Friday, December 17, 2010

What's it all about, Charlie Brown?

There's an enormous irony I've observed while watching A Charlie Brown Christmas this year, and seeing all the mushy and sentimental Peanuts merchandise. The classic special, in fact, teaches us one of the biggest lessons of them all:

Anti-commercialism sells.

I was pretty appalled when a few years back they were selling Charlie Brown Christmas trees, with an enormous red ornament dangling downward and everything. Somehow or another, Christmas' greatest symbol of modesty this side of the Virgin Mary on a donkey and the Christ Child born in a manger has become a product.

I'm not very angry about it, actually, because Miracle on 34th Street taught us this irony too. It only strikes me as odd that millions of people watch Charlie Brown Christmas and get all dewy-eyed when they talk about how much they relate to Charlie Brown, and yet the sentiments don't really carry over into real life.
What's especially odd is that the special is so very overtly Christian, and yet only so many people who watch it feel the same way that Linus does. Does this speech simply go over people's head? Do they go "Oh yeah, some people celebrate Christmas because of that Jesus guy"?

I also find it interesting that there are some sentiments in A Charlie Brown Christmas that aren't necessarily relevant anymore. Take for instance Snoopy's dog house decorations- the moral here is that Snoopy is being excessive and greedy, going all out to win the contest prize money.
These days I doubt that many people decorate lavishly and elaborately for the sake of winning a prize. I've seen a lot of television shows about the subject, and if anything, people who decorate that way are expressing their sheer exuberance through creativity. Heck, we've got a neighborhood only a few miles away from where I live called Sleepy Hollow, where residents for several blocks go all out with their decorations, and there's a sense of unity and community.
Schulz's second example of commercialism and phoniness is the aluminum Christmas tree. Lately, ironic hipsters and nostalgic baby-boomers have brought this bright and gaudy decoration back from the depths of "forbidden non-naturalistic decorations", as we shall call it. I blame Charles Schulz for making metallic trees out of style for many decades, and making real Douglas Firs the trendy tree. But nowadays aluminum trees pose no real threat to the real deal, and instead represent a fondness for the aesthetics of mid-century Christmases.

I still love A Charlie Brown Christmas for its message and humor, but perhaps its not so timeless as we once thought, nor as persuasive.

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