Peanuts gang helps make Christmas bright
Sunday night my husband, Erik, and I watched “A Charlie Brown Christmas” for – between the two of us – probably the four billionth time.
The first time this holiday special aired, in 1965, Erik and I were both 5 years old. Now, using Charlie Brown and his gang as a cultural gauge, I can’t help but notice how much things have changed from 1965 to 2002 – and how much they’ve stayed the same.
Charlie Brown has staying power, particularly for those of us who grew up in the ’60s. Fads may come and go, but this group of cartoon characters can still hold up, even after almost 40 years.
For instance, most people know what a Charlie Brown Christmas tree is: It’s the smallest, most dismal-looking little tree on the lot. And the cartoon isn’t sugar-coated (Charlie Brown is suffering from holiday depression, after all!), it isn’t cheesy (this is real stuff: Lucy threatens Linus with a fist in the face more than once), and it’s got really cool tunes (pianist Vince Guaraldi’s bossa nova soundtrack is still a refreshing alternative to standard Christmas carol fare).
In contrast, we thankfully only caught the last five minutes of the “Christmas in Aspen” TV special that aired just before Charlie Brown, and good grief! Barry Manilow and a bunch of people I don’t recognize were up on the Wheeler Opera House stage belting away a collection of the schmaltziest Christmas tunes imaginable. Happy holidays and all that, but yikes! It’s 2002, people. Jeez.
Watching Charlie Brown’s special, I would say the biggest change is the general paranoia running through our present-day culture. Let’s not upset anyone. Let’s steer around anything that will a) single anyone out, b) separate people by religious beliefs, or c) potentially cause sponsors to pull advertising dollars.
Not so back in ’65. “A Charlie Brown Christmas” was a show unabashedly about Christmas. There wasn’t a reference to Hanukah, or Kwanzaa or any other celebration. The way Charles Schultz and crew wrote the show, it wasn’t a slight on any other religion, it was just about Christmas. Period.
The gang is putting on a Christmas play and Linus even goes into a diatribe about the meaning of Christmas, using phrases like “babe in swaddling clothes” and “tidings of great joy.” I don’t know if the P.C. police would allow that nowadays on network TV – at least not without a disclaimer.
Another thing the P.C. police sirens would go off on is Linus’ use of that security blanket he carries around all the time. So that he won’t have to be without it during rehearsals for the Christmas play, he creatively fashions it into a turban for his role as a shepherd. But nowadays, with images of Osama creeping through our heads, who knows if red flags would go up on this one.
I notice, too, the complete lack of adult supervision in Charlie Brown’s world. Nowadays, parents and teachers are urged to deeply delve into children’s lives, but the Peanuts gang pretty much runs itself. When there is an adult, they’re depicted only in voice, with that distinctive “wah-wah-wah-wah” noise. Where’s Charlie Brown’s mom and dad? What would “Focus on the Family” have to say about this?
It’s amazing to look back and see how cleverly Charles Schultz tossed in a dose of classical music into “Peanuts.” Schroeder, bending over his tiny grand piano (yes, an oxymoron) shows kids playing Beethoven can be cool. And speaking of cool, Snoopy had no need to be depicted as a dodo like Scooby Doo (sorry, but you know it’s true; Scooby Doo is a ding-dong). Instead, Snoopy plays a standup bass and rocks out on jazz. It’s quite an achievement, given that this Christmas special debuted during the days of The Beatles and the Troggs. Snoopy was cool then, and he’s still cool.
The main theme of the show is about how commercial Christmas has become. If they only knew, back in ’65, that Christmas marketing – and marketing to children in general – was going to get even worse in the future. But now, with ads running nonstop on radio, TV and dare-I-say newspapers announcing holiday sales right up to the blessed day – and even after, I doubt any cartoon could go on and on about how materialistic and commercial the holidays are. Okay, maybe “The Simpsons or “South Park” could get away with it, but they’re known as renegade animated entertainment.
Another perpetually favorite Christmas special, “Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” airs this week, and once more, it’s clear everything old is new again. Erik was talking with a 40-something friend of ours, and they both commented on how “ascared” they used to be of the Abominable Snowman – that furry white puppet with the big, sharp, pointy teeth. I’m not sure if the monster has the same effect on today’s kids, who are exposed to all kinds of super-tech special effects, but I bet he still curls some toes.
In any case, hang out with kids nowadays and you’ll see how much the Peanuts gang still represents them. Brothers and sisters still fight, and sensitive children can get bummed out around the holidays. But kids also still love to dance to good music, they love their dogs, and deep down in there, they still understand that the holidays have more to do with goodwill than “What’d cha get?” And the same goes for adults, too.
Carrie Click is a Post Independent staff writer. Her column runs on Tuesdays.
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