Tuesday, April 9, 2013

"The Advertising Giant"

Oh man, people.  Now we come to this story--the one I really want to talk about.  This shit is fucking interesting.  I daresay it treads thematic territory that you won't see in any other Disney comic--or at least, none spring readily to my mind.  On the one hand, I hesitate to give Scarpa too much credit here, since I'm not wholly convinced that he was cognizant of the implications here...but, well, he did it.  That much is undeniable.

Okay, so the idea here is that Mickey is annoyed by the ubiquity of advertising, but at a certain point he sorta snaps and wants to become an adman himself--cue mild satire of the industry.  Ultimately, he decides he wants to go big, and gets a job in the advertising division of a big cosmetics company; unfortunately, his immediate superior here is Pete, and various murder attempts ensue (Trudy also puts in an appearance).

So far so mildly amusing.  But now we get to the interesting part (and people who have read this story are rolling their eyes here in annoyance thinking yeah yeah, we know what's coming; stop being so damn coy), and the reason that, according to the introduction by Luca Boschi, republication was forbidden for twenty years after its initial appearance (I have no idea how formal this interdiction was, but that's what Boschi claims--and it's true, at any rate, that, unlike all of Scarpa's other late-fities/early-sixties work, this one was not reprinted a few years later).

Um…SPOILERS, obviously.  Though if you're waiting for a US printing, I suspect that you may wait a long time; the issues here are such that they could easily freak out a timid publisher.

So the CEO of his cosmetics company is named Yves Lipstic in French.  While Mickey and Pete are on assignment, they come across this house the appearance of which freaks Pete out for mysterious reasons.  Naturally, Mickey feels the need to go back later to investigate.  And there he meets Yves's…sister.


It is maybe perhaps the case that you can see where this is going.  Which is here:


Now, of  course, you can point to any number of examples of comedy cross-dressing in Disney comics at which no one bats an eyebrow, but those are strictly for laughs and don't really raise any deeper questions.  This, however, is something rather more than that: no, this situation isn't exactly the result of gender dysphoria per se, but it certainly suggests things along those lines.  You can see why an editor might be sort of uncomfortable with it (also worth noting the way that the artifice of both cosmetic and advertising industries parallels the artifice of her public identity--clearly, Scarpa put a fair bit of thought into this, to his credit).  There's more, too:


Now…before we get too carried away here, I should note that Mickey had uncovered Lipstic's gender by releasing a wind-up rat toy, which freaked her out, and since we know only girls are freaked out by rats, QEfuckinD.  So that's kind of silly and sexist.

BUT STILL.  I feel like we really ought to forgive that, given the amazingly blunt assertion of a feminist trope that remains operative fifty-plus years on; i.e., that men are judged by what they do and women by what they look like (so the ultimate compliment for a man is "strong," whereas for a woman it's "beautiful").  Was this an intentional statement on Scarpa's part, or just something he blundered into?  I don't think that's an important question; the story deserves full credit  for it in any case.


It's also worth noting, for better or worse, that there's a very strong sense of violation in Pete's blackmail scheme here that you don't often (ever?) see in these things.  I don't suppose this would've been much on Scarpa's cultural radar, but the parallels with closeted gayness are quite clear--another thing that could be alarming to a publisher.


'Course, the ending doesn't involve the guy "coming out" to the world at large; how, given this scenario, could it?  Still, there's a sense of liberation, and the fact that Mickey is being such a mensch about it--with no irrational hang-ups to be seen--is gratifying.  Let's face it: a lot of actual, real-world people at the time would most certainly not have been--and even today, the situation might be a little iffy, depending on the cultural milieu.

This, I feel, is a story that could really use the Becattini-style analysis, because, intentional or not, it really does present a good jumping-off point for a discussion of gender and sexuality.  I don't want to oversell things here; it's still mainly a goofy story--I just emphasized the notable parts in this regard.  Buuuuut…out of all the Scarpa stories I've read, which is many, it's surely also the richest for analysis.  If there were any justice, it would totally be printed in the US. 

(SPOILER: there is no justice.)

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12 Comments:

Blogger Pan Miluś said...

It's super wird to see topic of gander in a Disney comic this way...

BTW -> Whats the deal with all the Scarpa stories that where reprinted in Itally like nine times but where NEVER (or almost never...) publish in other countries?

April 9, 2013 at 6:38 AM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

*Most* interesting. Thanks for introducing me to the story, and for the English translation, and for the analysis. I *love* the line "No MAN ever lost business by being ugly as sin!" I agree that Scarpa should get credit for pointing out the differing criteria by which women and men are judged. And I agree that the "feel" of the blackmail scenario does evoke the blackmail of closeted gays.

Your comment on the sexist manner by which Mickey determines Yvette's gender makes me think of the various tricks people have devised for this purpose...most based on cultural differences rather than biological ones. Get the person to look at their fingernails--a man will curl his fingers into the palm of his hand, a woman will extend them. Or the one I think is in Tom Sawyer: throw something into the person's lap--the girl will spread her legs to catch it in her skirt, the boy will clap his legs together so it won't fall through them. Those are more neutral (less insulting) than the rat test, but they're still based on cultural conditioning. And I wonder whether it was a rat toy rather than a mouse toy because Mickey is a mouse? Isn't the usual trope that a woman is scared of a *mouse*?

