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--- A N N E T T E C . E A R L I N G
Earlier this year, headlines all over the country bleated a single, uninspired message announcing the retirement of Peanuts' cartoonist Charles Schulz: "Good Grief!"
I have a better suggestion. How 'bout "Thank You Lordy!" or "Alle-friggin'-lujiah!" And here's how my obituary for the "much-beloved" comic strip would read:
Thank god it's over. Nearly half a century of gloom, despair and the rape of innocence has been brought to a halt. We're sorry, Mr. Schulz, that it took colon cancer and a series of strokes to finally convince you to cease and desist. But didn't you reali ze that so much self-hatred would get to you eventually?
To put a razor-sharp point on it, I really, reeeeally dislike the Peanuts. And while I'm well aware that this says more about me than it does about the comic strip, I feel that it's about time that someone swept aside the nostalgic hand-wringing of the pr ess and revealed Peanuts for what it was: a self-righteous passion play that glorified denial, egocentrism, futility and self-hatred.
Let's take a look at our players, shall we? There's Charlie Brown, a balding loner who still lives with his mother and is wracked with feelings of inadequacy. Lucy, a medical quack and relentless stalker. Peppermint Patty and Marcie, whose unrequited love for each other was sublimated and funnelled into a so-called "crush" on Charlie Brown. Linus, a 48-year-old thumbsucka. Franklin, a token cartoon-of-color who was brought in in the mid-60s to spout scripture and act as a foil to Whitey. Schroeder, who kn ew exactly two songs. And Pig Pen, who washed and washed but could never rid himself of the cloud of dirt and shame that besmirches us all.
Then there are the non-human actors. Woodstock, that creepy little bird. Snoopy, whose unparalleled selfishness both attracts and repels us. And what about the grown-ups? In the printed strips they were completely silent - their words expressed only throu gh the mouths of those twisted babes. In the animated versions they were nothing more than unintelligible specters, honking impotently from the sidelines. What was THAT all about? I could go on for hours, but I won't.
Critics lionized the strip for its "realistic" treatment of children, pointing out that before Peanuts, kids were simply mischievous scamps getting in and out of scrapes. Well thank goodness that Schulz came along to correct our misimpressions and give us a vision of childhood in which the very adult themes of self-doubt and unrelenting disillusionment are the favorite playthings. Charlie Brown never kicked that ball. Snoopy never caught the Red Baron. Sally never got a kiss from Linus, no matter how conv incingly she pretended to believe in his Great Pumpkin mythology. Ugly lessons for the playpen set.
Newsweek says that the strip is "infused with an almost quiet optimism, one that tiptoed all the way up to unrequited hope." Which is a lovely way of saying that the children were faced with eternal and crushing disappointment, and far worse, that they ne ver managed to grow out of it. Innocent and unshielded by modern weapons of irony and sarcasm, they wore their shredded little hearts on their sleeves.
I don't know - maybe it's a generational thing. The Peanuts were born out of the post-war baby boom, when maudlin was in and self-awareness was most definitely out. "Thanks for your help ladies, now get back in the kitchen!" "Appreciate you saving the wor ld, gentlemen...here's your $1.75 an hour!" Perhaps the strip touched a chord in those whip-sawed innocents that someone born in steadier times could never understand. Millions of people are mourning the passing of this strip. To them I say, at least you still have "Dennis the Menace" and "Family Circus".
They quickly became the original merchandising extravaganza. Ubiquitous images of that creepy little bird haunted my childhood. The books, T-shirts, clocks, phones, beach towels and wax candle figurines mocked my every small achievement. And that damned-a wful Christmas special depressed the hell out of me every single holiday season, even long after I was old enough to walk out of the room when it came on. Just knowing that it was airing - that Linus was draping his blanket around that pathetic little sti ck of a tree - was enough to put me off candy canes for a week.
And so I'm relieved that it's over. That Charles Schulz has laid down his pen and released the children from their inked-in boxes. For while they gave me far more pain than pleasure throughout the years, they will always be indelible icons of my childhood . Now, in my heart, I can finally allow them to live the lives I've always dreamed for them. Lucy will finally catch that pop-fly to left field. Marcie and Peppermint Patty will finally embrace in passion. Schroeder will let his hair grown long and learn to play some Elton John songs. Linus will leave the blanket behind and go on to get his post-doc. Snoopy will dance with his mother and his brothers and sisters at the Daisy Hill Puppy Farm. Charlie Brown will finally feel his heart soar as he watches his favorite kite fly high into the sky, unimpeded by tree limbs or pessimism.
And that creepy little bird will fly into a window and break its neck.
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