Tuesday, December 7, 2010

"Uncle Scrooge and Money"

In honor of a political party that's hellbent for leather on tax cuts for billionaires above all else, and if that provides a pretext for slashing benefits for people who've been fucked over by said billionaires' malfeasance, hey, Bonus!--and in honor of another political party with a long, barely-blemished record of cravenly selling out its alleged principles and caving to the first at the slightest provocation--it's "Uncle Scrooge and Money."

This is an "educational" comic, like "Donald Duck in Mathmagicland," and like "Mathmagicland," it's based on an animated short--notable as one of the few pre-Ducktales instances of an animated Scrooge. There are differences between cartoon and comic--for me, the biggest is in art quality; Tony Strobl's work on the comic--like his work on "Mathmagicland"--is rock-solid, whereas the character designs in the short are actually quite unpleasant-looking. However, I don't want to dwell on the differences between the two too much, because I wouldn't call them profound, like those between the two versions of "Mathmagicland," which I will write more about one of these days.

As much as I think we're all sick of me typing the word "Mathmagicland," I'm afraid I'm going to have to do it once more, so steel yourself: neither version of "Uncle Scrooge and Money" is anywhere near as good as either version of "Mathmagicland." Still, I am thankful that Gladstone chose to reprint it, in an issue of Uncle Scrooge Adventures. Ya gotta love the 'stoners--they had no fear about publishing weird, old material that can't be of any great interest to a general audience.

As you can imagine, there's just SO much to say about a story called "Uncle Scrooge and Money"--it's hard to know where to start. I would perhaps first note that there's automatically a kind of dissonance built into the very IDEA of a story where Scrooge teaches us how money works: while from one perspective, Scrooge is the arch-capitalist, from another, he's scarcely a capitalist at all--as eloquently established in "Only a Poor Old Man," money is for him more of a fetish object than anything that's connected to real-world finance (I never know what to DO with this insight, but I've had it for a long time, and I just want to put it out there: compare Scrooge to Trina in McTeague. Interesting, no?). Of course, his relationship to money fluctuates within Barks' own canon, let alone those of other writers, but it is certainly not uncomplicated.

I mean really, now, does the above image of our protagonist getting to second base with a pile of bills really suggest a capacity for abstract, economic thinking? I'm not so sure! Then again, "I'll always be the duck that makes the money" sounds like a hip-hop lyric to me (CREAM!), which certainly would complicate things, given that culture's relationship to conspicuous consumption.

Actually, though, economic questions largely take a back seat for a good bit of the story. Attentive readers may recall another Strobl story concerning giant stone money.

…an' if the above isn't depicting some sorta Indecent-Proposal-type situation, I'd sure like to know what it is doing.

Anyway, there's stuff with cavemen figuring out the concept of money--but what there's a lot of is dubious, difficult-or-impossible-to-verify factoids about the WACKY money that those craaaaazy natives used.

I suppose it's asking a lot for an educational comic to be genuinely educational, but this Ripley's-believe-it-or-not approach really kind of sucks, for my money (haw!). If these cultures really used these unusual forms of currency, presumably they had some reason for so doing, but you'd never know that from this, which just presents a series of decontexualized fragments of information for no other reason than "lol--those wacky indigenous people." And seriously, what could "whale money" possibly even mean? I assure you, a google search for "whale money"+fiji will not prove illuminating on this topic.

And then we also...what? Oh, ferfuckssake. Yeah, thank god those crapass civilizations didn't prevail. Could someone please activate the Fanon-signal? I think we are in dire need of it here.

Scrooge spews insane gibberish. This is actually also a line from the cartoon; there IS context (Greek people kept money in their mouths!), but it doesn't make the alleged joke make any more sense.

The comic also skimps on rather more important details: I mean, when you think about it, it's pretty bizarre for currency to be based on small quantities of rare metals in any case; trying to pass this off to kids as a normal thing without any explanation of the how and the why seems like a non-starter.

Alas, Firm A destroyed itself due to reckless naked short-selling. The equipment that Firm B purchased turned out to be substandard due to lax trade regulations. This came back to bite them when these materials went into Firm F's construction project, resulting in a horrific bridge disaster. And you don't even wanna KNOW what Firm G did. Hoo boy.

…or maybe none of that happened. Still, the long chain of unblemished honesty and non-malfeasance that this system requires is perhaps presented in a somewhat excessively rosy light.

So Scrooge foreclosed on...a Shriners' temple? That seems like a dick move.

