The Anarchy of Charlie Brown
Written by Winter Trabex.
When Charles Schultz created the first Peanuts comic strip in 1950 at the age of 28, he may not have imagined that his characters, among them Charlie Brown, Lucy, and Snoopy, would become known the world over. He could not have envisioned animated holiday specials, or that his comic would continue in active circulation after his death. Though Schultz died in the year 2000, Peanuts enters 2015 in its fifteenth year of syndication. If all the Peanuts comics Schultz ever produced were reprinted, another thirty-five years would have to pass before the supply of comics would be exhausted. In other words, in 2050, during the 100th anniversary of the comic, newspapers- if they still exist at that time- would have to make a choice to start over once again or to discontinue Peanuts altogether.
The popularity of Peanuts isn’t easily explainable. It is not regularly funny (Dilbert) or insightful (Calvin and Hobbes) or geared toward a particular audience (Garfield and cat lovers; Doonesbury and politically active people). Peanuts is, and always will be, an understated, low-key comic whose value only becomes apparent upon close examination. Rather than trying to evoke laughter, it simply states it message plainly and clearly: though the world is imperfect, people live better lives when they have the freedom to act as they please.
This is most evident in the repeated classic scenario of Lucy’s psychiatry booth. Lucy, herself a child, sets up a booth, charging five cents in order to offer what help she can. Whether she is actually knowledgeable enough about psychiatry to have a positive relationship with her patients does not matter in this case. Other children come along and pay their five cents to talk while Lucy listens. The children gain value from their nickel: they feel that someone is at least taking their concerns seriously.
The psychiatry booth is not regulated in any way by any government regulation. Lucy does not make patients sign a confidentiality form. She does not follow HIPAA guidelines. She does not have a degree of any kind. Nor does any government official interfere in Lucy selling her listening skills. In the world of Peanuts, authority figures- who are few and far between- have a musical instrument speaking for them in place of an actual voice actor.
One example of this occurs when a teacher’s voice is replaced with a trombone, even while one of the students falls asleep in class. The teacher appears to have very little influence upon the students at all. This is all to the good, as the world of Peanuts clearly demonstrates that the children can take care of themselves.
There is the piano-playing Schroeder, who is depicted as a prodigy by any standard; he is a young child who can play the piano as well as any adult. There is Linus, a child who carries around a blanket that makes him feel secure; thus the term “security blanket.” There is Pig-Pen, whose nickname is derived from the fact that he collects dust, making him a dirty person. Nonetheless, it transpires that though he is filthy, he is never afflicted by the germs he would apparently be surrounded by. There is, of course, Charlie Brown, a dual-natured child who is both a loser and a leader, who experiences both adversity and triumph.
In the world of Peanuts, these personalities have arisen all on their own. No one is on medication for ADD. No one is arrested by police officers for imaginary offenses. No one is abused by parents who take their authority too far. Peanuts is a world which shows that individuals thrive with a minimum of intervention or interference. Though there are problems, these problems are overcome by the ingenuity of the people involved.
Whether Schultz purposefully designed his comic strip this way or not remains unclear. It is also unclear whether he meant for Charlie Brown’s aspirations to be a football placekicker to be a metaphor for democratic voting. Charlie Brown, as a child who is interested in playing football and baseball, selects Lucy to hold the football for him while he tries to kick it. In every instance, Lucy pulls the ball away before Charlie Brown can connect with the kick.
This is not unlike voting in a democracy, or a republic. No matter who wins any vote, the winner of every election always goes to work for the state. The state’s existence is not threatened by voting. Change does not occur through voting. Voters who believe their choice to be beneficial to society are like Charlie Brown, who believes that he will finally get to kick the ball if only he keeps trying.
Though fans of the comic may not realize it, Peanuts represents the world as it could be- a world without leaders, without oppressive authority figures, without orders being given and enforced at every turn. It is a concept of a world from a simpler time, before the proliferation of technology allowed for ever more government control in the daily lives of individuals. It is a comic which shows, in unambiguous terms, that even the most unsuccessful person can nevertheless lead a good life through the process of mutual and peaceful cooperation.
In other words, Peanuts provides the perfect- if inferred- argument for an abolition of centralized authority figures. In place of those figures is individual choice, individual will, a decentralized authority in which every single person decides what they do with their lives. This, Schultz demonstrates, leads to more happiness, more vigorous activity, more freedom than would otherwise be possible.
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