The day that Brian Connell, Fred Lonidier, Martha Rosler, and Allan Sekula went to Disneyland was only a few months after Augusto Pinochet’s CIA-fueled coup d’etat in Chile on September 11, 1973—not long after Pinochet’s junta banned one of their inspirations for visiting and photographing the park in the first place: the socialist text Para Leer El Pato Donald (How to Read Donald Duck) (1971) by Ariel Dorfman and Armand Mattelart.1
Soldiers burned copies in the streets of Santiago, but there was no book burning in Disneyland when Lonidier, Rosler, Sekula, and Connell walked down Main Street, USA. This trip appears in Lonidier’s documentary photo-and-text work The Double Articulation of Disneyland (1974). Yet the coup could not have been far from the four artists’ minds. Thanks to Para Leer El Pato Donald, many other leftists also saw Disney comics as a US tool to weaken Salvador Allende’s attempt to peacefully transition Chile to a socialist economy. The book savaged the capitalist ideology of Donald Duck’s world, where Duckburg’s residents enjoy endless money-making opportunities in easily-acquired temporary jobs, or foreign lands populated only by ignorant natives. The question for Lonidier concerned raising awareness about the links between political violence in Chile and North American middle-class comforts. In other words, how does one walk in Disneyland and comprehend a coup?
As shown in the 36 captioned photographs of The Double Articulation of Disneyland, Rosler, Sekula, and Connell “ham it up” in the parking lot and smuggle food past Disneyland’s ticket vendors. Then the four walk down Main Street, USA to the central plaza before visiting Adventureland, Frontierland, Fantasyland, or Tomorrowland. Along their way, the four note the ever-present corporate logos: “The Walt Disney Story Presented in Cooperation with Gulf,” “America the Beautiful Presented by AT&T,” “the River Belle Terrace (brought to you by Oscar Mayer).” Lonidier’s captions narrate the group’s critical observations under each photograph. By the Sunkist Citrus House, “12. They are amazed that people seem oblivious to corporate possession of public myths.” Watching the large crowd pass the Hallmark Card Shop, “14. It is noticed that each store is possessed by one trade-marked product as if the whole possible universe of that product belonged to one corporation.”
In the exhibition, Lonidier paired each captioned photograph with a page from a translation of Louis Marin’s “Utopia and Ideology: Disneyland.”2 These are the work’s two titular “articulations.” Where Lonidier’s photographs take viewers on a tour with him and his friends, Marin’s essay maps Disneyland’s utopian symbolism. If utopia is an ideal world, Marin observes, it is never really here; we talk about utopia rather than experience it. Utopia is a discourse: it tells us something about the society that converses in its language. What interests Marin about Disneyland is that it is a real topography in which the visitors’ route “can be viewed as the narrative that characterizes utopia.”3 To walk Disneyland is to walk its story, Marin argues, and its story is a world in which all brown peoples want to trade their resources for US fairytales, in which we tour the world and heroically “win” the West, and in which corporate technologies improve everyone’s lives. Perhaps Marin read Para Leer El Pato Donald too.
Those viewing The Double Articulation of Disneyland will quickly shift perspectives between following the four artists’ point of view and Marin’s map of the park in essay form. Walking down a row of paired images and texts—a page of Marin’s tacked above a page of Lonidier’s—viewers will oscillate between following a walk (viewing from within an ideological system) and reading a map (viewing the system from the outside).
When asked about the importance of walking to his work, Lonidier answered that walking is part of documentary practice.4 Documentarians go somewhere, walk around, take pictures, and we follow their journeys in serial images. So you might say that we walk with Lonidier when viewing The Double Articulation of Disneyland, though our analytical text is Marin’s essay rather than Para Leer El Pato Donald. When the four walk to document the bankrupt nature of their utopian surroundings, it is simply a tour. If many join, it is more like a march.
1. Ariel Dorfman and Armand Mattelart, How to Read Donald Duck: Imperialist Ideology in the Disney Comic, trans. Donald Kunzle (New York: OR Books, 2018). Originally published in 1971 as Para Leer El Pato Donald (Santiago, Chile: Quimantú, 1971).
2. Louis Marin, Utopics: Spatial Play, trans. Robert A. Vollrath (New Jersey: Humanities Press, Inc., 1984). First published as Utopiques: Jeux d’espaces (1973).
3. Marin, 240.
4. Fred Lonidier, interview with the author, January 9, 2020.