Peanuts and Coping

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.

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."
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:
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.

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5 thoughts on “Peanuts and Coping”

  1. Hey Richard, you might enjoy this as well:

  2. I'm reading "Saved from Sacrifice" at the moment (recommended if you haven't already read this, fellow blog readers), and I'm struck by the parallels. Refusing to fit the traditional sacrificial structure, the passion narratives focus our attention on the unjust suffering of the scapegoat but refuse to resolve the tension through oblivion or myth. We are left in 'the third panel' and forced 'inwards' (upwards/deeper?) for answers. We are left as co-sufferers.

  3. Gary Amirault is the founder/author of (a fantastic
    site concerning Christ centered universalism).

    Within the last couple of weeks:
    Gary Amirault has written a review on Rob Bell's book "Love Wins".
    Gary Amirault, also responded to "Musings about Universalism: Part 8"
    (I was excited about that because THIS site and
    are 2 favorite sites I visit almost daily the last 3-4 years). To see him
    respond to your post was really, really cool.

    Today, you write about observing the dark vibe / melancholy expressed
    in Peanuts.

    Turns out, according to Gary Amirault's review of Rob Bell's "Love Wins",
    Charles Schulz was a universalist. Here's a half-paragraph excerpt of
    Garys Amirault's review:

    "Among those “orthodox” Evangelicals who are now calling for Bell’s head are John Piper, John MacArthur and Mark Driscoll. Well-known past heretics of the universalist persuasion include Karl Barth, William Barclay, Charles M. Schulz (Peanuts), Florence Nightingale, Hannah Whitall Smith, B.F. Westcott, George MacDonald, William Law, Abraham Lincoln, Origen, Saint Gregory and millions of others (including myself). Carlton Pearson, a well-known Charismatic preacher, added his name to the Great Cloud of Witnesses to the Victorious Gospel of Jesus Christ a few years back. It cost him greatly. Big name preachers who used to share the platform with him turned their backs."

    Here's the link to Gary Amirault's review in its entirety.

    Gary Y.

  4. Charles Schultz is probably one of the most astute philosopher theologian/psychologists of the last century.

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