In 1950 cartoonist Charles M. Shultz debuted what would become arguably the great American cartoon strip – Peanuts. Gracing the pages of nine different newspapers for the first time on October 2, 1950 was a bald headed boy named Charlie Brown. His faithful beagle, Snoopy, made his appearence just 2 days later. 65 years, and 2,600 newspapers later, Charlie Brown, and the more popular, Snoopy, would make up an marketing empire that could rival the one based on some Mouse. But Peanuts had a far more, albeit subtle, impact on the culture than Disney’s band of animal characters ever would. What Schultz and the comic strip did in the 60s and 70s really helped foster forth an era of a new normal, one that centered readers on what real diversity meant – a melting pot. And like a true melting pot, it was a slow cook.
Characters like Franklin, Peppermint Patty, and even Pig-Pen helped acknowledge that race, gender and social status shouldn’t be the focus of societial relationships. Individualism and free association is the best path to achieving a harmonious community – even if Lucy pulls the football every time. It wasn’t all Schultz’s idea though. Like many advancements, sometimes it takes some outside persistance. For instance, Schultz was nudged into introducing the Franklin character by a school teacher who insisted the time was right to introduce a black character that was just as adorable as the others. With literally the stroke of a pen, or many strokes, Schultz agreed and without ever overtly acknowledging such an introduction of a minority character, Franklin appeared and fit right in with the rest of the Peanuts gang.
As a child who grew up with an absolute obsession for everything Peanuts, every character Schultz brought to life was presented to my young eyes even-handedly and no one character was ever pointed to as being extra special, or a victim, or an oppressor, or evil – except for the Red Baron! The only agenda Schultz ever seemed interested in promoting was friendship.
So it’s with great relief that after seeing the latest trailer for the first feature length Peanuts film since 1977’s Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown, I can almost comfortably say that Charles M. Schultz would be proud that his gang remains intact and will be free from an any overt sociopolitical messaging. Peanuts has always celebrated rugged individualism and friendships based on mutual trust. The ultimate cartoon representation of the American melting pot.