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How to Read Donald Duck: Imperialist Ideology in the Disney Comic

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En este mundo nada escapa a la ideologia. Nada escapa, por lo tanto, a la lucha de clases. Este libro intenta develar los mecanismos especificos por los que la ideologia burguesa se reproduce a traves de los personajes de Walt Disney; indagar, asimismo, en la estructura de las historietas para mostrar el universo de connotaciones que desencadena y que termina por ocupar el lugar fundamental en la comprension del mensaje.

120 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1971

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About the author

Ariel Dorfman

126 books206 followers
Vladimiro Ariel Dorfman is an Argentine-Chilean novelist, playwright, essayist, academic, and human rights activist. A citizen of the United States since 2004, he has been a professor of literature and Latin American Studies at Duke University, in Durham, North Carolina since 1985.

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Profile Image for Trevor.
1,283 reviews21.5k followers
September 1, 2014
This is utterly remarkable. A Marxist critique of Donald Duck from Chilean academics published prior to the US inspired (and paid for) coup and burnt in the streets afterwards. But this analysis is much more interesting than just some historical curiosity. That Marxist Chileans didn’t much like Walt Disney is hardly surprising. What is interesting is that in providing this cultural analysis they are not merely saying that Disney was a representative of the capitalist class and therefore only interested in the suppression of class consciousness (they say this as well, of course), rather they illuminate some incredibly interesting themes from cartoons and show how these link to the world view Disney was seeking to normalise. It must be remembered that this isn't an easy task, as it has to overcome a lot of prejudice, Disney is often presented as a remarkably moral man – a provider of fantasy and imagination to children, someone who presents us with a better world, if not a golden age from a near distant past. When my children were born it used to annoy me that each new Disney film that would come out would be referred to in the advertising as ‘the all new Disney classic’. But that was how Disney liked to see themselves, as the classics factory.

I didn’t really know all that much about Disney himself before reading this book - the introduction, really. A Freudian analysis of Walt would also be a really interesting read. His relationship with his mother is non-existent and the one with his father seems particularly problematic and, well, let’s be frank, Oedipal. His relationship with his wife seems anything but loving, much more a commercial transaction. But his relationship with his employees were particularly horrific. The introduction talks about one of his key artists, who seems to have been the creative brains behind Donald Duck, but who lived in obscurity (enforced as Disney took all credit for all creativity) and relative poverty. Disney made his employees sign contracts that gave him complete artistic control over all of their work.

I had always also just assumed that Disney was some kind of artist. But, “Walt Disney, the man who never by his own admission learned to draw, and never even tried to put pencil to paper after around 1926, who could not even sign his name as it appeared on his products, acquired the reputation of being … ‘the most significant figure in graphic art since Leonardo’”. Pages 18-19

Disney’s world is a very male one. Females exist as sex objects, even if sex itself is never realised even by implication. This is a world without mothers and often also without fathers. It is a world where parental authority resides in uncles. Something that isn’t said in the book, but that I couldn’t help thinking about throughout, was the relationship here to the US’s Uncle Sam. Most countries are either fatherlands or motherlands, only is the US avuncular. Perhaps there is a lesson here about patriotism, as the love from an uncle is far less guaranteed or something that can be be taken for granted than that of a parent to a child. You have to earn it and even then the relationship can be cold and distant.

As the authors note, “The world of Disney is a nineteenth century orphanage.” Page 35

And the relationship between those with power and those without is not really like family either. “The less fortunate regard their subjection as natural. They spend all day complaining about their slave master, but they would rather obey his craziest order than challenge him.” Page 36 In fact, not only can they not challenge authority, but any real union between those at the same level is deeply problematical too. “All that is left to them - since solidarity between equals is prohibited - is to compete.” Page 37

The old anarchist slogan that property is theft is virtually reversed here. Property always belongs to someone and it is a duty to ensure that it is either returned to its rightful owners or kept out of the hands of those trying to take it from its rightful owners. There is no talk of unfair distributions of wealth, such a notion is inconceivable, and so a reallocation is also and equally unimaginable. What is, is - and it is both lawful and natural. This does not apply to the property of third world people’s in quite the same way. Their wealth is basically wasted on them and so needs to be taken from them. But in a nice and smiling way, rather than in the way the Spanish did with the Conquistadors. In fact, often the natives are only too happy to give away their wealth. You don’t just steal their riches, you trade them for it. However, these trades are hardly ever fair, even in the make believe world of Disney. “Even our (the authors') fiercest enemies could hardly justify the inequity of such an exchange; how can a fistful of jewels be regarded as equivalent to a box of soap, or a golden crown equal a cheap watch?” Page 51

This is all part of the continuation of the white man’s burden. “The constant characteristic of the natives - irrational fear and panic when faced with any phenomenon which disrupts their natural rhythm of life - serves to emphasize their cowardice (rather like children afraid of the dark), and to justify the necessity that some superior being come to their rescue and bring daylight.” Page 53 And for bringing rationalism and protection how could anyone possibly complain that they also take with them recompense.

This stems from the fact that Disney has excised workers and production from his ideal society. No one actually works, even though the world is awash with stuff, there are products, but never any production. Donald Duck might be constantly looking for work, but he also constantly fails in whichever jobs he undertakes and these are invariably service jobs, never jobs in manufacturing, never jobs making stuff. This seems almost ironic now, given that the first world seems to have mostly stopped manufacturing anything. Disney’s dream seems to be coming true.

