Donald Duck against the Nazis

A group of demonstrators with colorful Nazi flags recently took to the streets on the outskirts of Disney World, the gigantic, famous amusement park that spans two counties near the city of Orlando, Florida. It was not one of the usual groups at the theme park, in a world where photos are taken of visitors with costumed Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck.

They were real Nazis, with flags that weren’t purchased in the theme park’s souvenir shops. Red flags with the swastika emblem. Nazis from the United States, of course. They’re everywhere these days.

Referring to the angry protesters shouting insults, the Orange County sheriff’s office spokesman stated: “We are aware of these groups that aim to agitate and incite people with antisemitic symbols and slurs. They are also aware of the law. The Orange County Sheriff’s Office deplores hate speech in any form, but people have the First Amendment right to demonstrate.

The Nazi protest was directed against the Walt Disney Company for its staunch opposition to the “anti-woke” policy of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, the Parental Rights in Education law, known as the “Don’t Say Gay” law, which prohibits public school teachers from providing classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The ban extends from kindergarten through third grade. The rule change would also “ban lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity from grades 4-12, unless required by existing state standards or as part of reproductive health instruction that students can choose not to take.”

And the confrontation is an up-close one, a real war between the powerful Walt Disney Company and Republican Gov. DeSantis and the fundamentalist faction of Florida’s Republican Party. Disney World has enjoyed an autonomous status in the state as a self-contained enclave with its own fiscal and administrative privileges.

In one of the battles of this war the governor has eliminated those privileges, and the company has appealed to the courts for justice. And while DeSantis threatens to have a prison built next to the theme park, Disney has ordered the suspension of a new billion-dollar investment program.

This is an unusual war for a hard-boiled Republican like DeSantis, who rejects Donald Trump’s most fundamentalist flags. If any company represents flourishing capitalism in the entertainment industry, it would be Disney, the largest company of its kind in the world. It manages theme parks, film production, open and pay-TV channels, streaming platforms, books and magazines, as well as its conglomerate of trademarked characters.

It was even more unusual to see Donald Duck take on the Nazis. I have not had time to ask Ariel Dorfman what he thinks of this new twist in the political life of this character from the comic strips of our childhood, which in the 1970s of the last century warranted a whole book, “How to Read Donald Duck: Imperialist Ideology in the Disney Comic,” written by Dorfman himself and Armando Mattelart in 1972. The first is a Chilean; the second is Belgian, and they wrote during the time of the Popular Unity government with Salvador Allende in the presidency.

With nearly 40 editions, and translated into dozens of languages, this “manual of decolonization” analyzed, from a Marxist perspective, the alienating influence of Walt Disney’s characters — “ink dolls,” as we called them as children. It was a dissection of the ideology, embedded in the little balloons that came out of their mouths, of their strange and aseptic family relationships. Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck had no children but had nephews, and that was the first suspicious indication of their frankly capitalist mentalities. There was hoarding without measure, as Scrooge McDuck, Donald’s multimillionaire uncle, bathed in his mountains of gold coins as if they were sparkling soap bubbles and wore a monocle, top hat, and spats.

In the 1970s, triumphant popular movements, armed revolutions in the making, heroic guerrillas and people like Che Guevara fighting to the death against imperialism, as well as massive rock concerts, long hair and popular sandals weren’t fighting exclusive brands like those of the rich McDuck.

The issues that now pit Donald Duck against the Nazis were not on the agenda of political demands. Gender equality, LGBTQIA+ community rights and open sex education in schools are the issues at stake in the confrontation between DeSantis’ Republicans in Florida and the Disney company, which defends a policy of inclusion and opposes sexual and racial discrimination.

To revisit Disney’s own history: In “Fantasia,” the now classic 1940 film, there is young girl who is not only Black but also clumsy, as though they were paired conditions; and she is half donkey. In “Dumbo,” the gang of lazy crows who harass the innocent elephant represent Black people; the boss, leaving all doubt behind, is named none other than Jim Crow.

Today, in the latest version of “The Little Mermaid,” Ariel is Black, played by Halle Bailey, and it’s meeting with sensational box-office success.

Today Donald Duck might be gay; the character of Ethan Clade in the film from Disney Studios, “A Strange World,” is a gay teenager. In the old days, the patriarch, Walt Disney himself, was in charge of erasing with his magic pencil everything that was out of the orthodox masculine norm.

Atonement or new niche markets? Either way, the Nazis waving their swastika flags believe they are under attack. Donald Duck has become their enemy. The world will be for white heterosexuals, or it won’t be.

We’ll have to read Donald Duck again.

About this publication

About Patricia Simoni 178 Articles
I began contributing to Watching America in 2009 and continue to enjoy working with its dedicated translators and editors. Latin America, where I lived and worked for over four years, is of special interest to me. Presently a retiree, I live in Morgantown, West Virginia, where I enjoy the beauty of this rural state and traditional Appalachian fiddling with friends. Working toward the mission of WA, to help those in the U.S. see ourselves as others see us, gives me a sense of purpose.

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