Just Kick The Damn Ball Charlie Brown!
October 9, 2014 11:28 AM   Subscribe

Apparently (or maybe allegedly) there was a lot more going on between Charlie Brown and Lucy when it came to kicking footballs.
posted by COD (39 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
do I need to read the article? I've had many a football yanked away in my time, generally in the form of arts grants. I am implored to apply, put in all the gruntwork. I wind up, I give it my all - NOTHING. I end up on my ass.

And then, sure enough, it's happening again. I'm being implored again.
posted by philip-random at 11:56 AM on October 9, 2014 [7 favorites]


In general, there was a lot going on with that strip.

I remember about a decade or so ago when I started to discover that cartoonists I really liked deeply respected Sparky Schulz, and many were able to articulate just how important his strips were to them (art soilegelman has been especially vocal on the subject).

Peanuts had always resonated with me, as it obviously did with a lot of people, but when I started reading it it was already two decades old, and just seemed like it was what it was meant to be. It seemed to me that it was what cartoons were supposed to be, and so I didn't think much about it, except that I liked it.

Revisiting it as an adult, the wells of sadness and loneliness that inform it are amazing. It was smartly neurotic, and I like that sort of thing, and still do -- the Muppets were the same. And neurosis are so informed by sadness and frustration.

I think it resonated with me as well because it took place in my world. Schulz was born in Ellior Park in Minneapolis, where I lived for a long time, and raised in St. Paul, and although it's never made explicit, because the comic is so informed by Schulz's life, it feels somehow Twin Citian.

Peanuts characters have since taken over the Twin Cities in the form of sculptures, by the way. After six pm on most weeknights there are more Lucys in downtown St. Paul than actual humans. And they look like they belong.
posted by maxsparber at 11:56 AM on October 9, 2014 [16 favorites]


at a certain point, you just have to conclude it's all rather sado-masochistic.
posted by philip-random at 11:57 AM on October 9, 2014


Oh, come on, people, wake up!

Charlie Brown is us - you, me, everyone we know.
Lucy is the government.
And the football is the gold standard.

(Linus' blanket is Monica Lewinsky and the piano is Dick Cheney's mechanical heart, BTW. Obviously)
posted by IAmBroom at 12:04 PM on October 9, 2014 [12 favorites]


at a certain point, you just have to conclude it's all rather sado-masochistic.

Or you could view it as a mememto mori. For a number of years, Schulz was drawn to religious imagery, which was paired with his service in Europe during World War II. During that time, he undoubtedly must have learned of the mural at Sweden's Täby kyrka of Death playing chess, and may have thus extended a one-shot gag into a modern tribute.
posted by Smart Dalek at 12:14 PM on October 9, 2014


i use lucy grabbing the football as my misandry user icon on various sites, so i'm delighted by the origin story.
posted by nadawi at 12:16 PM on October 9, 2014 [2 favorites]


Since it's what I initially thought this post was going to be about, I'll leave this here: “Good Grief! Cancer Boy!”, a nihilistic portrayal of Charlie Brown in German.
posted by item at 12:18 PM on October 9, 2014


Sparky played the long game.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:19 PM on October 9, 2014 [3 favorites]


In general, there was a lot going on with that strip.

I wonder if Schulz, who consistently portrayed psychiatry as ineffective, had a Scientology connection? And here this football thing shows that he also had a low opinion of therapists, who are unable to resolve even their own problems with revenge-seeking.
posted by thelonius at 12:26 PM on October 9, 2014


Good grief.
posted by ob1quixote at 12:33 PM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


Are we sure the football was ever even there? Was Lucy? Was Charlie? Was one the imaginary companion of the other? Was the football dreaming it all? Or a fever dream of the kite-eating tree.
posted by Buttons Bellbottom at 12:34 PM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


IAmBroom wrote:

Linus' blanket is Monica Lewinsky's dress.

(fixed that for you....)
posted by 1367 at 12:37 PM on October 9, 2014 [2 favorites]


I wonder if Schulz, who consistently portrayed psychiatry as ineffective, had a Scientology connection?

Well, it is ineffective when practiced by mean little girls charging you a nickel.

You blockhead.
posted by emjaybee at 12:37 PM on October 9, 2014 [8 favorites]


In all seriousness, I believe Lucy-And-The-Football is something all of us must make peace with in our own way. That is, we all have a Lucy-And-The-Football recurring theme in our life, a dream/illusion we keep foolishly falling for in spite of all our wisdom and experience, because ... well, because maybe this time it will be different.