While there are no workers in Disney’s paradise, there is certainly a kind of criminal underclass. These are normally drawn as people of colour, certainly unkempt and presented as people without ‘ideas’. There are a couple of major currencies that determine social location – social class isn’t discussed as everyone knows it doesn’t exist. The first is heredity. As is pointed out a one stage here, Donald Duck puts on a hat that makes dull people smart and he suddenly knows lots about history. And what does he ‘know’? That his town was founded by someone with the same surname as his Uncle Scrooge. Pedigree counts, even for ducks.

Other than heredity there is also a kind of natural allocation of cash – this is in fact also a kind of heredity. But the thing that really sets the rich apart from the poor is ideas. Once you have ideas you can have anything and money is more or less guaranteed. Money is essential in the stories - the stories could really be defined as exercises in avarice. This is only tempered by that great imponderable, luck. Some people have it and some people don’t and this affects their fortune in ways that are hard to foretell, although, the luck of the ‘nice’ is infinitely better than that of the ‘not nice’. As no one really 'works' - that can hardly be the basis of wealth. Being the first person who knows where to look for wealth is the key, not getting there first.

So, you’re a duck that hasn’t got enough money to pay the next instalment on your television set or to take your girlfriend out on a date or to buy a present for your rich uncle – what to do? Well, work is probably out of the question. What you almost certainly need to do is go off on an adventure. An adventure is a kind of abstract labour – quixotic labour, really. The arc of these stories generally starts with Donald resting, but bored. He needs cash, not for anything like a gas bill or food, but for some trifle. He goes off on an adventure, which is fast and furious and probably involves bringing civilisation to the uncivilised. Then, after all this work, he takes a vacation. Everything begins and ends in rest. There is activity, but never any change.

And this is part of the confinements imposed by the genre. Each story is independent. This is certainly not a serial, it is a series of stories all independent of the last. Just because Donald achieved fame and perhaps a statue in the town square in the last story or Uncle Scrooge made a fortune from one or other of his ideas – neither this fortune or fame has any currency in the new story which is more or less a reiteration of the same thing yet again.

When we steal from natives we are not really stealing from them. The fact is that the objects we are taking from them are generally infinitely antique. They no more belong to the natives than they do to anyone else. This reminded me so much of Said’s Orientalism. The myth of the white expert who must go to distant lands and explain their cultural treasures to them. If these people are so childlike that they don’t realise how valuable their treasurers really are, do they really deserve to keep them? Having recently been to the British Museum I have to say white people have had this attitude for quite some time.

I would love to see this same critique done today on The Simpsons. I suspect it would be just as interesting - many of the same themes are evident in both shows, down to the rich uncle character and the anti-hero being lazy and a bit stupid, but also somewhat good.

There is a link to this book online – I’ve no idea how long the link will remain active – but download the file onto your computer. This really is a quick and fascinating read. A lovely piece of Marxist literary criticism. Enjoy. http://www.melloweb.com/QUACK2012/HTR...

Some quotes:

“To say that this book was burnt in Chile should not come as a surprise to anyone. Hundreds of books were destroyed, and thousands more prohibited and censored. Page 9

“Over the last twenty years Barks has become something of a cult figure which has generated a small literary industry, while his original comic books and the lithographs and paintings done since his retirement in 1967 have been eagerly sought after and bought at high prices, much in contrast with his earlier obscurity and relative poverty. His working conditions under Disney make him look like Donald Duck vis-à-vis Uncle Scrooge as Uncle Walt.” 18

“Ever since 1935, when the League of Nations recognised Mickey Mouse as an International Symbol of Good Will”, Disney has been an outspoken political figure.” Page 20

“But the physical absence of the father does not mean the absence of paternal power.” Page 34

“The world of Disney is a nineteenth century orphanage.” 35

“The less fortunate regard their subjection as natural. They spend all day complaining about their slave master, but they would rather obey his craziest order than challenge him.” 36

“Her own power is the traditional one of seductress, which she exercises in the form of coquetry.” 38

“Women are left with only two alternatives (which are no really alternatives at all): to be Snow White or the Witch, the little girl housekeeper or the wicked stepmother.” 38

“And since she is always cooking for the male, her aim in life is to catch him by one brew or the other.” 38

"Her only raison d’être is to become a sexual object, infinitely solicited and postponed. She is frozen on the threshold of satisfaction and repression among impotent people.” 39

“But why this unhealthy phobia of Disney’s? Why has motherhood been expelled from his Eden?” 40

“Moral: don’t try to change anything! Put up with what you have, or chances are you will end up with worse.” 43

“So there are two types of children. While the city-folk are intelligent, calculating, crafty and superior; the Third Worldlings are candid, foolish, irrational, disorganised and gullible (like Cowboys and Indians).” 46

“Everything continues as before. It doesn’t matter if one part be in the right and the other in the wrong, as long as the rules stay the same.” 47

“The king has learned that he must ally himself with foreigners if he wishes to stay in power, and that he cannot even impose taxes on his people, because this wealth must pass wholly out of the country to Duckburg through the agent of McDuck.” 51

“Even our fiercest enemies could hardly justify the inequity of such an exchange; how can a fistful of jewels be regarded as equivalent to a box of soap, or a golden crown equal a cheap watch?” 51

“It is the old aphorism, the poor have no worries, it is the rich who have all the problems. So let’s have no qualms about plundering the poor and underdeveloped.” 52

