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Charlie Brown's America: The Popular Politics of Peanuts

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Despite--or because of--its huge popular culture status, Peanuts enabled cartoonist Charles Schulz to offer political commentary on the most controversial topics of postwar American culture through the voices of Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and the Peanuts gang. In postwar America, there was no newspaper comic strip more recognizable than Charles Schulz's Peanuts. It was Despite--or because of--its huge popular culture status, Peanuts enabled cartoonist Charles Schulz to offer political commentary on the most controversial topics of postwar American culture through the voices of Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and the Peanuts gang. In postwar America, there was no newspaper comic strip more recognizable than Charles Schulz's Peanuts. It was everywhere, not just in thousands of daily newspapers. For nearly fifty years, Peanuts was a mainstay of American popular culture in television, movies, and merchandising, from the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade to the White House to the breakfast table. Most people have come to associate Peanuts with the innocence of childhood, not the social and political turmoil of the 1960s and 1970s. Some have even argued that Peanuts was so beloved because it was apolitical. The truth, as Blake Scott Ball shows, is that Peanuts was very political. Whether it was the battles over the Vietnam War, racial integration, feminism, or the future of a nuclear world, Peanuts was a daily conversation about very real hopes and fears and the political realities of the Cold War world. As thousands of fan letters, interviews, and behind-the-scenes documents reveal, Charles Schulz used his comic strip to project his ideas to a mass audience and comment on the rapidly changing politics of America. Charlie Brown's America covers all of these debates and much more in a historical journey through the tumultuous decades of the Cold War as seen through the eyes of Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, Peppermint Patty, Snoopy and the rest of the Peanuts gang.


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Despite--or because of--its huge popular culture status, Peanuts enabled cartoonist Charles Schulz to offer political commentary on the most controversial topics of postwar American culture through the voices of Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and the Peanuts gang. In postwar America, there was no newspaper comic strip more recognizable than Charles Schulz's Peanuts. It was Despite--or because of--its huge popular culture status, Peanuts enabled cartoonist Charles Schulz to offer political commentary on the most controversial topics of postwar American culture through the voices of Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and the Peanuts gang. In postwar America, there was no newspaper comic strip more recognizable than Charles Schulz's Peanuts. It was everywhere, not just in thousands of daily newspapers. For nearly fifty years, Peanuts was a mainstay of American popular culture in television, movies, and merchandising, from the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade to the White House to the breakfast table. Most people have come to associate Peanuts with the innocence of childhood, not the social and political turmoil of the 1960s and 1970s. Some have even argued that Peanuts was so beloved because it was apolitical. The truth, as Blake Scott Ball shows, is that Peanuts was very political. Whether it was the battles over the Vietnam War, racial integration, feminism, or the future of a nuclear world, Peanuts was a daily conversation about very real hopes and fears and the political realities of the Cold War world. As thousands of fan letters, interviews, and behind-the-scenes documents reveal, Charles Schulz used his comic strip to project his ideas to a mass audience and comment on the rapidly changing politics of America. Charlie Brown's America covers all of these debates and much more in a historical journey through the tumultuous decades of the Cold War as seen through the eyes of Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, Peppermint Patty, Snoopy and the rest of the Peanuts gang.

