As much as I try to keep “Trash Culture” apolitical, I couldn’t help but be amused and horrified (amorrified? horrifused?) by FOX News’ denouncement of the recent Muppets movie. Really, a movie just having a businessman for a villain makes it anti-capitalist? That’s almost like saying Batman comics endorse euthanizing the mentally ill. If the Powers That Be at FOX really want to see a bit of children’s entertainment with an anti-capitalist message they should look in perhaps the unlikeliest of places: Duck Tales.
Well, maybe it’s not that weird. After all, in the original comics Scrooge was, true to his name, a ruthless and hate-filled tycoon. It was only over time that he became the cool gazillionaire amateur archeologist and treasure hunter that we all love and that most people of my generation encountered through the TV series. Even after Scrooge became less…well, “scroogey”, the original comics (especially the stories by the now legendary Carl Barks) and to a lesser extent the TV show weren’t shy about depicting Scrooge as a ruthless misanthrope. True, Carl Barks was anything but anti-capitalist, but Barks established that Scrooge once deliberately frightened and exploited an African tribe in order to take their rubber-producing land, something that put him on a spiral of guilt and depression that lasted decades. So, yes, Scrooge was kind of in the same league as King Leopold of Belgium! Nonetheless, the point in the comics – and even in the cartoon – is that having a conscience and ethics is what really gives Scrooge his edge, especially over the heartless Flintheart Glomgold, the second richest duck in the world. It’s not as ragingly anti-capitalist as The Muppets supposedly is, but it’s not exactly an endorsement for the robber baron lifestyle.
Besides all this, one episode of the cartoon that FOX News should really be notified about is the episode “Land of TraLa La,” based on one of Carl Barks’ original comics. By their standards, it starts out promisingly. Like any good job creator, we find Scrooge besieged by people looking for a hand-out (including a representative from the League to Ban Billionaires!), which is enough to cause him to have a bona fide nervous breakdown. The only cure is for Scrooge is to go to a place where there is no money, Trala La, which is supposed to be a legendary locale yet it comes casually recommended. I guess in Scrooge’s world money can take you literally anywhere, even places no one is sure exists! Take that, Dante!
Anyway, a lot of the Duck Tales episodes adapted from the comics replaced Donald Duck with another character. At first it was Launchpad; later on it was Fenton. Now, I have to ask, my five or six readers, did anyone like Fenton? I mean, sure, his alter-ego was Gizmo Duck, who deserves some cred for just apparently being a very oddly placed homage to RoboCop, but he always seemed so…unnecessary next to Scrooge. Think about it: Scrooge is the cool, eccentric uncle who’ll tell you tall tales about how the Welsh were really the first Europeans to come across North America and take you to some iffy but fantastic archeological site to prove it. Fenton is the nerdy cousin who corrects your knowledge of “Star Trek.” Plus in this episode Fenton turns out to be the one who ruins everything (a role much better suited to Donald Duck or even Launchpad, but I digress).
As soon as Scrooge, the nephews, and Fenton arrive in the Himalayan valley of TraLa La, the episode’s anti-capitalist bent really kicks in. See, the usually skeptical Scrooge instantly becomes delighted to learn that there is no currency in TraLa La; instead everyone is “only happy to help one another!” Socialism! Anyway, this Eden falls apart with Fenton playing the role of the serpent. Fenton stumbles across a farmer finding a bottlecap that fell from Scrooge’s plane during their arrival. Fenton points out that in the valley of TraLa La the bottlecap is rare, making it valuable. Incredulous, the farmer shows the bottlecap to others and parrots what Fenton told him about “value.” The people respond by offering to give the farmer sheep in exchange, leading to this exchange:
Mr. Fenton, I’ve already been offered seven sheep for my bottlecap! What do I do?
Hold out for fifteen!
It’s at this point where Fenton being penciled in over Donald Duck really doesn’t work. When you think of people whose cynicism and greed can alone destroy a utopian society, it’s Donald. Anyway, as soon as Scrooge becomes happy with the tranquil life at TraLa La, he finds the people squabbling over bottlecaps. An annoyed Scrooge orders Fenton to fix the problem by giving everyone in TraLa La one bottlecap each, but the plan falls flat when one person manages to get two. So Scrooge asks Launchpad to drop a billion bottlecaps over the valley, assuming that bottlecaps will become so common they’ll become worthless. Instead the TraLa Lans end up creating an elaborate currency system. It isn’t this that pisses off TraLa La’s leaders, though; instead Scrooge, Fenton, and the nephews are threatened with execution by drowning (in fiction utopian societies, when push comes to shove, usually do not fuck around) for the crime of littering…well, extreme littering. In a rather dark twist, Scrooge and Fenton are allowed to go back to the Himalayas in order to stop Launchpad from bringing back more bottlecaps, but only if they agree to leave Huey, Dewey, and Louie behind to be killed if they fail (so that’s why Scrooge always brings along the nephews!). Needless to say, Fenton and Scrooge succeed, albeit by accidentally causing Launchpad to crash, and are exiled from the once moneyless Paradise.
Admittedly the main problem with the episode, besides Fenton being a poor replacement for Donald Duck, is that it shifts from a “money is the root of all evil” message to a weird environmental (if that) moral. There is one last scene showing how the TraLa Lans invent an insanely elaborate and irrational currency system, but after that we don’t even really learn what happens to TraLa La or how much the introduction of a currency system has changed their society. I think even the brain trust at FOX News would agree that makes the whole episode a less than satisfactory indoctrination lesson on Socialism, but compared to Muppets the episode is a scathing indictment of the very philosophical underpinnings of capitalism. After all, just building a whole episode around “Money is a completely arbitrary and socially constructed concept” is a pretty heavy lesson to lay on the kids – or, for that matter, the people who run FOX News.