The constant characteristic of the natives - irrational fear and panic when faced with any phenomenon which disrupts their natural rhythm of life - serves to emphasise their cowardice (rather like children afraid of the dark), and to justify the necessity that some superior being come to their rescue and bring daylight.” 53

“In order to assure the redemptive powers of present-day imperialism, it is only necessary to measure it against old-style colonialism and robbery.” page 54

“Disney does not invent these caricatures, he only exploits them to the utmost.” 54

“Disney has had to adjust to the fact of Cuba and the invasion of the Dominican Republic. The buccaneer now cries, ‘Viva the Revolution,’ and has to be defeated. It will be Chile’s turn yet.” 56

“Apparently, in modern times it is the champions of popular insurgency who will bring back human slavery.” 58

“In the Disney comics, one never meets a member of the working or proletarian classes, and nothing is the product of an industrial process.” 59

“What are these adventurers escaping from their claustrophobic cities really after? What is the true motive of their flight from the urban centre? Bluntly stated: in more than seventy-five percent of our sampling they are looking for gold, in the remaining twenty-five percent they are competing for fortune - in the form of money or fame - in the city.” 61

“We are struck by the antiquity of the coveted object.” 61

“The nobel savages have no history, and they have forgotten their past, which was never theirs to begin with.” 62

“For Disney, history exists in order to be demolished, in order to be turned into a dollar which gave it birth and lays it to rest.” 62

“The origin of wealth has to appear natural and innocent.” 63

“Nature is the great labor force, producing objects of human and social utility as if they were natural.” 64

“There is a term which would be like dynamite to Disney, like a scapulary to a vampire, like electricity convulsing a frog: social class. That is why Disney must publicise his creations as universal, beyond frontiers; they reach all homes, they reach all countries. O immortal Disney, international patrimony, reaching all children everywhere, everywhere, everywhere.” 65

“Surely, it is not good for children to be surreptitiously injected with a permanent compulsion to buy objects they don’t need. This is Disney’s sole ethical code: consumption for consumption’s sake.” 66

“Disney can conceive of no other threat to wealth than theft.” 67

“There is no question of an unjust distribution of wealth: if everyone was like the honest ducklings rather than the ugly cheats, the system would function perfectly.” 68

“It is always the ideas of the bourgeoisie which give them the advantage in the race for success, and nothing else.” 69

“The socio-economic basis of unemployment is shunted aside in favour of individual psychological explanations, which assume that the causes and consequences of any social phenomenon are rooted in the abnormal elements in individual human behaviour.” 71

“This gold is not easily attained. One has first to suffer deconcretized work: work in the form of adventure.” 72

“The adventure usually ends in the recompense of a vacation, and a return to rest, now well deserved after the weight of so much deconcretized labor.” 74

“Let us take the most extreme example: Big Bad Wolf and his eternal hunt for the three little pigs. He appears to want to eat them. But hunger is not the real motive: his need is really to embellish his life with some simulacrum of activity.” 75

“The segregation of the child’s world between the everyday and the enchanted begins in the comics themselves, which take the first step in teaching children, from their tenderest years, to separate work from leisure, and humdrum reality from the play of their imagination.” 76

“Beyond the children’s comic lies the whole concept of contemporary mass culture, which is based on the principle that only entertainment can liberate humankind from the social anxiety and conflict in which it is submerged.” 76

“They can be read in any order, and are ‘timeless’: one written in 1950 can be published without any trouble in 1970.” 79

“All is in motion, but nothing changes.” 80

“Statue, Statute, Status, Static. Time and time again, someone is rewarded with the prize of a statue standing in a public place or museum.” 84

“History is portrayed as a self-repeating, constantly renascent adventure, in which the bad guys try, unsuccessfully, to steal from the good guys.” 85

“There first and last thought is to fill up spare time, that is, to seek entertainment.” 96

“Matter has become mind, history has become pastime, work has become adventure, and everyday life has become a sensational news item.” 96

Profile Image for Nandakishore Mridula.
1,239 reviews2,229 followers
January 3, 2016
Donald Duck as the agent of American imperialism? Surely it’s a joke, right?

Not according to Ariel Dorfman and Armand Mattelart, exiles from the Chilean dictatorship. They are in dead earnest – and they do a good job of convincing the reader, in this slim volume of less than a hundred pages.

Donald Duck (and later on, Uncle Scrooge) was my personal favourite among the Disney characters. In an age bereft of TV and computers, comic books were very popular among the bookish kids – and Walt Disney was a sort of god in the field. If anybody would have mentioned that there was anything political in those harmless fantasies in those days, he would have been ridiculed to death.

But that was India. In Latin America, a turbulent continent struggling with lawlessness on one hand and dictators backed by the USA on the other, anything and everything was political. In Chile, a country with an unfortunate history, the struggle between capitalistic despotism and communism was fought on the arena of comic books – unlikely as it may seem.


In 1973, the democratic government in Chile was overthrown by the military with the blessings of the USA and with liberal help from the CIA. Liberals and leftists were jailed and tortured. Democratic institutions were closed down. Books were burned, including this one. Even now, this book is not available in Chile: in those days, to be found in possession of one was to risk death at the hands of the authorities.

This “War of the Comics” had started in 1971. In 1970, after the Popular Unity government came to power, there was a marked shift to the left. This worried the US, because Chile was totally in their economic control till then. However, as David Kunzle says (in the introduction to the book), it was easier to nationalise the copper industry than to remove the influence of insidious American popular media. Chile took the effort anyway: apart from this book, a local comic called Cabro Chico (“Little Kid”) was created to counter Disney. How effective these measures were can be seen by the violent reaction of El Mercurio, a reactionary daily (funded by the CIA, no less), who claimed these comics were a plot to seize the control of young minds by Marxist media – which was true in a sense. What they forgot to mention was this was already being done by America, through its “free” press!

