Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, Chapter Nine: "The Billionaire of Dismal Downs"

Interesting installment here--first, because it's the lone part of the series that isn't really an adventure story (well…"Of Ducks Dimes and Destinies" too, I suppose, but that's still more action-oriented than this). And second, because it really showcases the contradictions and incoherencies that pop up in Rosa's conception of Scrooge. For instance, the beginning starts off with a letter to his family detailing what went down after he struck it rich:

Scrooge Mcduck, Friend of the Working Man? It's really difficult to know what to make of this. Are we supposed to not think that him taking fifty percent of the profits is excessive? It seems excessive to me. But the guy first sure seems happy enough with the deal, so maybe it's not supposed to be. And he's clearly meant to be enforcing this "value of hard work" thing with the second guy--but really, who's fooling whom? This is the same Scrooge who employs his nephew on dangerous jobs for thirty cents an hour and generally--especially in Rosa's conception--treats him quite poorly. We may have to ask ourselves what "making it square" is actually supposed to mean. We may also suggest that Rosa's sorta trying to have it both ways: on the one hand, integrity! Value of hard work! Et cetera!; on the other, jokes about extreme stinginess! These two things coexist in his work, but they really don't mesh well.

Also, not to get all Marxist on your asses (oh, whom am I kidding?), but the fact is, Scrooge, the present-day version, is very definitely--because if he weren't, there would be no way he could compete with the rest of the business world, let alone come out on top of them all--an employer and facilitator of alienated labor: the idea being, basically, that industrial capitalism requires that work be broken down and ruthlessly rationalized; whereas before, a worker would be involved in all stages of production and thus have a sense of the meaning of his or her work, that is no longer possible, and he or she becomes alienated from the process; disconnected from any actual sense of value (see also: Taylorism). You may not be a raving pinko like me, and thus you may argue about the effects of this and the extent to which they're pernicious, but you really can't argue that Frederick Winslow Taylor didn't have a huge influence on business, and that assembly lines of the sort pioneered by Henry Ford didn't substantially alter the relationship of laborers to their work. The point being, this is all pretty much the exact opposite of the sort of thing Scrooge is encouraging--this sort of rugged-individualist, all-on-your-own thing--in the above panels, but it's exactly what his empire is going to consist of. It would be difficult to argue that the very fact of this empire doesn't by necessity make him far more of a bastard than the guy looking to get rich on the backs of broke prospectors. That's the logical conclusion of Rosa's writing here, at any rate.

A counterpoint you could make is that this isn't really the right way to think about it: sure, in the real world Scrooge would have to be a right bastard to get by, but this is fantasy, and as such, in some symbolic way, the character is beyond that--he is a platonic ideal that couldn't exist in the real world, and that unresolved and unresolvable tension is what makes him such a great character. Which is fair enough, and I'd probably agree with you in a lot of contexts, but here Rosa is really trying to ground the character in this here "real world," with, naturally, limited success--as fascinating as it is to watch him make the effort. This is one aspect of his L&T sensibility that is simply incompatible with the character.

Or, to move away from the world of abstractions, take this bit. Just look at that ungrateful rabble, blasting him with vegetables for no reason other than their petty jealousy! Jerks!

...but oh no wait Scrooge is a jerk. At least, it seems to me that we're meant to take Fergus's criticism here seriously. So they hate him 'cause he's rich but no they don't; they hate him because he's an asshole. Once again, we see substantial tension between Scrooge the Exemplar of Gold Old-Fashioned Hard Work whom people hate because they suck and Scrooge the jerk whom people hate because he sucks.

Well, never mind that. This is an appropriately somber moment. Also--who knows if you can see it--we get exact dates for Downy--1840-1897. The fact that she was comparatively young adds a welcome touch of realism to the saga. Note that Jake also apparently died sometime between the framing sequence in "Dreamtime Duck" and this.

The bulk of the story consists of these here Highland Games. This is Scottie McTerrier from "The Old Castle's Secret," depicted here as a hobbit. Given that (spoiler!) it turns out that he's dead at the time of that later story, he too died pretty young.

So we get this series of gags where Scrooge completes the events in inappropriate ways and thereby loses. There's certainly something to the idea that his inability to play by the local rules is indicative of his larger embrace of multinational capitalism…

…though the story muddies the waters a bit by including this one, where Scrooge fails through no fault of his own.

Also: the judges are Jacobites.  Please make a note of it.

And this! I would hate to think that my mind is insufficiently dirty, but I'm comin' up blank on the right conclusion here. If you can help, please do. Also note that the limerick appears to be about a would-be rape, surely a first and last for Disney comics, for which we can all be grateful. Observant observers will note that he's also reciting this at the end of "Quest for Kalevala" (almost--in that later version it's "sourdough" rather than "gold miner," probably a better choice of words).

