Happiness and Cheer?

Dearest Rachel –

My objection to the today’s song is not the typical complaint about misery-inducing lyrics; in fact, quite the opposite. What words I can make out through simply listening, are perfectly in line with the festive season: “Christmas time is here / Happiness and cheer / Fun for all that children call / Their favorite time of year”

No, the problem with this song is the fact that it’s still lyrically dissonant, only in the opposite direction from usual. Whereas the lyrics are upbeat and bright, the tune is sad and melancholic, and it simply overwhelms the otherwise cheerful words.

It’s what comes from being part of the Peanuts universe. The whole point of the world as created by Charles Schultz is that children have grown up anxieties from day one, and the music surrounding them reflects this perfectly. Vince Guaraldi did a masterful job with all of the music for A Charlie Brown Christmas, such that even the wordless background music sticks in the collective consciousness of our pop culture nearly sixty years later (my gosh, has it been that long? I know it’s older than I am, but I forget how old that really is).

To be fair, as secular Christmas music goes, this doesn’t bring me down to the same extent that many of the others I’ve been talking about and will be talking about to you. This is the Peanuts universe, you kind of expect it to be a downer. In fact, the song that really affects me from this show is right at the end, and the gang present Charlie Brown with an now-decorated tree, shouting “Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!” and breaking into a triumphant rendition of “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.” Of course, the tears are for a very different reason; the Charlie Brown gets a good ending for once, and the fact that we shall not see the likes of Charles Schultz and Bill Melendez any more. It’s the same kind of emotion that overcomes me when I listen to the Whos at the end of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, complete with Boris Karloff’s narrative benediction.

The benediction starts at 4:09, since you know the rest of the story and how it ends. If this song could melt the Grinch’s heart, what does it say about you if you’re not affected by it?

No, I’ve really no problem with the music of Charlie Brown Christmas itself, or even the fact that the tune is so melancholy. Like I said, it’s to be expected from that world; Charlie Brown is constructed to be an unlucky everyman for us to both relate to and be glad that we’re not him. But the Peanuts universe dumps on Charlie Brown more than the Back to the Future universe dumped on Biff Tannen and his family – and at least, the audience could easily agree that Tannen and his ancestors (and descendants) had it coming, as thorough and unrepentant villains. By contract, Charlie Brown is hardly deserving of his unfortunate fate; an improbable Job for the modern day.

Don’t get me wrong; I grew up loving Peanuts as a kid, and relating to Charlie Brown – although more people would consider me a Linus analogue (complete with a well-laden book bag in lieu of a security blanket). Whatever struggles Charlie Brown was going through, I – like any other reader – could relate to. They may have been slightly exaggerated for comic effect, but his trials still seemed familiar.

But as I grew up, the ordeals Charlie Brown suffered through seemed more and more to stretch the bounds of credulity. What the universe does to Charlie Brown is gratuitous and egregious – and somehow, we the audience simply accept it as normal. More than that, we find ourselves relating to Charlie Brown, nodding our heads and saying, “yeah, the world does that to me, too, sometimes.”

Consider Halloween, for instance. As adults, we take great pains to make sure that every kid gets the same – and the same amount – of candy when they come to our door (although, in fairness, our house was never a destination for more than a handful of kids, so it’s not like we had to make any elaborate preparations). What adult with single out a particular kid to give him a rock for Halloween? And how would an entire neighborhood collude to give that same kid a rock at every single house? Yes, it’s meant to funny when we watch it, but is this even remotely realistic? Who has ever had this happen to them?

And then there’s his alleged athletic incompetence. For all that every single one of his pitches gets blasted out of the park, knocking his uniform off of him every time (which the MythBusters proved was impossible for even just socks, let alone a shirt and pants), this suggests that nearly every one of his pitches goes right over the plate, where someone can hit it (and hit it they do, to the point of improbability). Normally, a truly lousy pitcher doesn’t come anywhere close to the strike zone – we’ve seen enough comically terrible opening pitches thanks to those SportsCenter Not Top Ten episodes we used to watch together. But that’s not what happens in his case, and the tape-measure home run balls he serves up can no longer suspend my disbelief.

And as long as we’re on the subject of his athleticism, how about the iconic situation between him and Lucy (arguably his complete opposite, as she can be a truly nasty piece of work who seems to get away with literally everything; only Snoopy ever consistently manages to get the best of her): the football kick. Admittedly, Charlie Brown is a dope for trusting her after all this time, but there are times when the situation gets to be absurd. There was at least one scene in one of the the animated specials when the game hinged on a last-minute field goal that Charlie Brown was supposed to kick. You can guess exactly what happened; Lucy did her thing, Charlie brown flew into the air and missed the football, and their team lost the game. Any football fan would tell you who would get the blame for that screwup, but that’s not what happens in the peanuts universe. Nope, everybody blamed Charlie Brown for missing the ball, despite it being obvious that Lucy yanked it away from him like she always does, like the proverbial scorpion whose nature it is to sting. Lucy got away scot-free, and I just find that hard to accept in a realistic situation (and let’s face it, a world where happy endings don’t generally happen is meant to be at least somewhat realistic). Of course, this is meant to make Charlie Brown that much more sympathetic, but life is hard enough without these sort of ridiculous pilings-on.

And so, the real problem I have with this song, the story, this universe is that things are unrelentingly bad for this one individual. I get that readers want someone whose life is clearly worse than theirs (Scott Adams once talked about how he had readers who didn’t want his creation Dilbert to find romance before they did, which prevented him from creating a love interest character), but at a certain point, it feels like there’s a deliberate effort made to make things sound worse than they really are, like taking a happy poem and putting it against a depressing tune. The creators are just trying to make everybody feel bad. Well, mission accomplished.

Published by randy@letters-to-rachel.memorial

I am Rachel's husband. Was. I'm still trying to deal with it. I probably always will be.

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