Mickey Mouse in Egypt

All eyes are on Egypt right now, but the question that's being hotly debated at The Hooded Utilitarian is how the localization of Mickey Mouse comics for Egyptian readers expresses the imperialism of the Walt Disney corporation. This being The Hooded Utilitarian, the answer is long, a bit rambling, and filled with interesting images.

The comics examined by writer Nadim Damluji were created between 1959 and 2003, so this is not about the current revolution but rather about how cultures permeate one another. The Mickey Mouse comics in the article have locally created covers that touch on a number of aspects in Egyptian culture, and that art alone makes the article worth reading. The covers and other local content just form the wrapper for translated comics by Western creators, however, and there's the rub. Damluji points to a Carl Barks comic in which Uncle Scrooge discovers a pyramid and, convinced it will be full of gold, hires generic local Arabs to excavate it. The story does raise issues of ownership and primacy (Why does Uncle Scrooge think he can keep the gold? Why couldn't the Arabs find the pyramid?), and it seems rather clueless of the Disney folks to print it in an Egyptian comic—had they run out of more generic storylines? On the other hand, the most interesting thing to me was those Egyptian covers. While Damluji seems to be presenting the comics as a wolf in sheep's clothing—here's something familiar, kids, but what's inside is going to make you feel bad!—I see it the other way, as Mickey adapting to local mores by adding content the local audience finds attractive, much as manga publishers put new covers on Japanese content and serve it up more or less unchanged. My guess is that this is more about keeping costs down than the heavy hand of imperialism. And surely Egyptian kids, especially in this day and age, are savvy enough to know that Mickey is an import, even if he does celebrate Mawlad.

The other thing that seems to go uncommented upon is that these are comics. Uncle Scrooge finds the pyramid by sitting on its pointy top. It's a gag! Huey, Duey, and Louie acting more mature than Donald? That's funny! A dog biting a man isn't funny, but a man biting a dog is. Finally, it's also true that the stories are old and represent cultural values that are passe and have been for a long time. A 50-year-old Disney story may say something about attitudes in the 1950s, but it's more an artifact than a measure of current opinion.

Seriousness aside, it's a fascinating post just because of the cultural information. And for more, check out Damluji's blog, in which he follows in the footsteps of another cultural icon from an imperialist country, Tintin.

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