For me, as I pointed out earlier, it's applying for arts grants. "Never again," he said. Again.
posted by philip-random at 12:39 PM on October 9, 2014 [2 favorites]


What an amazing strip. I grew up with Peanuts but I didn't remember this one.

Isaiah 6:10-12:

Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed.

Then said I, Lord, how long? And he answered, Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without man, and the land be utterly desolate,

And the Lord have removed men far away, and there be a great forsaking in the midst of the land.
posted by honestcoyote at 12:45 PM on October 9, 2014 [5 favorites]


I had the opportunity to play Charlie Brown on stage. This doesn't give me any special insight that anyone else hasn't already shared or proposed, just means that I had to find reasons to justify his behavior for a particular production.

What I found worked for me was to focus on Charlie Brown's hope and optimism. The universe in general (and Lucy in specific) seems to be focused on ruining everything he tries to accomplish. However, somehow, he gets up every day. He's smart enough to recognize that the odds are pretty good he's going to fail many times every day, but he makes himself get out of bed and confront the day anyways, almost always convincing himself that its going to get better.

His friends aren't perfect and are often completely wrapped up in their own obsessions. His best friend preaches at him all the time. His dog is cooler than he'll ever be. The girl he loves doesn't seem to know he even exists. His hero is a baseball player who can't quite stay in the major league.

But when the chips are down, everyone knows they can count on Charlie Brown. He'll save the day somehow, even if he saves it in a way that nobody quite likes, even if it means making himself the focus of everyone else's disappointment and ire.

He's loyal to all of his friends - even Lucy - because he believes they're all good inside. He manages the worst little league team ever because he loves the game and hopes to win and, besides, nobody else seems to want to do it.

There is great sorrow there, but that specific sorrow couldn't exist if there wasn't the hope that things were about to get better and then didn't.

Playing the character is an absolute joy.
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:50 PM on October 9, 2014 [22 favorites]


Many of our younger readers may not be as impressed by Peanuts as they should be, as they were only exposed to it in its later decades when the writing wasn't quite as sharp. (Well, YOU try being consistently excellent and insightful for 17,897 strips in a row.)

To them, I suggest picking up a couple of the Complete Peanuts anthologies -- get one from the 50s and one from the 60s. At that point, try to resist picking up the rest from that era.
posted by delfin at 1:03 PM on October 9, 2014 [4 favorites]


I didn't start reading the comics on my own until 10 years or so after the football gag began so I just assumed it was something Schulz randomly seized upon and then repeated. But of course it has a history and makes perfect sense in that context.

Schulz was a genius in the way he could create something that kids could enjoy that was so loaded with deep and dark meaning that perhaps even adults didn't quite notice. I read the reruns every day and marvel at the things I missed when I read the strip when it was first published.
posted by tommasz at 1:12 PM on October 9, 2014


A documentary I saw on PBS about Peanuts seemed to suggest that Lucy was modeled after Charles Schultz's first wife, who he eventually divorced.
posted by koucha at 1:27 PM on October 9, 2014


My husband and I reenacted this scene one memorable Halloween a few years back.
posted by web-goddess at 1:32 PM on October 9, 2014 [14 favorites]


His second wife, Jeanne, is still alive and occasionally attends Burning Man. I am not making this up.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 1:34 PM on October 9, 2014 [6 favorites]


I wonder if Schulz, who consistently portrayed psychiatry as ineffective, had a Scientology connection? And here this football thing shows that he also had a low opinion of therapists, who are unable to resolve even their own problems with revenge-seeking.

To be fair, Schultz produced his best work long before psychiatry and psychotherapy became a common way to deal with personal problems. And as he is quoted in the piece here, “You can’t create humor out of happiness.“

Maybe Lucy would one day be able to resolve her problems, but then again the comic strip is essentially a moment in time (the characters never age, for example) that stretched for more than thirty years.
posted by Nevin at 1:41 PM on October 9, 2014 [2 favorites]


A documentary I saw on PBS about Peanuts seemed to suggest that Lucy was modeled after Charles Schultz's first wife, who he eventually divorced.

