How to Read Donald Duck (‘Para leer al Pato Donald’) is a political analysis by Chilean activists Ariel Dorfman and Armand Mattelart, published in 1972. It is a pioneering work on cultural imperialism. Written in the form of essay (or, in the authors’ words, a ‘decolonization manual’), the book is an analysis of mass literature, specifically the Disney comics published for the Latin American market.
It is one of the first social studies of entertainment and the leisure industry from a political-ideological angle, and the book deals extensively with the political role of children’s literature. The book’s thesis is that Disney comics are not only a reflection of the prevailing ideology at the time (capitalism), but that they are also aware of this, and are active agents in spreading the ideology.
To do so, Disney comics use images of the everyday world: ‘Here lies Disney’s inventive (product of his era), rejecting the crude and explicit scheme of adventure strips, that came up at the same time. The ideological background is without any doubt the same: but Disney, not showing any open repressive force, is much more dangerous. The division between Bruce Wayne and Batman is the projection of fantasy outside the ordinary world to save it. Disney colonizes the everyday world, at hand of ordinary man and his common problems, with the analgesic of a child’s imagination.’ This closeness to everyday life is so only in appearance, because the world shown in the comics, according to the thesis, is based on ideological concepts, resulting in a set of natural rules that lead to the acceptance of particular ideas about capital, the developed countries’ relationship with the third world, gender roles, etc.
As an example, the book considers the lack of descendants of the characters. Everybody has an uncle or nephew, everybody is a cousin of someone, but nobody has fathers or sons. The only mother shown on a regular basis is Beagle Boys’s mother, who lives outside the law and who almost never shows affection to her offspring. This non-parental reality creates horizontal levels in society, where there is no hierarchic order, except the one given by the amount of money and wealth possessed by each, and where there is almost no solidarity among those of the same level, creating a situation where the only thing left is crude competition. Another issue analyzed is the absolute necessity to have a stroke of luck for social mobility (regardless of the effort or intelligence involved), the lack of ability of the native tribes to manage their wealth, and others.