How do you explain your phenomenal wealth, Mr. McDuck?
Simple, I made it by being smarter than the ‘smarties,’ and tougher than the ‘toughies.’ And I deserve every penny because I made it square.
On first glance, DuckTales appears to be a harmless, simple cartoon for children. Huey, Dewey and Louie are rambunctious kids who act out to ensure attention from their out-of-touch, almost miserly great uncle Scrooge McDuck. They are left to Scrooge because their Uncle Donald has left to join the Navy. Together, they get into trouble and have adventures that all seem to wrap up around the 22 minute mark. I loved this show, and I dare you to not get the theme song stuck in your head for the next millennia or so…
But looking on it with fresh eyes shows just how clear capitalism, conservative ideals and greed are almost ancillary characters in the show. DuckTales’ iconic image is Scrooge diving into his ‘money pit’ of gold and currency and swimming in it as if it were water. Looking beyond the problems with the physics, what kind of message is that communicating? That you, the viewer, should aspire to anything even closely resembling that sort of an embarrassment of riches? Every episode seems to contain one instance where Scrooge needs to be reminded that money might be sometimes slightly less important than family and love. In the pilot episode, Scrooge’s way of blowing off steam is listening to solicitors wishing for a bit of patronage from the plutocrat, and then sending through trap doors, spraying them with hoses, and generally humiliating them.
Simply watching a random episode of DuckTales (Season 1, episode 52), shows the literal capitalist undertones of the show. It begins with Scrooge deriding his grand-nephews for their lack of business acumen with their lemonade stand. A spell from Magica (Scrooge’s nemesis), sends Scrooge to the future to see an objectivist’s nightmare. Burdensome taxes and regulations have led to rampant inflation, corruption and cronyism. After the plot resolves itself and Scrooge returns to that same lemonade stand at present time, the moral conveyed was not that wanting to become as rich as Scrooge is bad – just that better business practices are needed (no ‘pleasure of working for us’ tax). See kids, you should still want to be richer than God, just don’t cheat your friends in such an obvious way!
So there you have it. Couched in a message of family and togetherness is an undercurrent of greed and the need for accumulation of wealth. Huey, Dewey and Louie are afforded opportunity and adventure because of the affluence of their Great Uncle. They, and therefore the audience as well, are given Scrooge as flawed but still valid father figure. He provides for the family, and his out-of-touch-ness is forgiven because of it. Re-watching a couple of episodes of this show was fun, and I do really enjoy it. But, as a kid, I didn’t know what I was internalizing. I wanted a swimming pool of money, and to get everything I ever wanted. Little did I know that Scrooge was practically the Mr. Burns of Duckberg, nor did I ever wonder why I saw so few other residents of Duckberg. Who is the middle class in this scenario? I can imagine a reboot of the show featuring Occupy Duckberg and Scrooge doing his best to stamp it out... but I think I would be the only one to watch that one.