I recall that Lucy's tendency to hang around and jabber at Schroeder when he was practicing piano was directly borrowed from his wife coming in and talking to him while he was trying to draw.
posted by maxsparber at 1:41 PM on October 9, 2014 [4 favorites]


The late (and dearly missed) The Parking Lot is Full shows this through the lens of the worker's struggle.
posted by Hactar at 2:00 PM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


After Schultz drew his last strip, he apparently said, "I just realized... that poor little boy is never going to kick that football!"
posted by DGStieber at 2:17 PM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


Some themes can be mined in (apparently) endless variation. Like the NewYorker's "desert island" or "patient on the therapist's couch") it can be reimagined through different lenses and even through current events. See: NewYorker: The Secret Behind Cartoon Tropes.
posted by spock at 2:32 PM on October 9, 2014


Peanuts was great before Snoopy took over the strip, and still had moments of greatness afterwards. Thanks for this essay, which I enjoyed. But I must add a cautionary usage note: it's just plain seriatim, not "in seriatim." Yes, I'm a card-carrying descriptivist, and if this were a commonly used bit of Latin and everyone said "in seriatim," I'd bite my tongue and accept vox populi. But it's not, and I'd prefer to stamp out this example of faux Latinity before it gets started.
posted by languagehat at 2:36 PM on October 9, 2014 [3 favorites]


Why does Charlie Brown always insist on running up to the ball? Just kick it from right where you're standing, before Lucy has time to pull it away.
posted by Metroid Baby at 2:55 PM on October 9, 2014


I wonder if Schulz, who consistently portrayed psychiatry as ineffective, had a Scientology connection?

No. Schulz had roots in the middle-of-the-road evangelicalism of the Church of God, though later in life he underwent somewhat of a transformation. Somewhere between 1965 and 1975, he seemed to lose faith and embraced a more secular humanist view. He was quoted as saying "I am fearful of an overly organized church and I am very fearful of a church which equates itself with Americanism."

I think Schulz' apparent disdain for psychiatry is probably more an outgrowth of his own personal dealings with depression.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:01 PM on October 9, 2014 [6 favorites]


My favorite riff on this Peanuts trope is a strip that ran in either The New York Press or The Village Voice after Schulz passed away (I have spent YEARS image searching for it to no avail). All the Peanuts characters are shown being released from the gags/personalities/etc that had come to define them. Charlie Brown, after some doubt and hesitancy (and some goading from Lucy), resolves to try and kick the football now that Schulz is dead. I damn near wept as he connected with the football and yelled "MOTHERFUCKER!" jubiantly. The look of bewilderment on Lucy's face was priceless to behold.
posted by KingEdRa at 3:06 PM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


His second wife, Jeanne, is still alive and occasionally attends Burning Man. I am not making this up.

In fact, she did her second Reddit AMA just a few days ago.
posted by svenx at 3:59 PM on October 9, 2014


Lucy had a certain something to her, though. This one has been my favorite for a while. Whenever the power goes out I am compelled to yell "YOU STUPID DARKNESS!"
posted by emjaybee at 5:20 PM on October 9, 2014 [6 favorites]


Sometimes a football is just a smoke.
posted by mule98J at 5:43 PM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


Violet was the first to yank away the football.
posted by brujita at 5:56 PM on October 9, 2014


> I think Schulz' apparent disdain for psychiatry is probably more an outgrowth of his own personal dealings with depression.

There's generational attitudes, too. It's a belief from that era that your neurosis is simply a sign of insufficient maturity or self-control, and that instead of dwelling on your depression you should work harder, or maybe start praying more.

"Peanuts" gained traction at the end of the 1950s, when psychiatric therapy had become a popular middlebrow topic. Schulz might have also been obliquely working out his own feelings about it too, but it would have been in the context of the media frequently discussing psychological research and psychiatric therapy, and comedians like Woody Allen, Bob Newhart, and Nichols and May mining psychology for jokes. That cultural conflict between rural conservatism and educated liberalism was as much a thing fifty years ago as it is now.
posted by ardgedee at 6:16 PM on October 9, 2014 [2 favorites]


Violet was the first to yank away the football.


Whatever happened to her?
posted by Buttons Bellbottom at 9:58 AM on October 10, 2014


She receded into the background when Lucy became dominant, probably because Lucy was a far more complex character, while Violet was mostly defined by snobbiness and bullying. But she appeared in the strip all the way until 1997. She mostly played outfield on the baseball team.
posted by maxsparber at 12:02 PM on October 10, 2014


I was trying to track down the 1960's Mad parody of the Peanuts gang as hippies (it features I think Violet and Linus deciding to make out on his blanket or something), but found this page instead.
posted by Nevin at 12:17 PM on October 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


For posterity: this is a project by MeFi's own ericbop.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:15 AM on October 16, 2014


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