The inevitable happened: the military stepped in with the blessings of the US. In the words of David Kunzle:

On September 11, 1973 the Chilean armed forces executed, with U. S. aid, the bloodiest counterrevolution in the history of the continent. Tens of thousands of workers and government supporters were killed. All art and literature favourable to the Popular Unity was immediately suppressed. Murals were destroyed. There were public bonfires of books, posters and comics. Intellectuals of the left were hunted down, jailed, tortured and killed: among those persecuted, the authors of this book.

To illustrate where Disney stood in this fight, Kunzle reproduces a cartoon which is chilling in its implications. A couple of vultures, Marx and Hegel (see the blatant politicisation in the names) are attacking innocent animals, and Jiminy Cricket as the voice of conscience is trying to dissuade them. However, they attack Jiminy (“Get him, comrade!”) who says “Occasionally I run up against guys who are immune to the voice of conscience”. However, the farmer comes with his guns and chases the birds away, cheered on by Jiminy: “Ha! Firearms are the only thing these bloody birds are afraid of.” Emphasis is mine, to clarify the message – shoot the communist.


Walt Disney, by his own admission, never learned to draw and never put pen to paper since 1926. What he did was assimilate and market the creative a genius of a group of people. The case of Carl Barks is illustrative: Barks retired in 1967 from the Disney Empire and was unknown until relatively recently even though he drew most of the popular Donald Duck stories and created many endearing and enduring characters – the most popular being Uncle Scrooge. In actuality, the relationship between Disney and Barks was almost a parallel of that between Scrooge and Donald (one almost wonders whether Barks did it tongue in cheek). Walt did not consider any of his employees as creators or what he did as art, it seems – he was interested more in its marketability. This trend is continued by the Disney studios even now. It is the god of capitalism and consumerism at the altar of whom they worship.


We tend to think of “Children’s Literature” as different. Children are supposed to live in a world of innocence, free from all subterfuge and deception. Their world accordingly, has to be “sanitised” from such “evils” as violence and sex: and above all, from politics. As the authors say in the introduction:

Inasmuch as the sweet and docile child can be sheltered effectively from the evils of existence, from the petty rancours, the hatreds, and the political and ideological contamination of his elders, any attempt to politicise the sacred domain of childhood threatens to introduce perversity where there once reigned happiness, innocence and fantasy.

It is this mythical world which Disney aims to protect with his magical world of talking animals.

According to Dorfman and Mattelart, this ideal child’s world is creation of the adult, based on their concept of what a child should be. Children’s literature envisages a magical world which is nothing but a projection of the adult’s inner child which wants to shut out the unpleasantness and angst of existence, prevent all forms of questioning, and ensure the perpetuation of the current society with its status quo. And this lie is self-sustaining: children nurtured in such an environment grow into adults who will continue to recreate this fantasy world of the nursery and the vicious circle is maintained.

So the apolitical world of the child is anything but: its lack of politics is its politics. And Donald and company invades this universe with their own subliminal messages which affect the mind of children in insidious ways.

Read the full review on my blog.

The book is available for free on Scribd, BTW.
Profile Image for Ivonne Rovira.
1,862 reviews191 followers
April 12, 2019
Ariel Dorfman — Chilean author, playwright, poet, essayist, human-rights activist — is best known for his riveting play Death and the Maiden. How to Read Donald Duck: Imperialist Ideology in the Disney Comic, written with the Belgian sociologist Armand Mattelart before Dorfman had to flee Chile because of General Augusto Pinochet. That means the book is dated in parts, and it has some of that over-the-top flavor of the late 1960s and early 1970s. But Dorfman and Mattelart meticulously (maybe a bit too much) dissects Disney comic books sold in Latin America which uphold the banner of capitalism by justifying Uncle Scrooge McDuck, mocking working stiffs like Donald Duck, and infantilizing Third World peoples as children who need Duckburg (read U.S.) management. And if we take their gold? Well, they weren’t using it for anything, anyway.

A very convincing and compelling argument.

In interest of full disclosure, I received this book from NetGalley and OR Books in exchange for an honest review. Thank you, OR Books for reissuing this book translated into English.
Profile Image for Clay.
4 reviews14 followers
February 27, 2017
A marxist take on cultural imperialism in Latin America. This was a useful text for my MA thesis in discussing the effect that globalism had on comic strips in Latin America. Though it has been a while since I have read it, Reviewing it brought me back to my time in graduate school
Profile Image for Sookie.
1,134 reviews82 followers
February 6, 2017
Child fantasy, although created by adults, becomes the exclusive reserve of children.

There is another way of infantalizing others and exonerating one's own larcenous behavior. Imperialism likes to promote an image of itself as being the impartial judge of the interests of the people, and their liberating angel.

Since the child identifies with his counterpart in the magazine, he contributes to his own colonization. The rebellion of the little folk i the comics is sensed as a model for the child's ow real rebellion against injustice; but by rebelling in the name of adult values, the readers are in fact internalizing them.

The good foreigners, under their ethical cloak, win with the native's confidence, the right to decide the proper distribution of wealth in the land. the villains; course, vulgar, repulsive, out-and-out thieves, are there purely and simply to reveal the ducks as defenders of justice, law, and food for the hungry, and to serve as a whitewash for any further action.

