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asterix is based

Asterix is Based

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For the last couple of days, I’ve been watching a lot of Asterix cartoons. I hadn’t watched some of them since I’ve been a small child. Naturally, I noticed some details with my now adult eyes which I completely missed as a kid. Some were historical, pop cultural or stealthy sexual references, but some would have been invisible to normal adults. It’s difficult to see at first, incredibly obvious after you’ve been redpilled, but for lack of a better word, Asterix is based. 

Asterix is a Gaul from a small village in Armorica, what we today call Brittany, the only Gaulish village which hasn’t been occupied by the Romans. The village is able to resist the advances of the Roman army because of the magic potion brewed by its druid, named Getafix in the English translation, though I prefer his original French name, Panoramix. The magic potion gives Gauls superhuman strength, which they use to fight back against the Roman legions. 

Asterix is the village hero and its bravest warrior. His best friend is Obelix, the menhir carver and delivery man who fell into a pot of the magic potion as a child and is thus permanently under its effect. Together they make a team, as Asterix is a highly intelligent man who often relies on his wits to defeat his enemies, whereas Obelix is childlike, dopey and impossibly strong, even without the potion. 

Even from this brief description, a familiar image starts to form. A small village stands athwart an expansionist empire. Its great strength comes from the wisdom and experience of the village druid, who stands in for their native traditions and faith. The great strength of the village is misunderstood by the empire and its individual potentates, who scheme to use it for evil once they find that it exists. The primary defenders of the village are two fire-forged friends who themselves are strongly symbolic in their appearance and role – Asterix, the shining star, the smartest Gaul and Obelix, the menhir-carver, childlike, enormous and impossibly strong. 

While the series is heavy on the humour and farcical elements, it is also very apt at producing dramatic tension. This is usually done by introducing enemies or elements which either remove the magic potion from the possession of the Gauls or cannot be solved with brute force alone. This is incidentally why Asterix is the hero – in a village where everyone has super strength, wit and presence of mind suddenly become the most valuable skills. In the very first comic, Asterix the Gaul, the druid Getafix is kidnapped by Crismus Bonus (named Bonus Balonus in the animated adaptation) the Roman centurion tasked with besieging the village. Asterix tries to rescue him, but is captured himself. There he learns of Crismus Bonus’ plan to obtain the potion, overthrow Caesar and become emperor himself. Asterix and the druid then concoct a (hilarious) plan to escape.

Interestingly enough, the ultimate victory against Crismus Bonus comes not from physically pummelling him and his legion, but from exposing his treachery to Caesar. In exchange, Caesar offers the Gauls temporary respite from battle, but only temporary. The druid and Asterix return to the village and the day is saved. In other adventures, Caesar attempts to defeat the Gauls by absorbing them into Roman culture, in Asterix and the Mansions of the Gods. The montage sequence from the animated adaptation is enough to put one in a civilisation-death mood, as the tinny, saccharine version of Sara Perche Ti Amo, a stand-in for a pleasant but foreign Romanness (portrayed on TV by pleasant but foreign italianness) barges rudely into Gaul in order to envelop it. 

To us outside observers, it is the story of a small tribe resisting a vast empire, magically and fantastically, but in parallel to the real triumph of Arminius, of Herman the German at Teutoburg Forest. But to a French audience, there’s a second layer of meaning. Throughout the ages, the French state, whether Charlemagne’s empire, the later Orleanic or Bourbon kingdoms or any of the five Republics, have always styled themselves as successors to Rome. The French kings wore the ceremonial masks of the Roman aristocracy. The French Republic has a senate and was ruled by consuls (and later an Emperor). When the French army drills and marches through Paris, they drill on the Champs du Mars – the field of Mars. And when Emmanuel Macron lets slip his mad ambition, he styles himsef Jupiter. 

However, the French people themselves, for reasons best known to themselves, will often call themselves Gauls. While they may enjoy the reflected glory of the Rome that Paris tries to become, they remain steadfast, earthly and indomitable Gauls. Even Jupiter himself, in his mortal form as Emmanuel Macron, disparaged them as “refractory Gauls”. And why not? France is a relatively recent phenomenon, born out of an alliance of necessity, where Germans, Romans and Gauls united to defeat a racial alien host in the form of Attila and his Hunnic horde. But Gaulishness? Gaul? Gaul is primordial? France is global, or at least European. France is Rome’s second act, or Rome’s unworthy heir, or an upstart barbarian kingdom that got into its head that it is somehow Rome. Gauls have been around for much longer than that. Gauls sacked Rome once and forced it to pay tribute. Who knows if they’ll do it again?
Ironically, it is out of these refractory Gauls that the greatest defence of Frenchness has come. Hitherto the best attempt to rescue France has come from the Front National during the period of the great Breton Jean-Marie Le Pen. Le Pen himself is called The Menhir, to reference his height and corpulence as well as his Celtic origins. The very Menhirs carved and made by Obelix in the Asterix comics and cartoons which are symbolic of Brittany’s and France’s deep Gaulish past. Long before the Franks ever came from beyond the Rhine, there was Gaul. Long before Rome barrelled across the Alps, there was Gaul. 

In framing the central conflict as Gauls vs. Romans, Goscinny and Uderzo have possibly inadvertently shown us a dramatisation of the conflict between the French and the French state. The earthy, boar-devouring, “authentic” and magical Armorican peasants, blonde or red-haired, drawn with curved lines and given vivid and varied colours, vs. the metallic, armour-clad, black-haired Romans, drawn with sharper lines and coloured uniformly. Obelix’s catchphrase is “These Romans are crazy (Ils sont fous, ces romains)!” What other explanation can there be, to the child-minded Gaul, for the various behaviours of the vast Roman Empire? Perhaps the most relatable Gaulish-Roman conflict is shown in the animation-only story, The Twelve Tasks of Asterix, where Asterix and Obelix are nearly driven insane by the Roman bureaucracy. 

With that, I hope I’ve piqued your interest in this fine example of French artistry. Give it a moment of your time and you too may come to the same conclusion as myself, that for lack of a better word, Asterix is based. 

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I like the cartoon image at the top of the article. They’re both White

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