The Empire’s Old Clothes


The Empire’s Old Clothes
Ariel Dorfman
2010, Duke University Press
316 pages

FIRST published in 1983, The Empire’s Old Clothes has become an influential classic of cultural criticism that set a pioneering yardstick to which other works have often aspired. This edition incorporates a new preface by the Argentine-Chilean author, whose numerous books of published fiction and non-fiction have been translated into more than 40 languages. A polymath and champion of human rights who was once an adviser to Salvador Allende, Dorfman has been informed by his own cultural experiences spanning continents and traditions. The key to understanding the argument of this book lies in its sub-title: “What the Lone Ranger, Babar, and Other Innocent Heroes Do to Our Minds”, for if ever a work that seeks to expose the political and social implications of the characters that inhabit the mass media – and the ideological messages hidden within – was relevant, it is today. A formative critic and theoretician of US “cultural imperialism”, the author’s How to Read Donald Duck – written before the coup that toppled Allende and brought Pinochet to power – set a precedent for the semiotic analysis of US mass culture and its global role as an active agent of capitalist ideology. Indeed, Donald Duck has largely made characters such as Pinochet superfluous as globalisation has since then washed over every former Marxist backwater. Disney may have continued its mind-bending mission apace but, thanks to Dorfman, today we are at least all a little bit more aware of it. If we value media literacy and the role it plays in our democracy, The Empire’s Old Clothes should be required reading in every college and classroom in the land. – GO’T

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