The Spiritual Message at the Heart of ‘Peanuts’

This content has been archived. It may no longer be relevant

From The Literary Hub:

In the 70 years since the comic strip “Peanuts” first appeared, countless other comic strips have come and gone. All the while, seemingly seamlessly, utterly unconsciously, some of the themes and touchstones of “Peanuts” have woven their way into our vocabulary, our views and voices, our senses and sensibilities.

“Peanuts” may not have the cool factor of other things in our culture, but it has transcended the test of time; it has become an almost Talmudic totem, a talisman, one that we take with us, celebrate with, and perhaps cling to all the more tightly in times of trouble.

It plays a singular role in the popular culture, especially in the context of a society in which it seems that there is little, if anything, on which we can all remotely agree, divided as we are on politics, values, technology. That’s what makes the strip—which officially ended in 2000, when Charles M. Schulz died, but continues in syndication, plus the holiday TV specials, the books, the adaptations for screen and stage, the apps and the ads, and all of the paraphernalia—sacred and even more cherished than ever. It may be hard to imagine considering something as universally popular as “Peanuts” as under-rated, under-appreciated, for what it is. But it is, and its status deserves recognition: it is one of last great shared texts in our culture.

It’s axiomatic that we live in a highly polarized culture. To ideate about enduring cultural consensus about almost anything seems an exercise in wistful nostalgia. And yet, we would do well to imagine what such broad consensus might look like. And we might find ourselves thinking, about the most recent and arguably final example of a great American work of art loved broadly and without reservations by the masses, the elite, and everyone in the so-called middle.

. . . .

Looking back, when “Peanuts” (a title that Schulz detested) first started in 1950, Harry Truman was the president. “All About Eve” was in movie theaters, and Hemingway’s Across the River and Into the Trees was a bestseller.

Fifty years later, when Schulz died, in 2000, “Peanuts” was read in 75 countries, 2,600 papers and 21 languages. In all, well over 18,000 strips appeared over the course of almost a half-decade, making it, according to Robert Thompson, a professor of popular culture at Syracuse University, “arguably the longest story ever told by one human being.”

Along the way: “Peanuts Gallery,” a concerto, was performed at Carnegie Hall in 1997; Schulz received the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from the French Ministry of Culture; in 1990, his work was shown at the Louvre. Just last year, Apple TV launched the Peanuts Channel, featuring “Snoopy in Space.” “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” continues to be the most produced musical ever, with over 40,000 productions and counting. And as happens perennially, faithfully, over the coming weeks and months, we will come together to watch the Peanuts holiday specials: “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” and the under-appreciated Thanksgiving special, sandwiched in between.

What is it about the world of “Peanuts,” then, that still compels us to enter? Until “Peanuts” came along, comic strips where largely populated by grown-ups acting like children. One of the refreshing revelations, part of what has made “Peanuts” resonate so strongly, for so long and with so many, was that it’s a world of children who act, talk, think, and feel more like adults. This spiritual system peopled exclusively by children, preternaturally wise beyond their years, included among its core beliefs that: Life can be hard; perseverance is required; joy is fleeting but attainable; and imagination is essential.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub