Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Tree Never Solved Anything...

A Charlie Brown Christmas is not a classic film, but it nonetheless warrants brief examination here on account of the holiday season and the considerable impact the half-hour long television special has levied on our culture. Put simply, for multiple generations, Christmas cannot be experienced without a viewing of this timeless piece of animation.

What continues to amaze even the adult viewer is the simplicity of its message – the “true” nature of Christmas – and the subtle power it employs to ram this point home: Linus, the pint-sized philosopher with a blue security-blanket explains, the spirit of Christmas can be found in the Gospel of Luke, and it has more to do with a certain person being born that it does with pagan trees emblazoned with lights, gaudy decorations, boozy office parties and ever-dubious gift-giving.

Walking hand-in-hand with this message is the show’s open hostility toward the commercialization and secularization of Christmas. This attitude is even more striking if one realizes that this television special premiered in 1965. If Christmas was too commercial and too secular at that time, trying to imagine what Charles Schulz – creator of the Peanuts comic strip and this program – would think of the holiday today is difficult to imagine.

Not that everything was God-given back in the mid 1960s, either.

Schulz argued hard with television executives uncomfortable about referencing the Bible to keep the Gospel in the script. “If we don’t tell the true meaning of Christmas, who will?” he supposedly said. Given that the nation’s other beloved holiday entertainments involve a kind of green goblin and a melting snowman, one can easily understand the rhetorical nature of Shultz’s riposte.

Indeed, Schulz’s instinctual feel for what worked played a large role in making A Charlie Brown Christmas timeless. It was Schulz who insisted the show’s dialogue be spoken by actual children and who wisely vetoed the idea of adding the kind of laugh-track commonplace in sitcoms. The now classic, all-jazz soundtrack probably would have also been shelved without the strong backing of the cartoonist.

Still, for all its creative genius, what continues to resonate with audiences today is the characters and the story

The initial rejection of the confused and uncertain boy named Charlie Brown by his peers speaks to child and adult alike. Charlie Brown does not have all the answers. He is depressed, exasperated and in desperate need of a greater meaning. Ultimately, his failings are forgiven, he is accepted by others and he finds comfort in something beyond the tangible – read temporal and temporary – delights of the holidays. Has the spiritual journey ever been boiled down to its essence any better? 

No comments:

Post a Comment