The Columbus Free Press

More Than Ever, It's a Disney World

by Norman Solomon / Creators Syndicate, Sep 20, 1996

Here comes a blitz of Disneymania you probably couldn't avoid if you tried. In a few days, the kickoff celebration for the 25th anniversary of Disney World is bound to be a doozy. After all, Mickey Mouse's corporate parent is now one of the biggest media conglomerates on the planet.

Across several continents, billions of people are likely to hear about the festivities starting Oct. 1 near Orlando. But meanwhile, the Walt Disney Co. is sure to ignore a very different silver anniversary.

In late 1971 -- when Disney World was opening in Florida -- an unauthorized book appeared in Chile. How to Read Donald Duck, first published as Para Leer al Pato Donald, later went into translation in more than a dozen languages. Worldwide, the book's sales topped 700,000 copies.

From the outset, Donald's owners objected. They fought a losing legal battle, claiming copyright infringement and trying to keep the book out of the United States. Looking through How to Read Donald Duck, it's easy to see why.

The book focuses on messages that Donald Duck comics conveyed to generations of readers. Along the way, it provides some graphic examples, such as a comic-book tale about Donald's nephews in kindergarten:

"Today, we will play that we are all big business men," says the teacher.

"I'll pretend I'm a big landlord with lots of land for sale!" exclaims Dewey.

"That's the spirit," responds the teacher. "Who wants to buy some land from Dewey?"

"I will!" says another of Donald's nephews, donning a top hat, monacle and cane to emulate billionaire Scrooge McDuck. "I want to buy an island!"

"How big an island, and in what ocean, stranger?" replies Dewey.

And so on. The authors of How to Read Donald Duck, Ariel Dorfman and Armand Mattelart, contended that the cartoons were highly instructive: "Children's comics are devised by adults, whose work is determined and justified by their idea of what a child is or should be. ...These adults are not about to tell stories which would jeopardize the future they are planning for their children."

The wayward authors critiqued Disney role models in great detail. So, Donald and his nephews, Uncle Scrooge, Daisy (seeking "to become a sexual object, infinitely solicited and postponed"), Goofy, the innately criminal Beagle Boys and other Duckburg regulars underwent careful deconstruction.

Now, a quarter-century later, it all seems a bit quaint. Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck have morphed into Peter Jennings and Ted Koppel. At Disney headquarters, where execs manage the ABC network and a whole lot more, there are billions in assets where millions used to be. And the 30,000-acre Disney World is a tiny place in relation to what's on the media horizon -- a globe dominated by Disney and a few other firms.

How to Read Donald Duck, written and published while socialist Salvador Allende served as Chile's president, was quickly banned after fascists took power in September 1973. By the time democracy returned to Chile, seven years ago, that country -- like so much of the rest of Latin America, Africa and Asia -- was enmeshed in global economic structures that Scrooge McDuck would appreciate. Those who can acquire, prosper; those who can't, suffer the consequences.

As Disney World marks its gala anniversary, the McDucks who run the company are well-positioned to deluge societies from Tierra del Fuego to Iceland to Jakarta with products ranging from ABC programs to a plethora of big-budget movies, cable channels, newspapers, magazines, books, musical recordings, videos, toys, theme parks, retail stores, cruiselines, resorts, sports teams and insurance.

A globalized economy ruled by international capital -- now known in the Third World as "neo-liberalism" -- was foreshadowed by a September 1964 episode cited in How to Read Donald Duck: Talking to a witch doctor in Africa, Donald Duck says: "I see you're an up-to-date nation! Have you got telephones?"

"All colors, all shapes," the African assures him. "Only trouble is, only one has wires! It's a hot line to the world loan bank."

Today, the bigwigs at Disney have much to celebrate. Not just Disney World. A Disney world.

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