So he decides to leave--and his reasoning there is certainly impeccable. That's exactly who he is. That little parenthetical aside really adds a certain je ne sais quoi to the scene.

Regrettably, although Scrooge's sisters are of course present, we don't actually see a lot of their personalities here. If all you read was this story, you wouldn't even know that Hortense was supposed to be the bad-tempered one. This is a pretty funny bit, however.

Who will go drive with Fergus now,
And pierce the deep wood's woven shade,
And dance upon the level shore?
Young man, lift up your russet brow,
And lift your tender eyelids, maid,
And brood on hopes and fear no more.

I think this is handled excellently (the fact that it's apparently based on a movie I haven't seen is neither here nor there). Very moving--I just hope that Fergus isn't damned to play eternal golf with his forebears. That would be a terrible fate indeed.

Tomorrow, the inexorable march of progress continues with "The Invader of Fort Duckburg."

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Anonymous Gregory said...

re: the limerick, Google leads us to some foreign-language message board where we find this:
n article <>, "Don Rosa" writes:

|> > Dear Don *kissing ring on finger*
|> > some people wondered about this poem from somewhere in Scrooges Life
|> stories
|> > (When he has returned to Scotland and partakes in the competition.):
|> > There once was a barmaid in Nome
|> > and a gold miner lonely for home.
|> > He had the breath of a moose
|> > and she couldn't get loose
|> > so she pulled out her knife and...
|> >
|> > Is this poem written by you?
|> >
|> > Or is it "borrowed"?
|> >
|> > And how does it end? =)
|> Yuck. You don't know where that finger's been!
|> That is an original poem... actually it's called a limerick... writ by moi.
|> Limerick's frequently have obscene endings, and this one is supposed to...
|> but I don't know what it might be. I'm sure it would have something to do
|> with castration, eh?
|> Do you have a suggestion?

December 21, 2011 at 1:02 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Okay then, I'm just gonna throw this out there: come up with the best ending for the limerick and win a free lifetime subscription to Duck Comics Revue!

December 21, 2011 at 2:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Since Scrooge actually fell for Donald's Jake disguise in Christmas for Shacktown, one must actually question whether Jake is really supposed to be dead at this point. Maybe he just moved away and lost contact with Scrooge? Then again, maybe Scrooge didn't really fall for it and was just messing with Donald.

December 21, 2011 at 3:51 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Hmm, good point. But according to this, he was born in 1832, which would make him kind of untenably ancient by the time "Shacktown" rolled around. The mystery thickens.

December 21, 2011 at 4:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"... carved his nuggets like a Christmas goose!"

I agree with your opinion on the realistic interpretation of Scrooge's economics, but I honestly can't find The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck particularly realistic on account of how it adheres more to verisimilitude rather than realism, a word which I wish Rosa would use more often because I can pretty emphatically say that his Duck world is NOT realistic, but grounded in a realistic framework, which makes for a sense of verisimilitude.

But the sinking to 'greedy businessman' after 'rugged individualist' is... well, fitting, considering it's his whole start of darkness, earlier detailed in his final decision point by Last Sled to Dawson. (I swear this story has more background stuff than Lord of the Rings...)

I never understood Scrooge's reception, honestly. It makes very little sense and strikes me as an odd detail.

Hey, wanna hear a really long timeline thing that will remind you of an old man telling you stories on a rocking chair? OF COURSE YOU DO!

Supposition: Scrooge really did NOT realize that it was Donald.

Fact: Scrooge McDuck has blinkus of the thinkus, a condition first detailed in Back to the Klondike.

Fact: Christmas at Shacktown occurred before Gyro set up shop in Duckburg, detailed in "Gyro's First Invention".

Fact: Back to the Klondike's occurrence, which fixes Scrooge's memory problem, must therefore logically occur AFTER Gyro's First Invention, which deals with the fallout of Christmas at Shacktown and Statuesque Spendthrifts, thus explaining the confusion over Jake!

December 21, 2011 at 5:08 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Oh man, now I'm grappling really hard with the question of the series' epistemology. You're right that "realistic" isn't quite the word, but what does "verisimilitude" mean here, exactly? That it feels like a more concrete, coherent world? Okay, but that world isn't exactly a fantasy thing with its own set of rules, is it? It's *our* world if it's anything. I guess you could say that the series is asymptotically trending towards realism, though obviously there are still elements that belie the notion.

December 21, 2011 at 6:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I say verisimilitude in the sense that Richard Donner uses it, wherein you the reader believe the fantastic to be plausible within the context of a world grounded in realism, by way of presenting a fundamental level of truth in the situation and allowing the story to grow organically from this truth (character and setting alike).

That said, the Rosa/Barks universe is totally a fantasy world with its own set of rules, and I argue that it is always going to be a mistake to look at any of Rosa's work as solely an individual entity (which is what I find most fascinating about the remix culture), so I say Rosa/Barks Duck Universe rather than The Life and Times.

