quite formal ways because adults in the 1030s spoke to each other like this. The two scallywags are scared of the local policeman because he knows how to engender respect. We should also add that he is a visible presence in the neighbourhood, always 'on the beat'.Could it be that it is the diminishing police presence on the streets that has resulted in the police losing their authority? The relationship between the public and the police is often fraught with difficulties. It can be disconcerting trying to have a chat with a 'Robocop': it is more like trying to communicate with a Star Wars character than a representative of the law. If Hergé was writing Quick and Flupke in the 21st century, his humour would be the same but his manner of expressing it would be fundamentally different.
Is the youth of today worse than before?
Although Quick and Flupke grew up in the back streets of the Marolles neighbourhood in the heart of Brussels, Hergé's humour is universal to the extent that children all over the world can identify with the two rapscallions. There are many other archetypal children in The Adventures of Tintin: they welcome Tintin and Snowy as the two heroes return from the Soviet Union, they are sad to see Tintin leaving at the end of his Congolese adventures, they help Tintin to discover China, they play marbles in The Seven Crystal Balls, they sell oranges in Prisoners of the Sun and they whinge unbearably if they are the children of a certain Jolyon Wagg.Aside from the children of maharajas or emirs, the children created by Hergé's pen are simply locals to their towns and communities, just like he was. They could generally be considered well brought up and good mannered, but would they have been thought of as such in the 1930s?
Conflict between generations
The spirit of youth seems to be in perpetual conflict with the 'wisdom' of adulthood. Consider the streets of the Marolles, on which Quick and Flupke wreaked their special kind of havoc.The quartier is without doubt the most colourful of Brussels: the local people are made up of more than 50 nationalities. Many of the immigrants have been forced to flee difficult situations (war, poverty, etc.) back home, and new arrivals don't have adequate opportunities to learn about traditional Brussels culture. Children can find themselves left to their own devices, trying to find their own place in society. Obviously this can lead to problems with language difficulties, relationships between residents and issues with the authorities, among other things.
Children of misery
As portrayed in Tintin and the Picaros, 'problem' children most often come from deprived backgrounds. The shantytowns of Tapiocapolis evoke the favelas in Rio de Janeiro and the barrios of Caracas or Lima. Faced with the misery of children and teenagers, the police forces in these countries have decided to respond with violence. Everyone has heard about the 'death squads', ordered to kill young delinquents in completely illegal operations. If officials and representatives of the law no longer respect the law, then how can we expect the general public and notably the disenchanted youth to respect the law or authority either?
Should there be a curfew?
The problem of antisocial behaviour is not only a concern of distant countries. Faced with mounting violence on the streets and council estates of certain European towns, extreme measures are considered and taken.To deal with the problem of young people hanging about on the streets, some would like to see curfews enforced, just like countries that are at war! Unfortunately children of families obliged by unstable circumstances to live in substandard and cramped accommodation are hardly likely to relish the prospect of staying indoors. Politicians often champion a culture of 'swift justice' for criminals, yet there is a contradiction between this summary justice and the efforts being made to integrate younger generations into society through positive social projects. Sadly the former tough stance seems to negate much of the benefit of such projects. Besides, extreme measures such as curfews only serve to increase the general impression of insecurity hanging over housing estates, the streets and public transport. If antisocial behaviour and crime are the products of inequality then curfews will not have any effect, as they do not address this issue.
Like Quick and Flupke
Police officer 15 is keeping a close eye on Quick and Flupke: he suspects them of writing graffiti on walls in the neighbourhood. Doesn't this ring a bell, 50 years later, at a time when there has been an explosion of activity by graffiti artists? Quick and Flupke enjoy hurtling down the street in a go-kart. Young people are doing exactly the same thing in 2010 but on scooters, skateboards and in cars. The buzz of challenging authority and the thrill of freedom, speed and danger are feelings that young people from all generations have chased after. The big difference here is that at the time Quick and Flupke were messing about, cars were not nearly as popular or as accessible as they are today: horses and carts were in regular use, and bicycles were almost considered a luxury! The Quicks and Flupkes of the 21st century have clearly lost some of their innocence. In the 1960s, young people were in the spotlight but mainly because they represented a large consumer market. Advertising was squarely aimed at attracting and flattering children and teenagers. Defiant behaviour such as drug taking and smoking was deemed fashionable. What seems to be beyond doubt is that relationships between adults, which have become far more mercenary, unkind and unforgiving since the 1930s, have encouraged more aggressive attitudes in children. Young people follow the example of their elders: teenagers of today and of yesterday are reflections of their times.