Friday, April 16, 2010

More letters-section zaniness

In US243, some innocent young soul inquires, about Scrooge: "Is there any type of product he doesn't own?" Seems like an ambiguous question, but our intrepid editor, Bob Foster, takes it as an opportunity to engage in a somewhat frantic-sounding hagiography of the character:

Scrooge doesn't participate in business ventures involving alcohol, tobacco, drugs or firearms. He will not engage in any business activities that are illegal, immoral or distateful. . . . Toward that end [making money] he will spare no effort, except that he will not violate the ecology, exploit good people or take advantage of any person or creature that is trusting or innocent. And he will not let anyone else get away with that, either.

Strange stuff--I wonder if there were any particular impetus for this outburst.

My inner Marxist badly wants to object that it's simply not possible to get as rich as Scrooge is without exploiting anyone to any degree, but I'll let Carl Barks do it for me:

They say that wealthy people like the Vanderbilts and Rockefellers are sinful because they accumulated fortunes by exploiting the poor. I feel that everybody should be able to rise as high as they can or want to, provided they don't kill anybody or actually oppress other people on the way up. A little exploitation is something you come by in nature. We see it in the pecking order of animals—everybody has to be exploited or to exploit someone else to a certain extent. I don't resent those things.

For the record, I find this kind of appalling, although of course it doesn't affect my estimation of the man's work. But the point is, he said it, not me. In any case, though, it's not really relevant, because, obviously, you have to take Scrooge on his own terms, because if you took seriously the real-world implications of his fortune, the result would be too monstrous to contemplate. Then again, Foster only specifies that he doesn't exploit "good" people--presumably the less pure-of-heart are fair game.

But forget about all this--it's beside the point. I just want to note the apparent gulf between what you can include in your comics and what you can actually, blatantly say. Scrooge, as Barks created him, is a complex character. It's why he has enduring appeal. And let's not kid ourselves: this complexity means that he can be a mean sonuvabitch. No, this doesn't mean that he's a gunrunner or that he controls drug cartels, but it does mean that the thought that he never engages in any unsavory behavior whatsoever is deeply naïve. This is one of the main problems with Ducktales--it sandpapers down his rough edges.

You can reprint Barks endlessly, but, as we see here, that doesn't mean that, outside the comics themselves, you can talk about him in an honest way. It might be interesting to trace the rhetoric used in US letters sections (which didn't even exist until Gladstone took over) over the years to see what is permitted and what isn't, and whether it has evolved over time.


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