Who doesn’t know Donald Duck? The crass companion of Mickey Mouse and Goofy has been around for the better part of the century. While Donald had humble origins (he started off as a side character to Peter Pig… I know, who?) the character quickly grew into the most clearly defined of all the major Disney animated characters. Mickey Mouse is a nice guy, Goofy is a nice guy – Donald, well he’s a jerk. A real jerk, with a fiery temper and abusive tendencies to his nephews. Yet with all that aside there is something really endearing about him. Yeah, he’s selfish but then: aren’t we all?
Like all major Disney creations, Donald Duck appeared in many forms. Movies, cartoons and comics: there was hardly a media platform that was foreign. This article focuses on those early comics, created by Carl Barks. These stories took the form of humorous adventures that took Donald and his three nephews (and occasionally Scrooge and others) to every exotic corner of the globe. Have you ever seen DuckTales? Think that but more politically incorrect… like really more.
I own a collection of the old Donald Duck stories, comics published between 1944 and 1952. Needless to say, the world was different then. In these tales, Donald and his nephews head to the arctic, the tropics and everywhere in between. In the ten stories they meet pretty much every type of people on the planet and well, there’s a lot of this:
Today, this would be unacceptable. Disney would face massive repercussions and have to at least make a public apology. However, I do not believe Barks had racism in mind when he was writing the stories. There is a focus on “political correctness” now that did not exist back in the early 20th century. Older ideas, such as imperialism, were still alive and well (not that they aren’t today, they’re just thankfully less popular). From John Carter to Batman, every character reflected this attitude.
As times changed and culture evolved, the content of these works is now deemed offensive. To be labeled “politically incorrect” is to be accused of damaging culture. All people are created equally therefore it is not right to offend anyone. I take issue with the whole idea of “political correctness” but that is an article for another day. The question is: are these comics damaging?
No. These are not works of influence. These are flights of fancy with Donald Duck. In some ways his personality allows this behavior to be more acceptable. Looking at a list of other questionable content, it’s sad to see all these beloved characters behaving this way because it was socially acceptable at the time. Donald Duck has never been socially acceptable. As stated at the beginning of this article: he’s a jerk. Donald is the character the audience learns from, not emulates. There is an argument to be made that, in this culture, Donald worked better as a teacher. Regardless, times have changed and Donald along with them. Thankfully, there is more than one way to be a jackass.