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The Animation Pimp: Donald Duck is an Asshole

The Animation Pimp looks at why Donald Duck is such an asshole.

Illustration by Andreas Hykade. Courtesy of Chris Robinson.

Illustration by Andreas Hykade. Courtesy of Chris Robinson.

This philosophy recognizes as the true thing, not the thing as it is an object of the abstract reason, but as it is an object of the real, complete man. Deion Sanders, The Essence of Primetime.

Moving image assholes are a dime a dozen these days. Beginning with Jackie Gleason and Fred Flintstone, all the way along to Basil Fawlty, Alan Partridge, Larry David, the cast of Seinfeld, Tony Soprano, Ted Danson (Becker), Al Swearenger, TV is a flood with them.

Heck I just read a bio about Robert Mitchum, and man, what an asshole. Drank like a Finn. Didnt give a pea about ANYone especially himself. Occasionally liked to smack men and women (no sexist he) around for no particular reason. Remember those roles in Night of the Hunter and Cape Fear? Werent none to far from the land that be.

In cartoon world, Fred Flintstone wasnt even the first, second or third all-out asshole. Before him there was UPAs Pete Hothead, a man who ran around screaming like a jackass over the slightest set back. Before that there was Daffy Duck and hell even Bugs Bunny. In truth, isnt Bugs more of an asshole than Daffy? Daffy clearly has a neurological disorder and is hardly conscious of his deeds. Bugs, though, is clearly in full possession of his faculties and quite conscious of his evils.

But these folks are farm team material compared to the master ass of them all: Donald Duck. Hes the Gordie Howe of assholes. Seventy years. Thats quite an achievement. Yes sirree. Im 37. Im sure youll agree that Ive had many asshole moments in my life, but Id be hard pressed to say that Ive been an ass or even arse-hole my ENTIRE life. Ive had minutes, hours, days maybe even weeks where Ive been as close to angelic as me or you are likely to get. Donald, though, has been an asshole during EVERY minute moment of his existence. That takes a special type of creature. Not even Donald Trump can match that yet.

Just before and after viewing entries for Ottawa 04 (which left me in a bit of Donald state), I sat down and watched the latest Disney Treasures: On the Front Line, and Chronological Donald. Like most Ive always liked Donald. Found him ridiculous and loved seeing him spaz out over every slight setback. However, watching them again without the abstract lenses of youth, I found the character frustrating and tragic.

In Donalds debut, Wise Little Hen, were introduced to a greedy, anti-social, smug character with an obvious anger issue. Mother Hen wants his help to plant some corn, but Donald feigns a stomachache and refuses. In Donald and Pluto, Donald figures he can fix the plumbing even though hes clearly never done it before. He ends up frustrated and angry and fucks up Plutos peaceful day. Incredibly, Donald takes no blame for the foul-ups. He pins it all on Pluto. Nice.

Donald appears in many of the war shorts and again, his arrogance causes endless havoc. He screws everything up and the one time he does succeed in destroying a Japanese airbase, its completely by chance. Not exactly a positive spin on army life: Hey kids, any asshole can be a soldier!

In Don Donald, our hero picks a fight with a chick and loses. And get this also manages to get into a fight with a car! In Modern Inventions, Donald visits an exhibition and before hes through the door is fighting with the hatcheck robot. There is one interesting moment later in the film when Donald pretends to be a baby. Here, he is thoroughly at peace with himself. Never has he been happier.

Donald is feckless and blames everyone when things dont go the way he doesnt even know he wants them go. Hindering his social life is his inability to be understood. The guy cannot articulate a single fucking word with sputtering all over the place. If hed slow down and think a bit, maybe hed have fewer fights (hmm Im having a déjà vu).

One of the best of the Donald shorts is Self-Control. While relaxing on a hammock in the yard, Donald listens to a radio show about anger management. Despite the swirling eyeballs and spastic babbling, Donald denies that he has a problem (and hey, he actually thinks the radio is speaking to him!) Hes told that if one counts to 10, all their anger will fade away. As insects keep pestering the resting Donald, he tries counting and initially it works. But by the end, he snaps and shouts, I CANT STAND IT and beats the radio with a club.

Donald is so swayed by the dark side that even his angelic side snaps (Donalds Better Half) and beats the tar out of his demonic colleague.

In Donalds Nephews, we are introduced to Huey, Duey and Louie. Why Donalds sister would ever leave her kids with Donald is beyond logic? Perhaps shes being hospitalized for drug related problems. Anyway the guy is clearly irresponsible. Hes manic-depressive, has a speech problem, not to mention socio- and psycho-pathic tendencies. Why on earth would you leave your kids with him? To make matters worse the kids not surprisingly are hyper little shit in need of some umm guidance (as we also see in Good Scouts and Hockey Champ). The trio actually manages to out-asshole Donald in most of the shorts.

I stopped with Hockey Champ. It just becomes too much. Its prolly like trying to eat a big ass bowl of caviar like those in Amazing Race had to do (speaking of which there were some MAJOR assholes on that show).

And really, Donald is no different than any other cartoon character. The situations change, the personalities dont. Goofy is always an idiot. Bugs a wise-ass. Daffy a maniac, Popeye a tough guy, and Donald an asshole. There is no self-awareness (except maybe with Bugs) and as such no desire to change. And of course. thats part of the comedy and joy of it all. These are caricatures, personalities taken to extremes. Were drawn to Donald for the same reasons we abhor David Brent (The Office): we recognize our own faults and momentary shortcomings in those characters. Every one of us has an asshole inside us or loses their cool when they become frustrated with the ways of the world around us. Its a predicament of capitalism and life. How do we resolve our quest of individual self-fulfillment and harmony WHILE respecting and recognizing that others have the right to do the same damn thing?

I started this piece hating Donald. I questioned those who found this utterly contemptuous piece of shit remotely redeemable, funny or gadzooks loveable. But I started thinking about how much more realistic (even getting mad at an inanimate object is actually pretty normal) and somehow honest Donalds character is than say other asshole characters like Larry David, the Seinfeld characters, or Alan Partridge (Steve Coogan character on British TV). Most of these assholes are ultimately likeable and always seem to manage to come away unscathed (even the Seinfeld prison finale was a bit of a compromise), learning nothing from their experiences.

True, Donald doesnt ever appear to learn anything, but he never goes unpunished. Virtually every episode ends with Donald going apeshit over some failure. He almost never gets what he seeks and just keeps repeating the same mistakes over and over again. Like the solipsistic David Brent, Donald is painfully unaware of the world around him and the emotions of those within it. Yet Donald (maybe a symptom of the rise of consumer society) for all his anti-social behavior is desperately seeking identity, something that will give him a role in this new world. Something that will allow him to be accepted and maybe even loved. His crazed response to his inevitable failure is the scream of the dislocated individual at odds with a society drenched with simulacra.

Donalds great tragedy like it is for so many of us is that he seeks something that doesnt exist to begin with.

Chris Robinson is little more than a man. In his spare time he cares for the elderly.