I started pursing this project while visiting Chile last year. Walking through a flea market I stumbled upon a stand that sold thousands of tiny plastic toy figurines. I gleaned over the table; every conceivable pop culture figurine could be found, except one: Donald Duck. I asked the vendor and he replied that it’s nearly impossible to find Donald Duck these days. At a local newspaper stand, the vendor told me that Disney comics had disappeared decades ago. I asked some teenagers if they knew Donald Duck and they shrugged their shoulders… Donald Duck was nowhere to be found. He had simply melted away. So, where did Donald go? What did he transform himself into? The dictatorship? The seductive economic policies of Milton Friedman? Or maybe he had invaded us, literally, and we had become one with Donald Duck and the values he represented.
“How to Read Donald Duck” by (my father) Ariel Dorfman and Armand Mattelart constitutes a fascinating model of how a work of cultural resistance can successfully reach millions of readers from around the world and from every possible social background. Written in 1971, in the middle of a Chilean revolutionary process, which advanced not just the social and economic emancipation of its citizens but also its cultural liberation from imported forms of mass entertainment, the book was an insolent manifesto that appropriated copyrighted images without consent; the first of its kind to offer a radical interpretation of the neo-liberal values that were being transmitted through the (apparently) not so innocent comic strip characters of the world of Disney.
Donald Duck is the last person anyone would imagine being the messenger of capitalism or the love child of Milton Friedman and Walt Disney. And yet, the imprint of Donad Duck, that everyday duck who’s always out of luck, struggling day to day, ready to pillage, steal and deceive in the service of his billionaire Uncle Scrooge McDuck, that common-man duck is an essential archetype of the expendable consumer/citizen living out the dreams of plenty offered by our free market system. In this way, we are victim and executioner, exploited and exploiter caught in the matrix of Disney’s American Dream. We dream of becoming, one day, millionaires and therefore have an imaginary stake in protecting the interests of all millionaires. Keith Olbermann recently said it well: “We live in a lotto nation”. I would go a step further as I intend to tell the fantastic, yet true story (yes, it is true!) of how the US (and Chile – its shadow historical twin, 9/11’s aside) were virtually and literally transformed into Duckburg and we the people have become characters in a comic strip where there seems to be no possible alternative to the perverse self-serving scenario scripted by us for our children’s future. Like Donald Duck, we have become, in the famous words of Herbert Hoover, part of the “happiness machine”.