…no; turns out it's just a portable carnival. Which also seems kinda dickish, to be honest; I mean, hey, maybe the carnival was hemorrhaging money all over the place, but still, it's hard to imagine a foreclosure on a carnival being a particularly pleasant affair, which just goes to show: the comic has been devoted to a utopian sort of view of capitalism up to now, and while I don't believe this little detail was consciously intended by anyone to undercut this, it does implicitly show that the whole thing isn't just wine and roses (did you know the South Blarghians used wine and roses as money? A thing like that!)--that is to say, there are enough pitfalls in the system that the author could just stick it in without even thinking about it, like it waren't no thang. That strikes me as Telling.

Yeah...an' you know who else gives out free samples to get people hooked and spending their own money? "That's unfair," you object; "free samples are not the sole province of drug dealers." True...but as an ardent (if oft-times hypocritical) anti-capitalist, I still think that this provides the best metaphor for this system (you've all seen The Wire, right? Right?? Okay.), and given that even by the standards of the form, Scrooge's ecstasies here are even more hyperbolic than usual…I'm gonna run with it.

Actually, appearances to the contrary, I don't hate this story; I like the educational-film atmosphere, even if most of the actual content is incoherent when it's not actively malignant. It reminds me in a pleasant sort of way of the film strips we watched in elementary school (this was right at the very end of the era where people would actually watch film strips). Still, that's my own weird idiosyncrasy; it's difficult for me to imagine how anybody could enjoy a comic like this in its intended manner.

UPDATE: You can watch the cartoon on youtube--part one and part two.



Anonymous Kevin Johnson said...

Ahh, yes, Uncle Scrooge and Money. One of the interesting things about Scrooge - and Ducktales in general - is the sense of capitalism as a perfect sphere of success. I'm not sure how much the comics delved into it, but the cartoons did often after "Business 101" episodes, like the infamous one that dealt with inflation when introducing bottle caps in what was essentially a socialist (actual definition here!) village. It became infamous recently due to the bailout, blah blah blah.

Still, I remember the cartoon version of Uncle Scrooge and Money being more... factual. I don't think there was a "foreclose this business with UTTER GLEE" scene, for example, and I do remember an extended song sequence showcasing how much a million dollars REALLY is. I kinda have to give Disney props for even attempting to teach children about these topics, since most comics and cartoons wouldn't touch it with a ten-foot pole.

Oh, one more thing - that has to be the most awful, Euro-centric statement I've seen in YEARS. Franz Boas is rolling in his grave.


(BTW, I totally cribbed your style for my blog like I said I would for the SMB comics. Thought I throw that out there cause I know someone else asked for them on your blog here.)

December 8, 2010 at 5:07 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Yeah, the cartoon IS a bit more information-y than the comic is. Also, there are songs, which is always a plus (and most of the dialogue is in rhyme form).

December 8, 2010 at 7:16 PM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

Well there is still a pretty important difference between the short and the story: in the short, the examples of proto-money are real, while here as you said it's invention. The short was ACTUALLY educational, what it said about the history of money and the mechanisms of finance were TRUE FACTS, while here Strobl makes ersatz of history. His art's good, though. It's interesting to note too that this is probably (aside of the crossover-stories featuring Snow White or Captain Hook and the "early Barks" like Dangerous Disguise) one of the stories in which there are the greatest amount of human characters, you now, with noses and not doghouses.

July 11, 2015 at 6:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The popular view I've gleaned from the Net is that Barks portrayed Scrooge as a positive capitalist, while Don Rosa portrayed greed as his fatal flaw; thus, Don Rosa is the one with the reputation for REALLY playing up the "Scrooge uses money as a toy, and the Money Bin is full of memories" far more than Barks. Not sure how accurate it is, but I definitely think Don Rosa, like DuckTales, uses Scrooge more to deliver the moral "Greed is bad" than Barks did, who did a lot more creative things with morals in his comics I've read.

Granted, I only saw this cartoon once on Youtube years ago, but add me to the list of those who don't remember many of these excerpted panels like foreclosing on a carnival being in it.

Of course money is not analogous to drugs in this - it's obvious from the first few panels that they're using money as an analogy for sex.

the long chain of unblemished honesty and non-malfeasance that this system requires is perhaps presented in a somewhat excessively rosy light.

Since you brought it up, doesn't the same apply to systems like Communism and Socialism? How does something like "From each according to his ability and to each according to his need" succeed at creating everything everyone needs and getting it to everyone who needs it unless everyone is 100% honest about their abilities, 100% honest about their needs... 100% unenvious of what others have, and 100% ungreedy and unselfish and uninterested in getting more than they deserve...?

February 24, 2016 at 3:03 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Well, clearly. No system is perfect, and human nature will always get in the way. All we can do is decide what seems least bad and muddle along.

February 24, 2016 at 3:31 PM  
Blogger Miguel Madeira said...

The "whale money" of Fiji is possibly this:


August 18, 2019 at 8:12 PM  

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