Carl Barks, for what its worth, made an effort to steer readers to recognize the blatant problems in the stories with satire. However, it is difficult for a child to understand nuances of language and recognize satire. Disney may not be outright agents of American imperialism but their treatment or different culture is cringe worthy.
514 reviews128 followers
December 26, 2018
A period piece of cultural criticism, written by a young Allende-supporting Chilean, on the eve of Chile’s descent into a hell of authoritarian neoliberalism. It aims to deconstruct the faux-innocence of the Disney universe to demonstrate the subterranean political agenda that its animated world traffics in: “In order to attain knowledge, which is a form of power, we cannot continue to endorse, with blinded vision and stilted jargon, the initiation rituals with which our spiritual high priests seek to legitimize and protect their exclusive privileges of thought and expression.” In the end, Donald Duck provides a justification narrative for nothing less than “imperialist plunder and colonial subjugation” of “noble savages” who are unable and indeed forbidden ever to become civilized and modern. “The Disney world is one in which all materiality has been purged. All forms of production (the material, sexual, historical) have been eliminated, and conflict never has a social basis, but is conceived in terms of good versus bad, lucky versus unlucky, and intelligent versus stupid.”
Profile Image for Maru Kun.
215 reviews475 followers
Want to read
October 31, 2018
This book is a must read for anyone interested in a 1960's Chilean Marxist interpretation of Mickey Mouse and has just this month (October 2018) been released on the kindle! Christmas has come early this year.
Profile Image for Bob Schnell.
488 reviews11 followers
December 5, 2018
I don't have a shelf for political criticism of popular culture but that is where this belongs.

"How to Read Donald Duck" was originally published in Chile in 1971 as an indictment of American imperialism being marketed as children's literature in the form of Disney comic books. It was hugely popular and spread to the rest of Latin America. When an English translation was shipped to America in 1975, it was seized at the port and was the subject of a copyright battle. When a military coup in Chile in 1973 ousted the socialist government, all copies of the book were banned and burned and the authors put on a hit list (they survived). This 2018 edition is the first official American release.

If you have ever watched the 1944 Walt Disney movie "The Three Caballeros" you might have considered that Donald Duck is acting a bit suspiciously during his tour of Brazil and Mexico. My friends and I always postulated that Donald was actually a CIA spy sent to report on political conditions in those countries, but got sidetracked by samba. Imagine my surprise when the book "How to Read Donald Duck" appeared in a catalog of new releases. I had to read this to see if our hypothesis was correct.

The movie is barely mentioned. Instead the focus is on the monthly Disney comic books being distributed in Latin America since the 1950's. It seems that Donald Duck is more popular there than Mickey Mouse so Donald is the point of entry for all sorts of capitalist ideas in socialist markets. The authors take a Marxist view of this colorful and entertaining propaganda and explain exactly why it was an insidious part of a not-so-subtle cultural revolution. It is both thought-provoking and frightening, especially considering future events right up to the current immigration situation in the USA. I actually learned a bit about Marxism (it is like learning Taoism from Winnie the Pooh) and had my worst suspicions about the Walt Disney Corporation validated. I think it should be part of every political science curriculum.

There are three introductions and an appendix of essays, all worth reading to put the book in historical perspective. One star off for getting a bit too didactic in some sections but otherwise recommended if any of what I've written has sparked your interest.
Profile Image for 'Izzat Radzi.
147 reviews66 followers
January 17, 2021
This book was originally written in Chile, in the early 70's, in favour of the Chilean revolution.

It's as the author notes, the message behind the culture promoted by the Disney comic's Donald Duck in the country, is worrisome (that is, for culture watchers).

Aspects like the consumerism belt, repression of class struggle, women existence only as adulation and pageantry, the formation of images of third world countries (not only Chile's, but Vietnam as well amongst others) are discussed, most of the time in a Marxist-dialectics.

I also find that reading Adorno's Culture Industry, Debord's Society of Spectacle is a good pre-read before this one.
And Tocqueville's Democracy in America definitely jump a few steps in the to-read list having encountered it in few recent books (Dabashi was the latest).

A good, solid 4star read
Profile Image for Caitlin Conlon.
Author 2 books110 followers
November 22, 2019
an absolutely fascinating read, critiquing Donald Duck comics of the 1950s-70s through a Marxist lens. this book didn’t disappoint, & even so many years after its original publication I’m saddened to say that so much of it remains relevant.
Profile Image for Cody.
156 reviews6 followers
January 23, 2020
real hot mess but i will think about this book a lot
764 reviews14 followers
November 22, 2011
Ariel Dorfman and Armand Mattelart present a Marxist critique of Disney Comics, under the argument that its representations are composed of the everyday form of our social oppression. Each chapter addresses a different facet of the Disney method. The introductions and forwards set up the cultural context of the book's original publication, that of the Chilean unrest of the 1970s. The first chapter addresses parental roles is Disney comics, or rather the lack thereof; every male is an uncle or nephew, every woman (and there's not many) a niece or aunt. This removal of parents, they argue, reflects a patriarchal system where the only advancement is a temporary reversal. Chapter Two continues the infantilization theme by looking at the way the comics treat "foreign locations" (read: not US) as the homes of child-like noble savages. Chapter 3 continues in this trend, exploring the way the Duck gang do their own exploring--that is, the way they justify removing local treasures from these savage folk. Chapter 4 looks at the class division between the evil and good characters (the latter being mostly the Beagle Boys and Papa Wolf; this argument could have been complicated a bit by examining the rich villainous characters Scrooge goes up against). Chapter 5 looks at Donald Duck as a presentation of the working class, constantly held back by his own laziness rather than economic conditions, and Uncle Scrooge, whose every story reproduces the historic cycle of his class (the rags-to-riches hard worker). The sixth chapter takes the cycle motif to heart: it argues that the characters are locked in a permanent stasis, repeating the same messages and stories over and over.

