Imperialist Ideology in the Disney Comic

How to Read El Pato Pascual (Donald Duck) Art Exhibit

December 18, 2017 | Revolution Newspaper |


From a reader:

I recently went to an art exhibit, “How to Read El Pato Pascual (Donald Duck): Disney’s Latin America and Latin America’s Disney” at two galleries in Los Angeles. This exhibit is part of a larger series of exhibits, “Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, Latin American & Latino Art in LA.” 

The El Pato Pascual exhibit, with over 150 works by 48 Latin American artists, investigates and challenges nearly 100 years of cultural influence between Latin America and Disney. Many of the pieces show how the artists depict the role of Walt Disney’s comic characters in forcing American culture and economic values on the people in Latin America.

The idea for the exhibit came from the book Para Leer al Pato Donald (How to Read Donald Duck) by Ariel Dorfman and Armand Mattelart. The book was published in 1971 in Chile at a time when there was social and political unrest and a section of the Chilean people was opposing U.S. imperialism.

Dorfman wrote about the reason this book needed to be published:

It was meant to respond to a very practical need: the mass media stories Chileans had been consuming, that mentally colonized the way they lived and dreamed of their everyday circumstances, didn’t faintly match the extraordinary new situation in their country. Largely imported from the United States and available via outlets of every sort (comics, magazines, television, radio), they needed to be critiqued and the models and values they espoused, all the hidden messages of greed, domination, and prejudice they contained, exposed.

After the U.S. CIA initiated the coup in Chile in 1973 that overthrew the elected President Salvador Allende and put the U.S. puppet dictator Augusto Pinochet in power, the book was banned and Dorfman and Mattelart were forced into exile. Pinochet’s government collected all the books and televised the burning of them, reminiscent to the Nazi book burnings in Germany. (For more on this, see American Crime series Case #57: The 1973 CIA Coup in Chile.”)

There were attempts to ban the book in the U.S. Walt Disney filed lawsuits claiming the book violated copyright protection laws. Disney lost the lawsuits and the book was allowed in the country.

The book has been published in 10 different languages. The English edition was published in 1975 with an introduction written by UCLA Professor Emeritus of Art History David Kunzle and an appendix written by John Shelton Lawrence, professor emeritus at Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa. (The book can be found online.)

In the introduction, Kunzle writes:

It is no accident that the first thoroughgoing analysis of the Disney ideology should come from one of the most economically and culturally dependent colonies of the U.S. empire. How To Read Donald Duck was born in the heat of the struggle to free Chile from that dependency; and it has since become, with its many Latin American editions, a most potent instrument for the interpretation of bourgeois media in the Third World.

This exhibit is currently housed in two locations—the Luckman Gallery at Cal State LA and the Schindler House in West Hollywood. The art at the Schindler House is more representative of Dorfman’s and Mattleart’s book and of the role Disney played in Chile, while the art at the Luckman Gallery has a wider range of contextualization of how Disney is viewed by Latin American artists.

Jesse Lerner, Professor of Media Studies at the Claremont Colleges, and one of the two curators of the exhibit, gave me a personal tour of a small section of the exhibit. He and co-curator, artist Ruben Ortiz-Torres, have published a wonderful book with the title of the exhibit. The book has a collection of writings and photographs of all the art in the exhibit. The book is in English and Spanish.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Lerner said about the exhibit: “Disney borrows from Latin America, they turn it into something Hollywood, they send it back to Latin America, and the Latin Americans do something else with it and send it back.”

The way Ortiz-Torres put it: “Disney appropriates and the people appropriate Disney. It’s a constant dispute.”

As someone who did not know about Dorfman’s and Mattelart’s book, but knew about Disney in Latin America, particularly in Brazil, I found many art pieces thought provoking. You can feel the anger of the artists in many of the works, as well as the juxtaposition of Disney’s happy cartoon characters alongside the reality of the lives of the masses in Latin America and their struggles.

The Pacific Standard Time LA/LA exhibitions are composed of about 100 separate exhibits that are housed from Riverside, to San Diego, to Santa Barbara, with the majority of them in Los Angeles. The full exhibit will close in mid-January. Topics of the exhibit are Art and Activism / Borders, Diaspora & Displacement /Critiquing Globalism and Modernism / Definitions of Identity, Design/Architecture / Film/Music/Dance Series / From Abstract to Conceptual Art / Pre-Hispanic to Colonial.

People who are living in Southern California or going to be visiting there in the next month should check this out.


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