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Sunday, 11 September 2005

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Unfrozen Caveman Cubs Fan

I think you're right about Charlie Brown as sort of the 'every man' of post-WWII America. It's interesting that, as Schulz was writing these, the baby boom and suburbanization of America was all the rage. In fact, if I had to guess I'd guess that Brown et al live in some kind of quaint suburban town - you never really learn much about their place, probably because of the lack of adults (after all, as kids, a city and a town are basically the same -- your life is limited by the bounds that your parents put on you, not the bounds that society or constitution of your locality place).

But I (and by that I mean "as someone too young to have lived through that period") think of that time as one of happiness, as epitomized by the myriad of nuclear family-centric sitcoms that bring (non-masturbatory) wistful tears to the eyes of those older than I am. But the truth is the "lost generation" comment of Gertrude Stein could just as easily apply to the post-WWII America as it did to post-WWI America, and Charlie Brown (and probably Charles Schulz as well) represented that feeling. His depression at his surroundings (and there are so many very stark early strips where the other kids just comment on how depressed Charlie Brown is, something that really didn't happen in the later years) is obvious, and you wonder whether he'll ever be able to overcome the problem and function normally within his peer group society.

If Charlie had been 25 and a single guy living in the city, I could see him and Pigpen sitting around a bar, tossing back whiskeys and lamenting their lives and deadend jobs and overbearing bosses, with Lucy as the girl at the end of the bar who never quite give in to their advances and Snoopy as the wizened bartender overseeing all of this with a detached comedic eye. Which raises another point -- as adults, we have outlets for our depression to make things better. We drink, we gamble, we screw around, we go to the nudie bar, we curse like sailors and punch strangers in bars. What do children have?

I wonder whether Charlie Brown wasn't really just someone in search of an outlet for his pain -- witness the repeated attempts to kick the ball (violence) and the repeated visits to the psychiatric booth (therapy), plus his eternal quest for self-actualization through winning at baseball -- and Schulz is telling us that sometimes a man's pain is simply his own to keep. That would certainly reflect the feelings of a lot of men coming back from war who don't think that those who weren't "over there" can ever understand what they went through. Perhaps Charlie Brown simply knows that no one can understand what makes him Charlie Brown.

(I'm a joy at parties with this kind of insight, BTW. I also do bar mitzvahs, where I perform tricks like crushing a child's dream while pointing out that older relatives will be dying off soon.)

[From elsewhere, sans math.]

Josh

Thanks for this, Scott. Your meditations on Tom Rath, in particular, are a welcome antidote to Malcolm Gladwell's New Yorker piece of a while back telling us that the lesson of Wilson's novel is that war veterans and other post-traumatic types should Just Get Over It. And isn't Jurca wonderful at what she does? Even without your gloss, I found her work indispensible to my realization that Wilson's war veterans inhabit the same emotional landscape as the ones in Spillane and Highsmith.

Ray Davis

The last great thing I remember in MAD Magazine was "Peanuts" as adults. The concept's been done again since, but their take, being closer to the original, was closer to UCCF's.

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