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Did Snoopy Kill Peanuts?

A while back, my mom shared a Kotaku article to my Facebook wall with the headline “How Snoopy Killed Peanuts,” seeking my comment on it. The comment kind of took on a life of its own—it ended up as an 814-word, three-paragraph plus bracketed intro and conclusion “commentstrasity” of the sort that could easily stand as a blog post in and of itself. I have done my best to preserve the comment’s original form and thrust here, only really formatting, correcting typos, adding footnotes, and going into greater depth where needed. I’ve also got the original .txt on my hard drive if anyone’s curious.

I can’t for-sure say why Peanuts got lighter over the years—but I think it’s an overstatement to claim Snoopy is singlehandedly responsible for the downfall of the strip. I think Wong is confusing a symptom of a problem with its cause and especially overlooking the role merchandising played. In the last half of its existence—let’s say post-1970, which doesn’t exactly halve but it’s close enough for government work and is a good demarcation, since the observable changes in the strip’s tone do seem to hit in the early ’70s—Peanuts was a major commercial concern. Not that it hadn’t been a commercial thing from 1950-1969—almost as soon as Peanuts got any traction, licensing was a major component of its success, including Ford advertising, collected editions, comic books, etc. In the ’60s, this really took hold—toys, textiles, and of course the TV specials. Yet Schulz was able to keep the strip fairly dark. I don’t know if I fully agree that Late Peanuts was entirely light-n-fluffy all the time—it never devolved into Garfield or, God help us, Love Is. But it’s undeniable that Late Peanuts is lighter than Early Peanuts.

What does Snoopy have to do with any of this? Well, Charlie Brown was undeniably the centre of the strip all through the run—Schulz initially wanted to call it “Good Old Charlie Brown” and for years the Sunday strips were branded “Peanuts featuring Good Ol’ Charlie Brown.” And he’s definitely a good protagonist. But for all that he’s a sympathetic character, he’s an exceptionally unappealing protagonist from a marketing standpoint: Depression, anxiety, loneliness, and fear of rejection are all things people deal with, but they don’t translate especially well to plushes or T-shirts. Snoopy, on the other hand, has a lot going for him marketing-wise. He’s cute, which is always good. He’s a dog, and everyone loves dogs. He has a rich fantasy life, which translates into more potential products, and (at least in the specials), he’s a gifted physical comedian. Snoopy hangs out with a diverse cast–not just the gang but also the birds, which again means more potential products. It’s kind of brilliant, actually how well Snoopy retrofits into a merchandising cash cow—er, cash beagle.

Mind you, the merchandising angle is only one possible explanation. In his Schulz bio, which I’ve got knocking around somewhere, David Michaelis credits/blames the influence of Schulz’s second wife; according to this reading, the happiness Sparky experienced during the last thirty years of his life undermined the dark outlook that made Peanuts so successful. I don’t fully buy into it myself.

I’ve got another theory that’s more interesting, at least to me. It could be that Schulz got old and became an elder statesman of cartooning; by about 1970, the first generation of cartoonists to grow up on Schulz and Peanuts and the post-war strips was coming of age. And they looked up to Sparky as their hero—idol might be a more accurate word, if more ironic given how famously modest Sparky was. And Schulz was human; he couldn’t have helped but have felt the gaze of the world upon him as he aged, as he became the figurehead of an industry. It’s possible that he became more conservative, and, like a driver overcorrecting on an icy road, he took the strip into a ditch. A nice ditch, to be sure, but a ditch nonetheless.

To pin the blame on Snoopy seems a bit extreme; he’s more of a convenient scape-beagle than the actual culprit. I suspect Wong is trying to get a rise out of the reader as much as he is sincerely arguing Snoopy ruined Peanuts. After all, Snoopy’s far and away the most popular and beloved Peanuts character; people regularly assume the strip’s named after him, the URL of the official Peanuts website was Snoopy-dot-com for years [2], and if you say Snoopy “killed” Peanuts, you’re gonna raise some eyebrows.

___________
[1] It seems to me that Michaelis inserts a misogynistic streak to the narrative of Schulz’s life that doesn’t necessarily exist–the mother, inspiring yet belittling her son, the first wife, who inspired Schulz to greatness yet undermined him at every opportunity, the Little Red-Haired Girl, the second wife, with whom Schulz knew happiness yet produced mediocrity.
[2] The Japanese-language site is Snoopy-dot-co-dot-jp. They love Snoopy, Japan.

