Regular readers will already be aware of my online sensation The Theology of Peanuts. (I'm joking about "sensation." But it was fun project to do.)
What makes Peanuts so interesting, theologically speaking, is how gloomy the strip is. Particularly in its early years. In fact, that's how I started the Theology of Peanuts series, with an essay entitled "Is Peanuts Funny?" From that lead essay:
The theological richness of Peanuts can be hinted at by beginning with an intriguing question, "Is Peanuts funny?" The answer is yes, of course. But we quickly must nuance that answer by noting that Peanuts is funny in a very dark and peculiar manner. The darkness of Peanuts was signaled in the very first Peanuts strip published on October 2, 1950:
Charlie Brown walks innocently past two children sitting on the curb. As Charlie Brown approaches and passes by the little boy repeatedly intones, "There goes good ol' Charlie Brown." And yet, as soon as Charlie Brown exits the picture, the boy gives us the punch-line: "How I hate him!" Peanuts is funny. But it is also dark and mean and tragic.If you're interested in following more of the existential side of Peanuts Daniel has alerted me to the existence of the 3eanuts blog. The idea behind the blog is to delete the final panel of the four panel Peanuts sequence. Usually, the last panel gives us the punchline of the strip, resolving the existential tension climaxing in panel three. By deleting the last panel we are left in panel three where the existential crisis of the strip is at its most acute. As the 3eanuts blog describes it:
Where does this meanness come from? Umberto Eco, in his introductory essay to the first Peanuts book published in Italian, made this analysis:
"The children affect us because in a certain sense they are monsters: They are the monstrous infantile reductions of all the neuroses of the modern industrial civilization...In [these children] we find everything: Freud, mass-cult, digest culture, frustrated struggle for success, craving for affection, loneliness, passive acquiescence, and neurotic protest." Peanuts is an "encyclopedia of contemporary weakness."
The somber subject matter of Peanuts often goes unnoticed due to the merchandising of the strip (sentimental greeting cards and the like) as well as the gag structure of the strips themselves. The concluding punchline distances readers emotionally from the misery that precedes it; jokes turn us from co-sufferers into onlooking wise guys. Schulz was well aware that the dismal content of Peanuts, which is to say the stuff of life, is difficult to face without humor to aid us. By removing the final gag panel, we bring to the fore exactly how dark Schulz’s view of the world has always been. That this view often eludes us merely affirms Schulz’s skill at helping us to cope.