Continued from page 2

“How about ‘smoking monkeys under revolting feathers?’” said Mr. Silver of Technorati.com. “You can pull anything out of it. That’s a stretch.”

Added Mr. Schmidt: “Even if it were a genuine acronym dreamt up by some pop-culture infiltration department of the KGB, what would’ve been the point? People would have to know what the letters stood for [for] it to mean anything. How would they have found out?”

While the Smurfs are a popular target, they’re hardly the only well-liked fictional characters to draw deconstructive fire. The Vatican once claimed Homer Simpson was an unwitting Roman Catholic. (Show producers said otherwise.) On the Internet, Dora the Explorer has been portrayed as an illegal immigrant.

Two years ago, a Canadian professor was ridiculed for writing that Thomas the Tank Engine propagated a sexist, ultraconservative ideology. As opposed to being, well, a smiling choo-choo train.

“With any cartoon, you can make allegories, because they’re based in some way on real life,” Mr. Silver said. “But it can go too far.”

It’s tempting to conclude that the Smurfs are somehow more than they seem — that, for example, the ditzy, discord-sowing Smurfette, created by Gargamel from a formula including “a peck of bird brain” and “the vanity of a peacock” reeks of misogyny.

But, sometimes, Mr. Schmidt cautions, a Smurf is just a Smurf.

“It’s not strange for adults to use children’s media to advance all sorts of grown-up ideas,” he said. “But while the conspiracy theory idea of the Soviets trying to win over young Western hearts and minds is juicy, even plausible, it’s all just a coincidence. I don’t think Culliford was conscious of any of it.”

Maybe so. Or maybe the cartoonist was simply making too much money to notice. According to Time magazine, 6.5 billion jellied Smurf sweets have been sold in the past two decades, while roughly 3,000 products and services, including Coca-Cola and McDonald’s, have used the Smurf brand image.

Perhaps the Smurfs aren’t communists. Perhaps they’re sneaky capitalists.

Hmmm. On second thought, how does “Savvy Marketers’ Unbelievably Rich Future” sound?