TO READ DONALD DUCK
By Ariel Dorfman and Armand Mattelart
III. FROM THE NOBLE
SAVAGE TO THE THIRD WORLD
Donald (talking to a witch doctor in Africa):
"I see you're an up to date nation! Have you got telephones?"
"Have we gottee telephones!
All colors, all shapes
only trouble is only one has wires. It's a hot line to the world
(TR 106, US 9/64)
Where is Aztecland? Where is Inca-Blinca? Where is Unsteadystan?
There can be no doubt
that Aztecland is Mexico, embracing as it does all the prototypes
of the picture-postcard Mexico: mules, siestas, volcanoes, cactuses,
huge sombreros, ponchos, serenades, machismo, and Indians from ancient
civilizations. The country is defined primarily in terms of this
grotesque folklorism. Petrified in an archetypical embryo, exploited
for all the superficial and stereotyped prejudices which surround
it, "Aztecland," under its pseudo-imaginary name becomes
that much easier to Disnify. This is Mexico recognizable by its
commonplace exotic identity labels, not the real Mexico with all
Walt took virgin territories
of the U.S. and built upon them his Disneyland palaces, his magic
kingdoms. His view of the world at large is framed by the same perspective;
it is a world already colonized, with phantom inhabitants who have
to conform to Disney's notions of it. Each foreign country is used
as a kind of model within the process of invasion by Disney-nature.
And even if some foreign country like Cuba or Vietnam should dare
to enter into open conflict with the United States, the Disney Comics
brand-mark is immediately stamped upon it, in order to make the
revolutionary struggle appear banal. While the Marines make revolutionaries
run the gauntlet of bullets, Disney makes them run a gauntlet of
magazines. There are two forms of killing: by machine guns and saccharine.
Disney did not, of course,
invent the inhabitants of these lands; he merely forced them into
the proper mold. Casting them as stars in his hit-parade, he made
them into decals and puppets for his fantasy palaces, good and inoffensive
savages unto eternity.
According to Disney,
underdeveloped peoples are like children, to be treated as such,
and if they don't accept this definition of themselves, they should
have their pants taken down and be given a good spanking. That'll
teach them! When something is said about the child/noble savage,
it is really the Third World one is thinking about. The hegemony
which we have detected between the child-adults who arrive with
their civilization and technology, and the child-noble savages who
accept this alien authority and surrender their riches, stands revealed
as an exact replica of the relations between metropolis and satellite,
between empire and colony, between master and slave. Thus we find
the metropolitans not only serarching for treasures, but also selling
the natives comics (like those of Disney), to teach them the role
assigned to them by the dominant urban press. Under the suggestive
title "Better Guile Than Force," Donald departs for a
Pacific atoll in order to try to survive for a month, and returns
loaded with dollars, like a modern business tycoon. The entrepreneur
can do better than the missionary or the army. The world of the
Disney comic is self-publicizing, ensuring a process of enthusiastic
buying and selling even within its very pages.
Enough of generalities.
Examples and proofs. Among all the child-noble savages, none is
more exaggerated in his infantilism than Gu, the Abominable Snow
Man (TR 113, US 6-8/56, "The Lost Crown of Genghis Khan"):
a brainless, feeble-minded Mongolian type (living by a strange coincidence,
in the Himalayan Hindu Kush mountains among yellow peoples). He
is treated like a child. He is an "abominable housekeeper,"
living in a messy cave, "the worst of taste," littered
with "cheap trinkets and waste." Hats etc., lying around
which he has no use for. Vulgar, uncivilized, he speaks in a babble
of inarticulate baby-noises: "Gu." But he is also witless,
having stolen the golden jeweled crown of Genghis Khan (which belongs
to Scrooge by virtue of certain secret operations of his agents),
without having any idea of its value. He has tossed the crown in
a corner like a coal bucket, and prefers Uncle Scrooge's watch:
value, one dollar ("It is his favorite toy"). Never mind,
for "his stupidity makes it easy for us to get away!"
Uncle Scrooge does indeed manage, magically, to exchange the cheap
artifact of civilization which goes tick-tock, for the crown. Obstacles
are overcome once Gu (innocent child-monstrous animal - underdeveloped
Third Worldling) realizes that they only want to take something
that is of no use to him, and that in exchange he will be given
a fantastic and mysterious piece of technology (a watch) which he
can use as a plaything. What is extracted is gold, a raw material;
he who surrenders it is mentally underdeveloped and physically overdeveloped.
The gigantic physique of Gu, and of all the other marginal savages,
is the model of a physical strength suited only for physical labor.*
Such an episode reflects
the barter relationship established with the natices by the first
conquistadors and colonizers (in Africa, Asia, America and Oceania):
some trinket, the product of technological superiority (European
or North American) is exchanged for gold (spices, ivory, tea, etc.).
The native is relieved of something he would never have thought
of using for himself or as a means of exchange. This is an extreme
and almost anecdotic example. The common stuff of other types of
comic book (e.g. in the internationally famous Tintin in Tibet by
the Belgian Hergé) leaves the abominable creature in his
bestial condition, and thus unable to enter into any kind of economy.
But this particular
victim of infantile regression stands at the borderline of Disney's
noble savage cliché. Beyond it lies the foetus-savage, which
for reasons of sexual prudery Disney cannot use.
Lest the reader feel
that we are spinning too fine a thread in establishing a parallel
between someone who carries off gold in exchange for a mechanical
trinket, and imperialism extracting raw material from a mono-productive
country, or between typical dominators and dominated, let us now
adduce a more explicit example of Disney's strategy in respect to
the countries he caricatures as "backward" (needless to
say, he never hints at the causes of their backwardness).
