The truth about Donald Duck’s pantsThursday, May 25, 2006 at 22:56 | Posted in Finland, Media, Nostalgy, Personal, Politics | 16 Comments
You may have heard the astonishing story that broke out as a World class news back in 1977 about stupid local politicians in Helsinki banning Donald Duck because he does not wear pants. I have hard time forgetting it because I was one of those “stupid politicians”. And I am still being reminded about it every now and then.
Donald Duck IN 1977 Walt Disney’s duck was banned in Finland because he doesn’t wear trousers. Actually, that’s an urban myth. In fact, politicians in Helsinki decided they were wasting taxpayers money on mindless American comics and cut them from their library budget. But the story stuck…
This is close to the truth but does not reach out to tell the whole truth. It was not about subscribing the comic book to public libraries but to youth facilities. Let me first explain the mechanisms of the municipal decision making in Finland before going into the details around Donald and his pants.
The legislative body in each municipality is the elected council. The council appoints the local government which is a preparative and executive body. In addition to that, a number of boards are appointed by the council to assist the local government. Each board has its own function and authority established partly by the council and the local government, partly by national legislation.
Back in 1977 I was a fresh vice chairman of the Youth Board in Helsinki. In fact, all of us were freshmen because none of the old members were appointed for another term after the 1976 local election. Among other functions, the Youth Board is supervising the city’s Youth Department that runs a number of youth facilities allover the city.
In one of our first meetings we were presented a detailed list of newspapers and magazines to be subscribed to each of the youth facilities. We were expected to give our approval to the list. We were wondering if this was really an issue to be decided by the board.
As the Youth Department officials told us, the city government had established regulations that all subscriptions must be entered in the minutes of the board. It had hitherto been understood to mean that the board must actually make the decision. We later changed the practise and allowed the supervisor of each facility make the actual decision but a list of all subscriptions was to be entered in the board minutes as a matter of notice once a year.
At that first time, though, we took a decision of those subscriptions. And since it was presented to us as a matter of decision, we decided to make a minor adjustment to the list presented to us. We were unanumous that spending tax payers’ money on Donald Duck comic books was not the best way to promote the educational goals of the youth facilities which is why we decided to strike Donald Duck from those lists.
And where did those pants get in? Mr. Matti Holopainen, a very well informed and sharp member usually sat next to me in the board room although we did not officially have fixed seats. In addition to being a member with comprehensive knowledge of the issues, he was also a gorgeous humorist. I hope he still is, I have not heard of him in more than a quarter of a century.
During the debate Matti took his usual approach and started to make jokes about the issue. He suggested that Donald Duck displays a profoundly twisted image of the society as there are no conventional families with a father, a mother and children. All the children in the comic were living with their uncles or aunts.
He went on to point out that the comic encourages to immoral out of wedlock relations. He also blamed the comic about indecent exposure because many of the characters did not even wear pants. Matti finished his hilarious speech by noting that the comic was outright perverted because the richest man in town took his daily baths in a huge pile of money.
As Matti finished, all of us were laughing our asses off. The chairman of the board, Mr. Ben Zyskowicz, by now a long time member of parliament nailed the decision which we thought was a matter of routine. Little did we know that it would spread out as World class news and we would have to come back to it almost 30 years later.
It is an interesting question per se, how the news leaked out to the World media. I have my doubts about the source but in absense of solid facts I’ll keep it to myself. The board meetings were closed and the minutes only reflected decisions and vote numbers in the rare occasions when we needed to vote.
Hence, the matter must have been leaked out by somebody present at the meeting, either one of the members or Youth Department officials. Nobody in that room was unaware that Matti was joking. Nevertheless, the news was spread allover the World media with suggestions that the board had actually “banned” Donald Duck because he does not wear pants. That was very seriously presented as our motive.
That kind of media manipulation was possible at the time because there was no Internet where we could have published our side of the story. There were only two organisations in Finland who enjoyed a real freedom of speech. One of them was publically operated Finnish Broadcasting Company. The other was Finland’s largest media group Sanoma Corporation.
Neither of them was interested in spreading our version. Oh, by the way, Sanoma Corporation happens to be the publisher of Donald Duck comic books in Finland. The news first broke out through their flag ship daily Helsingin Sanomat.
Edit: Helsingin Sanomat runs a very good background article by Katri Kallionpää about Donald Duck in Finland.