The Strange Cruelty of Peanuts.



I went to see an NYU production of You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown last night, and I want to say first that I very much enjoyed the production itself – in particular, the acting.  But watching the play also reminded me of what has always made me uncomfortable about Peanuts, namely that the strip is based entirely upon laughing at the sadness and failures of small children.  Consider this monologue of Charlie Brown’s, from the musical:

I think lunchtime is about the worst time of the day for me. Always having to sit here alone. Of course, sometimes mornings aren’t so pleasant, either – waking up and wondering if anyone would really miss me if I never got out of bed. Then there’s the night, too – lying there and thinking about all the stupid things I’ve done during the day. And all those hours in between – when I do all those stupid things. Well, lunchtime is among the worst times of the day for me.

Cue audience giggle.

Granted, You’re A Good Man wasn’t written by Charles Schultz, and I can’t remember anything from the comic strip that was quite that bleak.  But it’s not out of character for Charlie Brown, and indeed most of Schultz’s characters are defined by these sorts of negative traits.  Charlie Brown is a clinically-depressed failure; Lucy is a conniving, backstabbing bitch; Linus is an addict; Sally is a dumb blonde.  I don’t have a particular problem with having dark undertones in comic strips – it’s not like Calvin and Hobbes didn’t tackle stuff like death and depression from time to time – but I do think that our seeming unwillingness to acknowledge that there’s anything dark about Peanuts at all is a little strange.