Sunday, June 04, 2006

A family friend was involved in a local production of "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown", so because I am all sophisticated and crap, today the family and I attended a showing of the play.

The show was light and fun, essentially being a for-the-stage compilation of many of the best Peanuts comic strips. During intermission our friend came out from backstage to speak with us. After we let him know that we had been enjoying the performance he was a little relieved. He had been having some anxiety that current audiences might not be familiar with the classic Peanuts world.

"A couple Peanuts cartoons have been made since Charles Schultz died, and some of them even showed the Little Red Haired girl! They've ruined the symbolism of that character?!" he exclaimed.

I barked out some laughter, clearly demonstrating that I also mocked the modern symbolism-free interpretation of this comic.

Later, as I sat watching the second act, I thought to myself, "Symbolism?".

You see, I am what I refer to as a Literalist. If, for example, you say to me, "Yeah, I'll be by in a couple minutes." then I will be stationed by the front door in exactly 120 seconds, beginning to wonder why you did not just say "2.1 minutes" seeing as how that's what you apparently meant.

Similarly, I watch movies and read books for plot. I recently finished the book, "The Rule of Four". After I completed it, I reread the dust jacket and was astonished to read phrases like, "...profoundly erudite" and " exceptional piece of scholarship". Apparently all that stuff went right over my head because the book I read was a pretty straightforward story of four college friends solving a mystery.

Symbolism always eluded me in English class. I can recall my high school English teacher, Mr. Friss, lecturing about the symbolism behind Daisy Buchanan's* name in "The Great Gatsby". He explained that a daisy was white like purity on the outside, and yellow like greed and fear on the inside. I marvelled at this analysis, knowing that I would never be able to come to such conclusions on my own. I was unable to separate the wheat from the chaff. What else was significant in the book? Was "Buchanan" significant? The first letter was a "B" and bees can sting, and the second letter was a "U", as in you. Were we to fear Daisy's venom? (The grade on my subsequent essay answered that question. No.)

I was not good at this analysis in high school and I'm still not. I recently tried to read some poetry written by an acquaintance of mine who is a professional and accomplished poet. I was left completely befuddled by his uber-modern poems, wondering how to extract plot out of his verse. Which one of his adverbs was a protagonist? Was it "antidisestablishmentarianismly"? Baffling.

So, let it suffice to say that if there's subtext and symbolism in "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown", I didn't get it.

There were lots of kids in the audience, including my very own Daisy (whose moniker should NOT be analyzed via the Friss methodology). They all enjoyed the lowbrow humor. When Linus sucked his finger with increasing panic, and then screamed, "I'm losing my flavor!" , the five year old behind me just busted up. He repeated the phrase to his row-mates a half dozen times.

Later, when Linus warned the audience to never suck their thumbs while chewing gum, my daughter laughed heartily. "You'll bite your thumb!" she acknowledged to us, knowingly.

I laughed at all those jokes too. Screw symbolism.

* I may be mis-remembering which Daisy we analyzed in that class. Perhaps it was "Daisy Miller".


zelda1 said...

Because I have an English degree, and because I am doing graduate work in comparative lit., I so get the symbolism and look for it and if I can't find it, go at different angles, going through the text like a pathologists looks at, well pathology things. Yep, that's what I do, but for Charlie Brown, I never looked for anything but humor. Charlie and his gang were for the kids, or so I thought, and kids don't look for hidden text or aporias, or symbolic meaning, or metaphors. Mr. Zelda is like you, very literal. I don't or try not to discuss literature with him. But he is a huge computer geek and can do things with a computer that impresses the hell out of me. Like those men who talk rams or rems and bits and bytes and memory and mother board and every once in a while he or his friends will say a word that is new to me. Wow, I cringe at their knowings. Yep, that's me, love and loved the geeks.

carey said...

I love that show. The theme song stays with you days afterward. Is it doing that now? Or perhaps...NOW, because I've just mentioned it? That'll last awhile.

I'm always looking for subtext, but I don't think there's any in this show. But in the strip, certainly, there's a lot more going on...when Lucy pulls the football away from Charlie Brown, isn't that symbolic of the universe flipping the bird at all of us, embodied by the hapless, bald (vulnerable, exposed, easily sunburned) boy?

Mike said...

Zelda1, so, what does the Little Red Haired girl symbolize? That which is unattainable? Antidisestablishmentarianism?

Carey, they only played the classic Peanuts theme song once, and they never did the classic Peanuts dance. There was a Q and A session afterwards and I had to restrain myself from demanding that they dance for me.

zelda1 said...

Some think Charlie is a Zeus like character, that would make the Little Red haired girl a symbol of un-love, but unlike Zeus, Charlie had to suffer the pain of being un-loved. So, I'd say she symbolizes the unattainable, the heartbreak of poor old charlie.

Janelle Renee said...

I never thought to look for symbolism in the Peanuts. I don't think I want to. Sometimes it just isn't necessary.


Mike said...

Zelda1, Zeus?!? Wasn't Zeus a god and not a total failure?

Sadly, my mythology knowledge is as good as my literary interpretative skills.

jr, I'm gonna tell Mom on you.

zelda1 said...

Yes Zeus was a god but he, too, had his downfalls. While he wanted humanity to do well, especially the lovely young women, he often did really stupid things that got him in a lot of trouble with his very jealous wife. But the Zeus thing, well it's not his power that makes Charlie like him, it's his quest, his move for acceptance and love.

Mike said...

Zelda1, you go tell your Lit teachers that I deny the Charlie Brown - Zeus connection.

Neel Mehta said...

Wait a minute. There may be symbolism in Peanuts, but I don't see how Zeus figures into this. Zeus never found any girl unattainable -- he always got some.

Mike said...

I'm with Neel. Zelda1 is outvoted.