DCML digest, Vol 1 #79 - 15 msgs

bhc@primenet.com bhc at primenet.com
Fri Feb 11 23:27:47 CET 2000

Thoughts while awaiting word, any word, on the US comics license:

Rene Magritte, the great French surrealist and my all-time favorite fine
artist (and who was not above doing work for the commercial market,
either), painted a picture of a pipe, and right on the canvas below the
image of the pipe he painted the statement that translates into English as
"this is not a pipe". I love that, 'cause he's soooo right.

A painting of a pipe is no more a pipe in fact than it is a sack of flour,
or a space shuttle. It is only a representation of a concept that conveys
to us the idea of a pipe. Its only meaning is the meaning we allow it to
assume, and Magritte, with his painting, challenges us to examine that
almost instinctive process, which is often considered the fundamental
quality that distinguishes us humans from the rest of the critters.

Donald seems to pose the same kind of challenge, but with a distinct fork
in its line of inquiry. Is Donald not-a-duck or not-a-human? A broader
question, but a more pertinent one is, I think, what does Donald actually
represent? And the answer I come up with is: nothing, because Donald does
not represent anything actual.

While both pipes and Disney ducks are products of human artifice, pipes
exist as concrete objects in both form and function. An inference drawn
from a painting of a pipe can be tested against an actual pipe, but no
inference drawn from Donald can be tested against any actual fusion of duck
and human. Such a fusion simply does not exist, therefore the inference
remains abstract and incapable of validation in real-world terms.

The statement "Donald is a duck" is merely short hand for "Donald is a
representation of a character concept in the form of a duck". Replacing the
word "duck" with the word "human" in the shorthand does not change the
reading of the longhand, because all that "duck" or "human" are in this
context are terms carrying meanings that can be read into the abstract idea
represented by Donald Duck.

To add to the fun, just because Donald represents an abstract doesn't
change the fact that he also represents a living creature, which is why
stuffed toys and bronze castings and PVC figures and animatronic puppets
and even costumes of Donald do not establish anything in terms of his
actuality. These are all mere artifice, and artifice based on artifice at
that. Follow that very far and you could say that the toys and statues and
costumes are even less real than the Donald you see on the comic book page.

That's how it is for any fictional character. As pure abstract concepts
they don't amount to much until creators impose strictures that define and
focus them into something dramatically interesting. Yet these strictures,
just like the aforesaid inferences, can never be validated by reality.
They're either accepted, or not, purely on their own representational terms.

Carl Barks seems to have viewed Donald as representationally human, but
hardly to have held to a rigid view of Donald as not-a-duck. Don Rosa does
hold to the rigid view of Donald as not-a-duck, but there's both reason and
love in that creative choice. Only Disney Enterprises and certain of its
adjuncts have seen fit to codify one particular viewpoint (and that with
less-than-perfect consistency) and require it where enforceable. In none of
these cases is anyone stepping beyond the perogatives of creativity and/or
ownership, but in none of these cases is anyone presenting the final word
on the matter, either.

Personally, without his duck-like qualities I don't think Donald would ever
have amounted to much. He certainly wouldn't have captured the imagination
of his legions of fans if he'd been conceived and rendered as conspicuously
human, or even as a dog-face. Yet in dramatic function he clearly is human,
and could not be Donald otherwise. He is duck and he is human, the two
inextricably entwined, and to try to separate or even deny either his
duckishness or his humanness would be to obliterate the character

And that, as one classic 1970's TV cop once said, "is the name of that tune!"

Now I'll slip quietly back into the nullity of waiting, waiting, waiting...


"I took the liberty of updating your resume. I'm guessing you'll need it
soon" - the world's smartest garbage man
Gladstone *still* on the Web: http://www.brucehamilton.com/gladstone

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