52 review for Charlie Brown's America: The Popular Politics of Peanuts

  1. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Castaneda

    Ball's book is an excellent analysis of how popular culture is rarely separated from politics in the United States. In particular, he explores the Peanuts comic strip and how creator Charles Schulz managed to move both left and right politically from a safe (and, of course, ambiguous) vantage point of middle America. He shows convincingly that Schulz did not shy away from engaging politics and used his strip to raise questions or ambivalence about an issue in the minds of his readers. Because Pe Ball's book is an excellent analysis of how popular culture is rarely separated from politics in the United States. In particular, he explores the Peanuts comic strip and how creator Charles Schulz managed to move both left and right politically from a safe (and, of course, ambiguous) vantage point of middle America. He shows convincingly that Schulz did not shy away from engaging politics and used his strip to raise questions or ambivalence about an issue in the minds of his readers. Because Peanuts was a popular comic strip, Ball uses letters sent to Schulz by readers to explore popular reactions, as well as to show that readers were attentive to the issues/subtext addressed in the strip. However, because Schulz often did not reveal his personal opinion, his comics could be interpreted by his readers, often leading to vastly different conclusions (as seen in the aforementioned letters). Ball describes this quality as a "Rorschach [test] for readers" (1). Each chapter analyzes a different set of themes in the Peanuts comic, but the chapter I found most fascinating was about Franklin, the "first African American character to integrate a nationally syndicated newspaper comic strip" (65). Ball reveals a concerted effort by Harriet Glickman and black families to convince Schulz to introduce an African American character. In the end, he did, but his inclusion of Franklin was both "revolutionary and restricting" (65). While he made a positive first step, he could not figure out how to make Franklin a more significant part of the strip. I would highly recommend the book to students of pop culture and politics in the United States, as it provides an excellent example of the creative use of a source to evaluate broader political issues in the country. Often, I found myself wondering how no one had written this book sooner (which is, of course, a testament to Ball's ability to show that his work is useful and important!).

  2. 5 out of 5

    James

    Full disclosure: Blake is an acquaintance of mine. We live in the same town and for awhile worshiped at the same church. I’ve been excited about this book ever since I first heard it was in the works, because it hits all the notes for me— pop culture, social commentary, and the intersection of art and American history. Plus, I grew up on Peanuts. I was absolutely the target audience for this book. And I wasn’t disappointed. Blake’s approach Is topical over chronological. After an excellent intro Full disclosure: Blake is an acquaintance of mine. We live in the same town and for awhile worshiped at the same church. I’ve been excited about this book ever since I first heard it was in the works, because it hits all the notes for me— pop culture, social commentary, and the intersection of art and American history. Plus, I grew up on Peanuts. I was absolutely the target audience for this book. And I wasn’t disappointed. Blake’s approach Is topical over chronological. After an excellent introduction in which he broadly covers Schulz’s early life, military service, and rise to fame, Blake spends a chapter each on the Cold War, religious themes, race, Vietnam, environmental issues, and feminism. The book ends with a somewhat somber epilogue exploring Schulz’s waning influence in the 80’s. Consistent throughout the book is the depiction of Peanuts ( and Schulz) as kind of a neutral mirror in which each reader sees what they want to see. There were lots of examples of how people with opposing viewpoints could both express appreciation for the same strip, thinking Schulz was taking their side. And there’s a subtle critique in the epilogue for our current cultural climate that prefers overt partisanship over the nuanced and ambiguous middle ground. The strongest chapters are on race and religion, while the weakest were on environmental issues and feminism. I think the difference was that In the first two, Blake had more of a focus on what Peanuts was saying (and not saying) as a proactive voice. I particularly loved the interaction between Schulz and his fans that led to the introduction of Franklin. I also loved the backstory of “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” I was hoping Blake would answer the question I’ve wondered for a long time: did Schulz intentionally have Linus drop his blanket the moment he quoted the angel saying Fear Not?” I guess I’ll have to wait for the sequel. The weaker chapters— energy conservation and feminism, focused on the cultural shifts and then talked about how Peanuts reacted to them. They also, unfortunately, highlighted maybe the one thing I dislike about Charles Schulz, which was how willing he was to let his characters be used to sell products—be it cars, insurance, or capitalism itself. I wish Oxford Press had invested a little more in the physical book. The margin-to-margin typesetting, single spacing, and tiny reproductions of the comic strip made it harder to read. And I wish I had heard more of Blake’s voice. As skilled as he is at narrative history, he could have approached the topic more personally. But for the most part, he comes across as a dispassionate reporter of the facts. I would have been interested in hearing about how Peanuts had shaped him. What was the “aha” moment for him, when he realized there was more to Peanuts than the Funny pages? I know it’s probably anathema for academic historians to insert themselves into the narrative, but for popular historians, it’s what I look forward to the most. I loved learning that Doris Kearns Goodwin interned in the Johnson White House, or that David McCullough grew up near Johnstown. Overall, I really enjoyed the book, and I look forward to any follow up. Blake could start a franchise. “Calvin and Hobbe’s America.” Or “The Popular Politics of The Far Side.”

