Comics: A Very Serious Matter! > Arab Comics in the Curriculum? > Teaching through Comics: Said and Fanon on Tarzan, Visualized
Tarzan constitutes perhaps one of the most compelling examples of the richness and great potential involved in understanding and teaching comics within a liberal arts institution. Because of the deep resonance that the character holds for people – across many strata (social, gender, age, class, ethnicity, etc.), backgrounds, disciplines and perspectives – the interplay between text, sub-text and image that characterizes the comics medium, assumes an even bigger emotional and semiotic significance. Indeed, the intricate resonances between the various elements of a comics strip can thus lend themselves to even richer, and more diverse analyses, allowing critics and readers to unravel deep and complex points, and showcase how comics can at once embody and express divergent worldviews: Tarzan can both be seen, presented, (and taught in the classroom) as an embodiment of typical colonial and imperial discourses of "othering", as well as a means to illustrate and critique such discourses.
For Edward Said, Tarzan is the Noble Savage, whose predicament of exile is set against the backdrop of a limiting and twisted understanding of Enlightenment and of Reason, as propelling man towards the control both of nature and of fellow humans, rather than of communal fulfillment and collaboration. Said writes that the heroes in the Tarzan stories are Anglo-Saxon males, the heroines are White Anglo-Saxon Protestant ladies, and the villains are men of the savage Orient (East European Jews, Arabs, blacks). Indeed, Tarzan’s life and adventures are heavily plotted proof of this dictum, “the white man must triumph because […] he has Reason.” (Edward Said, Jungle Calling, in Reflections on Exile, 331).
In support of and in an extension to the analyses stating that colonialism's "othering" works through a twisted use and understanding of the "White Man's Reason", Fanon writes, showcasing how Tarzan can stand for the insidious way in which white consciousness can entrench itself and construct the discourse of "the other":
“We recommend the following experiment for those who are unconvinced: Attend the showing of a Tarzan film in the Antilles and in Europe. In the Antilles the young black man identifies himself de facto with Tarzan versus the Blacks. In a movie house in Europe things are not so clear-cut, for the white moviegoers automatically place him among the savages on the screen. The experiment is conclusive.” (Black Skin, White Masks 131).