The following dialogue
(taken from the same comic which provided the quotation at the beginning
of this chapter) is a typical example of Disney's colonial attitudes,
in this case directed against the African independence movements.
Donald has parachuted into a country in the African jungle. "Where
am I," he cries. A witch doctor (with spectacles perched over
his gigantic primitive mask) replies: "In the new nation of
Kooko Coco, fly boy. This is our capital city." It consists
of three straw huts and some moving haystacks. When Donald enquires
after this strange phenomenon, the witch doctor explains: "Wigs!
This be hairy idea our ambassador bring back from United Nations."
When a pig pursuing Donald lands and has the wigs removed disclosing
the whereabouts of the enemy ducks, the following dialogue ensues:
Pig: "Hear ye!
hear ye! I'll pay you kooks some hairy prices for you wigs! Sell
me all you have!"
Rich trader buyee our old head hangers!"
Another native: "He
payee me six trading stamps for my beehive hairdo!"
Third native (overjoyed):
"He payee me two Chicago streetcar tokens for my Beatle job."
To effect his escape,
the pig decides to scatter a few coins as a decoy. The natives are
happy to stop, crouch and cravenly gather up the money. Elsewhere,
when the Beagle Boys dress up as Polynesian natives to deceive Donald,
they mimic the same kind of behavior: "You save our lives
We be your servants for ever." And as they prostrate themselves,
Donald observes: "They are natives too. But a little more civilized."
Another example (Special
Number D 423): Donald leaves for "Outer Congolia," because
Scrooge's business there has been doing badly. The reason is the
"the King ordered his subjects not to give Christmas presents
this year. He wants everyone to hand over this money to him."
Donald comments: "What selfishness!" And so to work. Donald
makes himself king, being taken for a great magician who flies through
the skies. The old monarch is dethroned because "he is not
a wise man like you [Donald]. He does not permit us to buy presents."
Donald accepts the crown, intending to decamp as soon as the stock
is sold out: "My first command as king is
for your families and don't give your king a cent!" The old
king had wanted the money to leave the country and eat what he fancied,
instead of the fish heads which were traditionally his sole diet.
Repentant, he promises that given another chance, he will govern
better, "and I will find a way somehow to avoid eating that
Donald (to the people):
"And I assure you that I leave the throne in good hands. Your
old king is a good king
and wiser than before." The people:
"Hurray! Long Live the King!"
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 the people, because
this wealth must pass wholly out of the country to Duckburg through
the agent of McDuck. Furthermore, the strangers find a solution
to the problem of the king's boredom. To alleviate his sense of
alienation within his own country, and his consequent desire to
travel to the metropolis, they arrange for the massive importation
of consumer goods: "Don't worry about that food," says
Donald, "I will send you some sauces which will make even fish
heads palatable." The king stamps gleefully up and down.
The same formula is
repeated over and over again. Scrooge exchanges with the Canadian
Indians gates of rustless steel for gates of pure gold (TR 117).
Moby Duck and Donald (D 453), captured by the Aridians (Arabs),
start to blow soap bubbles, with which the natives are enchanted.
"Ha, ha. They break when you catch them. Hee, hee." Ali-Ben-Goli,
the chief, says, "it's real magic. My people are laughing like
children. They cannot imagine how it works." "It's only
a secret passed from generation to generation," says Moby,
" I will reveal it if you give us our freedom." (Civilization
is presented as something incomprehensible, to be administered by
foreigners). The chief, in amazement, exclaims "Freedom? That's
not all I'll give you. Gold, jewels. My treasure is yours, if you
reveal the secret." The Arabs consent to their own despoliation.
"We have jewels, but they are of no use to us. They don't make
you laugh like magic bubbles." While Donald sneers "poor
simpleton," Moby hands over the Flip Flop detergent. "You
are right, my friend. Whenever you want a little pleasure, just
pour out some magic powder and recite the magic words." The
story ends on the note that it is not necessary for Donald to excavate
the Pyramids (or earth) personally, because, as Donald says, "What
do we need a pyramid for, having Ali-Ben-Goli?"
Each time this situation
recurs, the natives' joy increases. As each object of their own
manufacture is taken away from them, their satisfaction grows. As
each artifact from civilization is given to them, and interpreted
by them as a manifestation of magic rather than technology, they
are filled with delight. 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
to a cheap watch? Some will object that this kind of barter is all
imaginary, but it is unfortunate that these laws of the imagination
are tilted unilaterally in favor of those who come from outside,
and those who write and publish the magazines.
But how can this flagrant
despoliation pass unperceived, or in other words, how can this inequity
be disguised as equity? Why is it that imperialist plunder and colonial
subjection, to call them by their proper names, do not appear as
"We have jewels,
but they are of no use to us."
There they are in their
desert tents, their caves, their once flourishing cities, their
lonely islands, their forbidden fortresses, and they can never leave
them. Congealed in their past-historic, their needs defined in function
of this past, these underdeveloped peoples are denied the right
to build their own future. Their crowns, their raw materials, their
soil, their energy, their jade elephants, their fruit, but above
all, their gold, can never be turned to any use. For them the progress
which comes from abroad in the form of multiplicity of technological
artifacts, is a mere toy. It will never penetrate the crystallized
defense of the noble savage, who is forbidden to become civilized.
He will never be able to join the Club of the Producers, because
he does not even understand that these objects have been produced.
He sees them as magic elements, arising from the foreigner's mind,
from his word, his magic wand.