Charlie Brown’s America: The Popular Politics of Peanuts

Peanuts were written and drawn by one man for 50 years. In those 50 years, politics crept in a subtle manner but left a deep imprint. Charles M. Schulz never wanted Peanuts to be a gag comic strip. Peanuts were cerebral at times. Laughter was never the end goal. Peanuts stood above the heap of comic strips from the beginning. Unlike Pogo where politics was the main raison d’etre. Pogo is a brilliantly drawn strip but has lost its meaning with the advancement of time. Peanuts driving force has always been about simplicity at the core. This is why Peanuts is timeless.

Blake Scott Ball’s Charlie Brown’s America book examines the politics within the strips. You would think with so many presidents and historical events within 50 years that politics would find its way into the strip. There was no cartoonist in those years that did not have an impact within pop culture as more than Charles M. Schulz. Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury dived into politics right away and got himself into trouble. Schulz did not have this problem. He used Peanuts as a tool to bring thought and change with his own Peanuts’ politics.

When Schulz hung up his pen, the world was so much different from the first day he drew Charlie Brown walking down the street. Charles M. Schulz had a say in those changes with his comic strip. It’s amazing how a few doodles with balloons and words changed the world. Not too many people can do that and be adored by millions. Charles M. Schulz was a true politician, he listened to his fan letters and gave us a better world, well at least in the comic strip. Charlie Brown would never kick that football, but we never hated Lucy for it. He always lived another day to try to kick it.

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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