Blake Scott Ball charts the impact of the classic comic strip Peanuts on American culture, and vice versa, in Charlie Brown’s America.
Peanuts is a cultural icon, but even with its sly humor inspired by changes in society, such as Lucy’s “Psychiatric Help” booth, it’s not often considered a political strip, or one with an agenda. This book examines Peanuts in the light of the events that surrounded it, and considers the efforts of its creator, Charles Schulz, to make points through the strip when necessary, and without alienating his audience.
The book discusses these topics alongside reprints of relevant strips, as with those from the 1950s, when, in time with atomic age paranoia, Charlie Brown and Lucy play “H-bomb test,” and Linus mistakes falling snow for nuclear fallout. Snoopy’s fights with the Red Baron might seem like humorous fantasies, but viewed in the context of their times, his battles with a deadly, unseen enemy are revealed to be a stand-in for the Vietnam War.
Elsewhere, Schulz’s faith, combined with increasing cultural emphasis on the commercial side of Christmas, inspired the casting of Linus as the voice of religion in the strip. And there are enlightening, moving excerpts from Schulz’s correspondence with readers who lobbied for a Black character.
In some places, the book argues that Schulz might have done more. It includes strips that, even today, are not easy to interpret, as when a figure-skating Peppermint Patty ends an argument with Franklin, who’s practicing his ice hockey, with “How many black players in the NHL, Franklin?”
Charlie Brown’s America is a fascinating look at the wider impact of Peanuts, one of the most enduring, popular comic strips of all time.
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