It's a very hardline Marxist approach, and I think it goes a bit far in equating Disney with every action of his multinational corporation. That said, it's a powerful critique of global hegemony, and a good read as well.
Profile Image for Sarah.
474 reviews13 followers
March 8, 2019
"Surely it is not good for children to be surreptitiously injected with a permanent compulsion to buy objects they don't need. This is Disney's sole ethical code: consumption for consumption's sake. Buy to keep the system going, throw the things away (rarely are objects shown being enjoyed, even in the comic), and buy the same thing, only slightly different, the next day. Let money change hands, and if it ends up fattening the pockets of Disney and his class, so be it."

p. 66

That is the least of the problems with Disney. I've always thought Disney stories existed in some kind of uncanny valley that I always figured was a result of simplifying things for kids. But of course it's not that simple. This book, why it was written, and the trouble it took to get to American readers was fascinating.

Never forget: Disney was a Bad Man. I don't care how magical you may think his artistic sense was, he was a crappy boss and probably would have benefited a great deal from some therapy.
385 reviews102 followers
April 25, 2014
interesting book. definitely one of my favourite works off cultural studies I 've seen. written in an anti imperialist context it looks at how Disney comics uphold bourgeois ideas about where wealth comes from, for example,that support capitalist ideas in children. notably,Disney's treatment of indigenous populations is shown to be horrifying and completely support white saviour myths and romantic ideas of colonialism. also talked about is how Disney restricts childhood imagination to consumption and money,and the peculiar lack of women and mothers. it sometimes overeggs it a bit and could have done with more detail about the comic form particularly but it's definitely a fascinating work of cultural analysis that may not be essential or completely empirical but is a truly revolutionary look at media that's useful for anyone trying to make sense of media themselves
Profile Image for Nick Edkins.
79 reviews2 followers
November 17, 2019
The authors do an excellent job of revealing the ideology baked into Disney comics and arguing why it's objectionable. The perspective of a South American reader is very interesting; it must have been incredibly galling to be lectured by these ducks embodying the limited and cruel worldview of the very people meddling with your country at that moment.

They keep a lively sense of fun throughout what would otherwise have been a bit of a slog. Ridicule is an entirely appropriate response to being bombarded by the kind of messaging represented by the Donald Duck comics.
Profile Image for David Wineberg.
Author 2 books682 followers
July 13, 2018
It is usually disappointing to read a book that was formerly banned. The sensitivities of the then authorities cause unrestrained headscratching today. Not so with How to Read Donald Duck, which was confiscated on its way into the USA in 1975, on the pretext of copyright infringement and unfair use. A real leftist attack, it is vibrant, wide-ranging and damning. Maybe too much. But it’s crystal clear why it was banned.

When I was growing up, I read and collected Superman comics. Unbeknownst to me, Donald Duck was at that the same time making the world safe for imperialism, racism, sexism and capitalism. In 1970 Chile, a newly elected leftist government allowed the left to express itself. Two of those voices, Ariel Dorfman and Armand Mattleart used the opportunity to decode, decrypt and expose the Disney invasion of Chilean society and culture throughout the 1960s. It was translated into 12 languages and circulated globally. Except in the USA. Publishers were afraid – of Walt Disney. But, as the book shows, so were his own employees.

I find a lot of Dorfman and Mattelart’s criticism unfair. They make much of how Disney characters are always out of worldly, societal context. They have no ancestors, friends or neighbors. Everything is always available, but nothing is ever manufactured. There are no laborers. They never age or progress in their lives. All true, but also true of the whole genre. Cartoon characters never age. It’s their advantage over humans. Archie will always be a teenager, even as he approaches 100. So while they studied a substantial corpus of one hundred Disney comics for their critique, they did not also examine any other comics. It shows.

As in all cartoons, the characters are stereotyped for easy recognition. So Donald Duck is always scrambling for cash (though never the rent), Mickey Mouse, ever the altruist, helps anyone with anything. Goofy is a doofus, and so on. This is not a weakness but a requirement, as readers don’t want to be surprised by some new aspect of a character’s persona. Characters need to be familiar, dependable and easy to understand. Disney gets no points docked for this.

They also accuse Disney of removing all references to history, then describe comics on ancient Rome and other eras. They accuse Walt Disney of having a romantic, nostalgic love of rural American life over city life, but the comics demonstrate the opportunities there over rural areas. So the criticism is not a lock on truth.

What is possibly surprising is the near total lack of females in Disney comics. Donald Duck is the uncle of Huey, Dewey and Louie, and the nephew of Scrooge McDuck. Three generations of males, without ever breathing mention of a mother, sister or wife. What females that appear are always minor in their personas as well as in the stories. Goofy and Pluto are far important than Minnie, every time.

Disney’s putdowns of other nationalities gets a little sickening. It’s not enough that they are infantile (“The world of Disney is a nineteenth century orphanage “). The noble savage, readily and gladly giving up his gold to Americans because it has no value to his society is a bit much. Especially when he trades it for soap bubble powder that makes his compatriots smile. Everyone else in the world is a caricature of a human, according to Disney. A joke of a person. His ducks are more human than the foreign humans, because of the great system they belong to – capitalism.

The authors say 75% of the sample was stories involving the search for gold, and the other 25% were about competing for fame and wealth in the big city. Disney is all about the money. Life is all about the money for Disney. That’s the message he focused on. It was all about bringing back the gold. The book demonstrates it clearly and dramatically with actual images from the comic books. They prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Disney was promoting capitalism and imperialism to the rest of the world, in the guise of family-friendly comic books. They read like alt right propaganda, as much as the book reads like left wing propaganda. In other words, Dorfman and Mattelart are correct,

There is an interminable intro, not from the authors but from the translator, which adds much heat but little light. A lot of leftist 1970s jargon revealing essentially nothing, but delaying access to the Disney defrocking. It is dense and difficult, and skipping it is beneficial.

For the victim/readers of Disney comics, in Chile and elsewhere, it was all galling, insulting and revolting: “Reading Disney is like having one’s own exploited condition rammed with honey down one’s throat.” It was Walt Disney expressing that everywhere else is a “sh—hole country” while glorifying the unlimited opportunities in an aggressive liberal capitalist society. He was making America great at the expense of everyone else.

Even Superman was less blatant.

David Wineberg

FOR IMAGES, SEE THIS REVIEW AT https://medium.com/the-straight-dope/...
Profile Image for Ashley Jane.
185 reviews
February 17, 2021
I stumbled across this by accident and it was absolutely fascinating! I couldn't stop reading it. I see what you're doing, Walt.
Profile Image for Julene.
351 reviews3 followers
August 16, 2018
Really enjoy this - if only I could remember what drove me to read it?
Profile Image for Ursula.
216 reviews12 followers
May 7, 2021
The older you get, you start realising that many things from your childhood are somehow problematic. Donald Duck is a huge part of my childhood, even until now. I still keep the comics written and drawn by Don Rosa, my favourite Disney cartoonist forever.

This book takes me very long to read because it proposes many interesting concepts and unearth many themes young me failed to notice. First being suffrenture , which Dorfman and Mattelart defines as "suffering coated with adventure". One thing about Donald is, his suffering is the main theme of many stories. The forever jobless and poor (but somehow always have a house, food, and even taking care of his three nephews) duck must undergo many unfortunate events for readers' entertainment.

Sometimes, he just wants peace or improves his life situation. Regardless, he is still stuck in the same terrible situation he is in.

Moral: don't try to change anything! Put up with what you have, or chances are you will end up with worse.

I initially thought it was just for comedic effect, but the authors saw beyond what my simple brain could process. Donald's endless suffering, they think, implies the "uselessness of persisting in the face of destiny." We are living in a capitalistic society, trying to change it would be futile. As the late Mark Fisher once said, “It's easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.”

The book also highlights how Disney unfairly treated its comic artists. Their creativity is curbed, as the brand tries hard to maintain its pure and apolitical image. Well, I tried researching more about Don Rosa and his experience with Disney echoed what the authors are trying to convey. In a farewell essay, he criticised the "Disney comic system". Some excerpts from his essay:

But it’s an unfortunate fact that there have never been, and I ultimately realized there never will be, any royalties paid to the people who write or draw or otherwise create all the Disney comics you’ve ever read.

[...] We are paid a flat rate per page by one publisher for whom we work directly. After that, no matter how many times that story is used by other Disney publishers around the world, no matter how many times the story is reprinted in other comics, album series, hardback books, special editions, etc., etc., no matter how well it sells, we never receive another cent for having created that work.

To be fair, it's not solely the company's fault; but their publishers. But it's just... pathetic, I think.

Aside from capitalism, the book also points out Disney's idea of imperialism. Most of the indigineous tribes or non-Duckburg citizens (Duckburg, in my opinion, represents the USA) are always portrayed as fools. Even though I think some of the authors' points are a bit overreaching, but this is a book worth reading especially for readers of imperialism through entertainments.
517 reviews8 followers
August 25, 2019
I love OR Books. They publish a great number thought provoking books across a wide variety of topics. With _How to Read Donald Duck_, they have grabbed onto a book banned in the US for nearly 50 years. It was written by academics in Chile, exposing the their culture was being subverted by Disney comics. It is an excellent portrail of how the use of subtle propaganda can harm a society decades in the future.

If you believe Disney represents good wholesome stories, you don't understand Uncle Walt or the root of his many films. Due to his childhood, he had issues with family. Especially mothers and fathers. He wanted to take public domain stories, tweak them to his warped view of the world and call it better. (To counter this, I've read the original source material with my kids & those stories are not pretty or have songs - Little Mermaid is an excellent example). Disney was an American propagandist, first for the US government then for himself out to the world. Be skeptical of the Mouse and Duck.

It is here the academics dive into the Donald Duck comics, as found in Chile. There are source notes for each issue. This is a well done breakdown of story themes & how it influences young minds. One point about families: No moms or dads, just uncles and cousins. Donald Duck's nephews are front and center, able to twist around bumbling adults. Except that McScrouge is their favorite uncle, one that pushes a western capitalist point of view. Here we learn that the comics make every non-white dumb and the pursuit of wealth absolute (this sent to a country that at the time of the book's writing was deeply socialist, before the overthrow of the government with help of the USA). This is propaganda in the guise of a kid's comic.