There are unicorns, dinosaurs, there's magic and fantastic feats of strength, superpowers, mad science, people get the crap kicked out of them without needing serious hospitalization... but there are also internally consistent rules, which are retroactively applied to the Barks' stories, or shown prominently as realistic concepts to allow for the fantastic, like Magica's wands in her gag stories with Rosa. Even within Barks' own stories, things had their own rules, odd as they might be, and they were consistent, but Rosa worked as hard as he could to ground things in our reality to present these fantastic concepts, where Barks wanted you to accept them as he presented, because that's how the story worked (which is a perfectly good technique that made wonderful stories, don't think I would knock him at all!).

December 21, 2011 at 6:30 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

Ooh, I love "asymptotically trending towards realism"!

I end the limerick thusly: "She pulled out her knife and...'Shalom!'" (to be translated here as "goodbye"--so she kills him). I don't think it can be ended in English. Not that many words rhyme with "ome," and you only have two syllables to work with. I know my ending isn't sufficiently obscene, but it is cheerfully sinister and feminist-friendly and ironic (from the "peace" meaning), and I like it.

In the panels with the locals jeering Scrooge, I think we are meant to believe that they are jeering him out of (natural/petty) showing them obnoxiously jealous and then immediately judgmental over Scrooge's "tantrum," Rosa is making fun of normal people like us the way Barks makes fun of the fickle Duckburgians in the Catapult story. At the same time, Fergus probably rightly feels that Scrooge is being too negative and global in his judgment of people as freeloaders. The jealousy is risible, but it doesn't really mean that all those people are contemptible loafers. Scrooge just wants to believe that because then he needn't feel hurt by their dislike, he can feel superior to them, and thus not have to question the aspects of his own self-enriching behavior which he should question.

December 21, 2011 at 8:27 PM  
Blogger Christopher said...

My end of the limerick would be "struck home," indicating she stabbed him in the heart or... someplace even more sensitive.

I feel bad for Scottie. His first day on the job, and not only does he have to deal with a dead body, but also he has to figure out how to break the news to the family and hope that they don't blame him.

December 21, 2011 at 9:23 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

“…So, she pulled out her knife…
…And ended his life…
…Dead as the Empire of Rome!”

Hey, no one said Scrooge was GOOD at limericks!

And, wait-a-minnit… DCR is ALREADY free!

…Give it to Elaine for “Shalom!” (I liked it!)

December 21, 2011 at 11:11 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Heck, it's the Christmas season! Free subscriptions for all!

December 21, 2011 at 11:42 PM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

Variant 1 :
"There once was a barmaid in Nome
and a gold miner lonely for home.
He had the breath of a moose
and she couldn't get loose
so she pulled out her knife and went to Geox Comics Revue page and read some great reviews?"

Variant 2 :
"There once was a barmaid in Nome
and a gold miner lonely for home.
He had the breath of a moose
and she couldn't get loose
so she pulled out her knife and he pulled a condom?"

Variant 3 :
"There once was a barmaid in Nome
and a gold miner lonely for home.
He had the breath of a moose
and she couldn't get loose
so she pulled out her knife and sent him to kingdom come!

March 14, 2013 at 7:50 PM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

There was One Geox with views,
too write entertaining reviews
But since it's a limerick
things got dirty quick;
Let's just say he wasn't amuse...

March 14, 2013 at 8:10 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Oh, I'm always amused by you, Pan.

March 14, 2013 at 10:28 PM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

Though it is not as obvious in Rosa story as in others, I would argue that Scrooge is not "alienated" from the system or at least doesn't feel like being so. He has some employees, of course, but he's not just the "corporate executive" on top who give orders to directors who give orders to directors who give orders to blah blah blah. Whenever he can, he appears to be doing everything on his own. I bet he even used to shine his money on his own before he met Donald, instead of hiring some stranger to do it for him. As for the jobs he gives to his employees, they all seem pretty concrete to me. Take Donald, for a thing. Donald obviously knows what he's doing (he's shining those blasted, endless coins) and why he's doing it (so that Scrooge may look at it with glee like he does everyday).

I am anticipating a counter-argument, however: I'll admit that there is that bit in "Seven Cities of Cibola" where Scrooge isn't even aware that he owns one of Gyro's inventions. But 1° such bits are rare and 2° the mere fact that Scrooge is surprised at that new is evidence that "normally", Scrooge's company isn't supposed to be doing any kind of transaction without he knowing.

February 21, 2016 at 11:12 AM  
Blogger Natteravn said...

While it isn't dirty, I'd say the "ended his life" is the most fitting suggestion here. (or "put an end to his life" to maintain the rhythm... or "made him a wife" (alluding to castration?))
Remember it's supposed to rhyme with knife, and I'm pretty sure such a blatant reference to murder and attempted rape would be enough to upset the societal ladies back in those times.

March 24, 2018 at 11:49 PM  

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