April 9, 2013 at 11:27 AM  
Blogger Regular GeoX said...

Thanks, Elaine!

The story refers to it as a "rat," but it certainly could be a mouse. As we've had occasion to note before and will again about various things, this kind of blurs the boundaries: Mickey, and anthropomorphic mouse making use of a non-anthropomorphic mouse/rat toy.

April 9, 2013 at 12:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In the original Italian the name of Yves/Yvette is Mac Faxtor and in the final panel Mickey calls her "SIGNOR (Mister) Mac Faxtor", acknowledging her desire to be publicly known as a man.
A common characteristic of all these Scarpa's Mickey stories you are reviewing is that Goofy is NOT a co-star,like he is in most stories of those years, both Italian and American.
Foe example,Guido Martina in his stories starring Mickey gives a large role to Goofy's "strangeness", to the artifacts of his ancestors or even to his temporary "superpowers".

April 9, 2013 at 2:25 PM  
Blogger Regular GeoX said...

Yeah, I've noticed what you're saying about Goofy, both in Scarpa's and Martina's stories. I wonder why that is.

Interesting point about that final panel--in the French he does refer to her as Yvette; that wasn't my addition. I thought it was appropriate as an acknowledgment that, if only in Mickey's presence, she can be "herself;" I kind of prefer it like that, but I can see how it could go the other way too. Thanks for the information.

April 9, 2013 at 3:20 PM  
Blogger Regular GeoX said...

...though actually, come to think of it, the fact that she's wearing a dress in the conclusion seems to militate against the idea that she wants to consistently pass for a man. Hmm.

April 9, 2013 at 4:13 PM  
Blogger ramapith said...

Goofy as constant co-star was a construct of Western Publishing—to be blunt, an effort to ramrod Mickey into the formula it had already built for Andy Panda and Porky Pig (essentially, "adventures" with straight man/comic foil vs one-off crooks).

The later Walsh/Gottfredson serials used Goofy often, but not in every story, and definitely not in a sidekick role in every story.

Italy took its lead from Walsh/Gottfredson, not from Western.

April 10, 2013 at 2:57 PM  
Anonymous Unca Paspasu said...

"The fact that she's wearing a dress in the conclusion seems to militate against the idea that she wants to consistently pass for a man."

She only wants to "be" a man, because of the business, but at home and perhaps other occasions, she dresses as a woman.

Should we feel sorry for a woman who cannot sell her cosmetic products because they don't have any effect? Yvette knows from personal experience her cosmetics don't work and still she wants people to buy her shit. Mickey hates advertisements, but doesn't object in making them. He annoys other people, but why should he care? He gets his pay and promotion. I can see who the bad "guys" are in this story.

April 10, 2013 at 3:53 PM  
Blogger Regular GeoX said...

She only wants to "be" a man, because of the business, but at home and perhaps other occasions, she dresses as a woman.

Well, yeah, that was my interpretation. But the anonymous poster claimed that it's different in the original Italian.

Should we feel sorry for a woman who cannot sell her cosmetic products because they don't have any effect? Yvette knows from personal experience her cosmetics don't work and still she wants people to buy her shit. Mickey hates advertisements, but doesn't object in making them. He annoys other people, but why should he care? He gets his pay and promotion. I can see who the bad "guys" are in this story.

Whoa--hold on there. It's true that Mickey going from hating to loving advertising is one of those weird Scarpa things that leave us kind of unclear as to what if anything the message is here, but it's not at all the case that her cosmetics don't "work." Quite the opposite--they're of no use for her because, apparently, she's singularly ugly, but they work great for others. If she were just trying to rip people off, we'd have a very different story.

April 10, 2013 at 5:09 PM  
Anonymous Unca Paspasu said...

"But the anonymous poster claimed that it's different in the original Italian."

I think there's a difference between "her desire to be publicly known as a man" and "she wants to consistently pass for a man." It depends on what you call "publicly" of course, but I would connect it to her CEO-ship.

"They work great for others."
Mickey's advertising brainwashed you! :P

"If she were just trying to rip people off, we'd have a very different story."

I guess it wasn't Scarpa's intention to make her and Mickey the baddies, but to me they are just trying to rip people off! It's a common thing in any business, though.

April 11, 2013 at 10:44 AM  
Blogger Regular GeoX said...

Dood, I don't know what to say. She explicitly SAYS that her products are effective, and she's obviously meant to be a sympathetic character. You can read the story against itself if you want to, of course, but I don't see a shred of textual evidence to support this. I'm as anti-corporate as the next lefty, but really now...

April 11, 2013 at 12:30 PM  
OpenID reviewordie said...

I don't have any words for this story. Not one. I mean... um...

Without reading it, I have no idea if it's good or not, but... but...

Just...

Huh.

Okay.

Not even any Scarpa bashing to give.

... fine. I hate Mickey's outfit, it's terrible. There. That's all I've got. Anything I mighta said, you've already said.

April 11, 2013 at 5:29 PM  

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