The overall theme is how Disney comics were used to place western culture's values into the heart of Chile and other South American countries. This was used to teach kids that only the white people had the knowledge or ability to do anything useful. That when western companies came to 3rd world countries, they should be overjoyed & not worry about the exploitation. As we continue to move through the 21st century, we will continue to learn that what we held dear or thought innocent actually wasn't. That it was, and still is, a way to have people turn their backs on their own history & culture, taking up the homogenized perspective of a company started by a man who really didn't care much for kids.
Profile Image for Matt Ely.
676 reviews41 followers
April 25, 2017
A fine, academic deconstruction of Disney comics as a tool of imperial ideology. What's interesting is that the comics function only secondarily as a means of colonizing the world, primarily they serve as bourgeois reassurance that it is truly meet and right to colonize, that economic dominance by "advanced" nations over "primitive" nations is just and to the benefit of all parties.

What's really compelling here is how deeply we've internalized Disney's values, whether we've read a comic or not. Looking at the selected samples, they're so brazen as to seem absurd, impossible. But they draw on the same impulse we still see now: nostalgia. In reaching for a natural state of upper-class leisure without having to see the existence of a working class, Disney highlighted and continues to highlight our collective desire to rid ourselves of the guilt of economic inequality. We need to attribute imbalance to something-- anything!-- else, the most common examples being luck or nature.

Because the world of Disney is a staid and changeless dreamscape of bourgeois righteousness, revolution or desire for change is always unjust, selfish, and impermissible. Donald and Mickey serve not as a representatives of the working class but as apologists for economic determinism. Scrooge is rich because he has ideas, Donald is poor because he's lazy. All sides admit that this is the reasoning and that it makes sense. And we all get to pretend that they're just harmless cartoons.

One note: it might be best, after reading the introduction, to also read the final appendix (located at the end) before reading the book itself. It provides some more context that could have helped me process this deceptively dense volume.
Profile Image for Sam.
47 reviews2 followers
March 26, 2017
Thorough and rousing polemic against Disney comics that breaks down the world of Donald Duck. Published in 1971 Chile, it directly and systematically attacks imperial capital. A choice quote:

"In the Disney world, the proletariat are expelled from the society they created, thus ending all antagonism, conflicts, class struggle and indeed, the very concept of social class. Disney's is a world of bourgeois interests with the cracks in the structure repeatedly papered over. In the imaginary realm of Disney, the rosy publicity fantasy of the bourgeoisie is realized to perfection: wealth without wages, deodorant without sweat. Gold becomes a toy, and the characters who play with it are amusing children; after all, the way the world goes, they aren't doing any harm to anyone.... within that world. But in this world there is harm in dreaming and realizing the dream of a particular class, as if it were the dream of the whole of humanity. "

If you read Donald Duck comics as a child, which I did and greatly enjoyed, this work will make you see the comics and character universe in a different light.
Profile Image for Spicy T AKA Mr. Tea.
510 reviews54 followers
March 7, 2013
What a great content analysis of Donald Duck comics from a Chilean point of view as the democratically elected Allende government was coming into power only to have nightmare of Pinochet emerge quickly with full backing and support of the US.

Dorfman and Mattelart cut away the propaganda and expose the duck and the Disnified world they live in as one that reproduces negative stereotypes through a US colonialist lens all the while being peddled to people in Latin America as some innocent, child's comic. It's hardly innocent.

Just a great bit of mass media criticism. Really spot on.

Profile Image for Bernard Norcott-mahany.
200 reviews7 followers
October 17, 2017
This book, written by two professors from Chile, who were supporters of the Allende regime before it got overthrown, is an examination of the subtext of the Disney comic output. Though the title suggests it is mainly aimed at Donald Duck, it also looks at Mickey Mouse and his bourgeois ways. The most fascinating point I thought was the observation that though there are aunts and uncles in the Disney comic book world, there are no parents. We never see the mom or dad of Huey, Dewey and Louie, Donald's nephews, who live with him. We never see Donald's parents, but do see his wealthy capitalist uncle, Scrooge McDuck.
Profile Image for Alan Gerstle.
Author 6 books9 followers
July 24, 2018
As an early semiotic analysis of popular culture, this book is very interesting. It helped popularize a branch of media studies that had been mainly discussed in academic circles. The irony, though, is that the Internet has amplified 'hidden messages' in purported entertaining formats with evidently no analyses that would help contemporary 'media users' deconstruct ostensibly benevolent messages, or it could be, that we're so inundated with messages of this type, it's difficult to know where to begin.
Profile Image for Eugene.
19 reviews
February 22, 2020
I am not a reader of Donald Duck, so I had to take the authors' insights in the particular qualities of this comic series at face value. It is not difficult to appreciate why this work is such a landmark in cultural criticism, and the perspective applied to Donald Duck can be applied to any work of mass entertainment today. Of course, Disney's work has some peculiarities about it, but Dorfmann and Mattelart situate this neatly into the overarching thesis. Some fantastic wordplay comes through in the translation as well.
Profile Image for Lenka.
16 reviews8 followers
November 3, 2015
I may have power read it, but that doesn't mean it wasn't fascinating.

Ariel Dorfman writes a Marxist interpretation of Disney's Donald Duck comics while in exile from his native Argentina during the height of the Cold War.

The characters were all familiar with look a little less innocent after reading this, Disney has succeeded in creating a subtle and very dangerous tool of neo-colonial influence. IS NOTHING SACRED?!
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