I recently read David Michaelis’s Schulz and Peanuts, which is a kind of depressing, if enlightening enterprise. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised than the man who created Charlie Brown was chronically depressed, but the story of his infidelities, and in particular, the way he pressured his oldest daughter to get an abortion in Japan and then barely acknowledged what he’d done when she got back, is less than gratifying.
But I think the counterfactual question that stood out at me most when reading the book is what it would have meant if Schulz or Peanuts had spoken out against the war in Vietnam. Michaelis writes in particular about Snoopy. In one strip, “Snoopy, invited to make a distinguished-grad speech at the Daisy Hill Puppy Farm, finds himself caught up in a riot protesting the drafting of dogs to serve in Vietnam…Snoopy, at the podium, his hit with a dog dish, then teargassed.” He writes “One of the few ‘enemies’ that Americans could agree on in those years was the Red Baron…From 1966 to 1969, Snoopy could be found pursuing—or being pursued by—the Red Baron wherever American explained itself to itself.”
The answer as to why Schulz didn’t come out against the war lies in this observation: “His opinions on subjects ranging from the miniskirt to the sexualizations of Peanuts were surprisingly tolerant, indeed hospitable.” You don’t get to be a national sage without being largely agreeable. But that quality also denies you your ability to speak forcefully and decisively on divisive issues without alienating somebody. It’s the same thing as perpetual reelection to Congress: if staying the nation’s tolerant Grandpa, or staying a member of the House becomes more important than anything you actually do with the position, you’ve got to start wondering what the point is.