I Don't Understand, Charlie Brown

I realize what I’m about to say is un-American. Or worse, un-Minnesotan, since Charles Schultz hails from this state. (All of a sudden, all those Zamboni jokes make sense, don't they?)

But I don't get the enduring reverence for Charlie Brown.

A few weeks ago, our family watched the annual airing of the Peanuts special “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.” My kids have seen it a few times, mostly when they’ve decided to check the DVD out of the library - in June, naturally. But it’s been a few years, so watching it this fall was like watching it for the first time.

Before I continue, I feel compelled by my distaste for all things controversial to say: I don’t hate Charlie Brown. When I was a kid, I used to check out the Complete Collection of Peanuts from the library at least once a year. I had a small thing for Snoopy. And my kids are so used to me listening to the music from Charlie Brown Christmas each winter that they’ve started saying “This sounds like Charlie Brown” whenever they hear jazz.

So I'm not a jerk, OK?

But I can't say the same about most of the Peanuts gang. They aren't just jerks; they are bullies, especially to Charlie Brown. The Halloween special revolved around them calling each other blockhead and idiot (two words that would get kids in major trouble in our house, if they dared fling them like the Peanuts gang) and mocking Linus’ childlike faith in the Great Pumpkin. Charlie Brown got no candy in his trick-or-treat bag – only bricks. Lucy pulled the football away from him – again - even after promising not to. The few times the kids were kind to each other – like when Lucy goes to get her sleeping little brother out of the pumpkin patch, where he’s shivering with cold – the compassion was colored with huffs and eye rolls.

The humor is grown-up and very 1960s. Jokes about women’s lib abound, and when Linus and Charlie Brown debate the existence of the Great Pumpkin versus Santa Clause, Charlie brown quips, “We’re obviously separated by denominational differences.” Corey and I snickered. But the kids didn’t even flinch.

Frankly, the only somewhat entertaining part of the special was Snoopy’s foray into the world of the Red Baron. And even then, our kids didn’t really understand it. “What is he shooting? Why are there bullet holes in his dog house? If he crashes, will he die? Why is he crawling around on the ground now?” It made no sense to them. But they liked that he made silly noises and shook his fist at invisible enemies.

I know the Christmas special has more redeeming qualities. And I'll admit that my kids watched The Great Pumpkin more than once, even though they didn't get most of the jokes and they were saddened and a little angered by the constant meanness. But to my eyes, it appears the culture lore of Charlie Brown is one of those traditions that is cherished more for its nostalgia than its intrinsic value.

Am I wrong? Tell me I am. Explain.


  1. I'm with you...it's confusing to me, too. I hate bullies...even cartoon ones on tv.

  2. I can honestly say I have never looked at it from that perspective before. But it has been a couple of years since I watched it. I did grow up loving it. And I agree with you about the Christmas special. But you are right, they are mean. And name calling is not ok.

  3. A little nostalgia, a cute dog, a few great lines. I love it because I grew up with it. I think of it as a childhood standard even though I quite agree with you on a lot of this. I'll have to think more about it, as I watch for the 100th time this year. :) (The Christmas one is really lovely, mostly.)

  4. I can absolutely see what you mean. My kids do love it though. Maybe this says much about our family, but the sibling relationships seem pretty accurate (minus the name calling). My kids groan and moan about helping each other but they do it anyway. The Halloween one is not a family favorite, we much prefer Thanksgiving and Christmas and I enjoyed the movie length ones when I was a kid. But yeah, nostalgia probably plays a huge part.

  5. I watched it again this year and thought the same thing! Actually, I don't even have kids but I felt like I don't want my future kids to talk to each other like the gang does. And I felt so bad for Charlie Brown! Why does he have to keep getting rocks?! Haha

  6. We've never watched the Halloween one. My boys watched the Thanksgiving one for the first time this year and they enjoyed the history part since we've been studying the Pilgrims. We own the Christmas one and love it (even though I agree with the name calling, ect). We'll continue to watch those two!

  7. Even as a kid, I would get SO ANGRY when Charlie Brown only got rocks in his trick or treat bag. I even have a hard time watching the Christmas special, because even though the kids all come together and are nicer to him at the end, I just can't take what horrible little jerks they are through the rest of it. And the Halloween special is even worse. The petty cruelty shown by the kids (and the adults who are handing out the treats at the doors) makes me see red. The Thanksgiving one is pretty bad in that respect, too.

    And yes, I know Charles Schultz was trying to make a point with his cartoons, and that they are from a different era, but still. I usually prefer to spend the holiday season NOT raging and gnashing my teeth.

    I watch the Muppet Christmas Carol instead. :-)

  8. Don't even get me started on the Valentine's special!