How to Read Donald Duck
By Ariel Dorfman & Armand Mattelart, translated by David Kunzle
Pluto Press, 2019
192 pp, $17.00
Today, as the streets of Chile burn with rebellion, it is timely to look back on this book, which was burned by the military during the 1973 overthrow of the socialist Salvador Allende presidency.
Allende's overthrow inaugurated the reign of neoliberalism, underpinned by mass murder, imprisonment and torture of leftists. Incredibly, as they hunted down and slaughtered thousands of left-wingers, the dictatorship took the time to ferret out copies of this critique of Disney comics and burn them — live on TV!
When Pinochet’s forces discovered 10,000 copies in a warehouse, they flew them out over the ocean and dumped them. Such was the fear and awe that they felt for this book.
The reason, as explained in its pages, is that the US government had consciously used Disney comics as an anti-communist cultural wedge in Latin America.
Left-wing activist academics Ariel Dorfman and Armand Mattelart delighted in challenging the conservative tropes Disney pushed. They were lucky to get out of Chile alive.
The value of this book isn’t so much in its analysis, which is largely dated. It is a monument to the radical cultural movement associated with the Allende government, which offers an example of what might be rebuilt in Chile if the current revolt succeeds.