  3. 5 out of 5

    Patrick Macke

    Certain people, wired a certain way will use any excuse to geek-out on Peanuts, and this I know from experience ... The good news here is that this book, A) provides the opportunity to admire Schultz's genius and his unwavering moral compass and B) delivers a handful of Peanuts strips, making every day better ... Yes, Schultz did comment, through Peanuts, on certain social and political topics; he did so mostly with balance, intelligence and grace, but the weakness here is that the book is broad Certain people, wired a certain way will use any excuse to geek-out on Peanuts, and this I know from experience ... The good news here is that this book, A) provides the opportunity to admire Schultz's genius and his unwavering moral compass and B) delivers a handful of Peanuts strips, making every day better ... Yes, Schultz did comment, through Peanuts, on certain social and political topics; he did so mostly with balance, intelligence and grace, but the weakness here is that the book is broad and random ... It latches on to certain topics and then delivers history lessons on those topics and, unlike Peanuts, that's a drag ... To me, it needed more Peanuts and less political history; what should have happened is that the author should have used "politics" to go on a "Peanuts celebration" but instead, he used "Peanuts" to go on a "political celebration" ... Too bad, this may be an analytical look behind the curtain we didn't need

  4. 4 out of 5

    Marie Highby

    Very insightful What a fascinating book, essentially tracing the second half of the twentieth century through the history of Peanuts. I gained a perspective on a range of issues that I’d never had before.

  5. 5 out of 5

    David Schroeder

    A phenomenal book examining post-War American society through the view of the centre. Well sourced, well argued and thoroughly enjoyable.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Martin Maenza

    Very enlightening and well-researched. It put a comic strip I grew up on in a new perspective. Time to revisit my Complete Peanuts collection.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Mark Johnson

    This is a beautiful book and thoughtful commentary on middle America in the Cold War. I laughed and cried while reading it.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Bibb

  9. 4 out of 5

    Brian Laslie

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jim

  11. 5 out of 5

    Linda

  12. 5 out of 5

    Brian Hutzell

  13. 5 out of 5

    Larry

  14. 5 out of 5

    Nicole Donawho

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jo A Swienton

  16. 5 out of 5

    Richard

  17. 5 out of 5

    Anon

  18. 4 out of 5

    Kent

  19. 5 out of 5

    Chris

  20. 4 out of 5

    Sam

  21. 4 out of 5

    Nicole

  22. 4 out of 5

    Wes

  23. 4 out of 5

    Brittany Coons

  24. 5 out of 5

    Allen Kirk

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jodie

  26. 4 out of 5

    william j museler

  27. 5 out of 5

    Taylor

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jordan

  29. 4 out of 5

    James Hill Welborn III

  30. 5 out of 5

    Lee

  31. 5 out of 5

    William Kelly

  32. 5 out of 5

    Paul Klein

  33. 4 out of 5

    Blake Maddux

  34. 5 out of 5

    Jeanette (Ms. Feisty)

  35. 5 out of 5

    Gabi Tartakovsky

  36. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Matney

  37. 4 out of 5

    Ashanka

  38. 4 out of 5

    Bernice Olivas

  39. 5 out of 5

    Suzie Diver

  40. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth Grisham

  41. 4 out of 5

    J.

  42. 5 out of 5

    Siobhan Patterson

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    Sabrina Busch

  44. 4 out of 5

    Chris Otto

  45. 5 out of 5

    Joe

  46. 5 out of 5

    Laura Benton

  47. 5 out of 5

    Rod

  48. 4 out of 5

    Dan

  49. 5 out of 5

    Sakshi Shivpuri

  50. 5 out of 5

    Cassie Buckner

  51. 5 out of 5

    Paula Stand

  52. 5 out of 5

    Susan

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