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WELL OK THEN

New Star Trek, you say? New, non-reboot, teevee (well, streaming, but hopefully DVD) Star Trek? You know, normally I maintain a tone of detached cautious optimism, but I see only one proper response:

HYPE TRAIN

HYPE TRAIN, MOTHERFUCKERS!

You may notice I have barely erased the background of Hype Train. That is how excited and/or lazy I am.  So, is it too early to speculate baselessly? What do you think?

Grab Bag

I don’t have the mental capacity to put out a full post this week. Instead, enjoy some random thoughts on things. Or, y’know, don’t. It’s a free country. Read More…

Don’t Be That Guy: A PSA

Fandom, as a general rule, is a wonderful thing. It’s genuinely inspiring to see people united across lines of race, class, nationality, religion, politics, what have you in shared appreciation of a work. This isn’t to say that fandom will bring about world peace or that fen are some sort of super-race destined to rule over inferior mortals; fen are people, and like actuaries, lawyers, or forester, there are good fen and bad fen [1].

There is, for instance, a certain subclass of fan I will call That Guy. I’m not thinking of any one person when I talk about That Guy; rather, he’s a collection of bad fannish behaviors that I have ascribed to a fictitious character. Don’t take offence to any of this; we all need to work on this shit.
Read More…

Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron

This was never going to be easy. Marvel’s first Avengers movie was an event which I have no qualms using hyperbole—massive, era-defining, the best (perhaps only) pure comic book movie ever made. The series of films it launched—Phase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe; the House of Ideas is one of the few entities capable of using such language and coming off as anything other than hubris-filled and building castle in the air—is arguably one of the longest sustained streaks of quality any studio making cape movies has ever seen. Some—those who like their movies to be Art instead of entertainment, who think Coppola was slumming when he made The Godfather [1], who appreciate the finer things in life, and defecate on populist and genre fare with the trained reflex of a dog exposed to a bell—have wearied of the current superhero boom. Someday soon, they cry, audiences will weary of superheroes and develop a sense of taste in their movie-going habits. This is, of course, absurd. The idea that the American public will give up superhero movies for, say, British historical drama, or walk out of Captain America: Civil War en masse to watch a trenchant work of anti-capitalist satire from one of the rising stars of the Bulgarian film scene is ridiculous, because at no point in the history of movies or entertainment has the American public shown much of an inclination for High Art of the sort these critics champion.

My point is, there is a looming possibility—which fanboys fear and highbrow cinephiles [2] anticipate with glee—that Marvel Studios will produce a movie that is not very good, that is unentertaining, that is flat-out bad. It’s inevitable, statistically speaking. We’re eleven movies in; Marvel has public plans through 2019 and secret plans through 2028; and it’s accepted wisdom, garnered from decades of superhero movie making, that franchises tank after the third installment. Marvel will make a bad movie, somewhere down the line; it’s inevitable, statistically speaking. Law of averages, y’know.
Read More…

2014: Year in Review

 Goodness, is the year over already? Seems like it was September only yesterday—and September felt like July was only a recent memory. Strange how time flies like that…

Anyway, I can’t say that 2014 was a good year for me. It wasn’t a bad year, but it wasn’t a goood one either. Somewhere in the middle, leaning toward bad, probably.
The Bad
As I said, a lot of this. On a national scale, there was the ongoing epidemic of police violence. Also the death of Robin Williams, #GamerGate, the Sony Pictures hack [1]—and that’s just scratching the surface. Internationally–well, Vladimir Putin said, “Screw you” to international law and such minor issues as national sovereignty and flat-out invaded the Ukraine, while a terrorist state took over the Middle East, and of course Ebola. In my own life, I moved, screwed up, and turned eighteen. Popular music was garbage—sorry, but it was.
The Good
…Give me a second, I’m thinking. In all seriousness, there was a lot of good. We went to space. Movies were pretty good, and while my favorite cartoon ended forever, it was the most satisfying ending we could possibly get given the circumstances. The Pope said some cool stuff and came under attack for it, the United States normalized relations with Cuba, and the other breakaway state in the aether besides Crimea and ISIL resolved its status peacefully and democratically. On a personal note, I started a new webcomic, completely overhauled this blog, and while I didn’t write as much as I wanted to—rather, didn’t finish as much as I wanted to—there are still ten columns in various states of completion.
The Weird and Confusing
This may be the largest category of this year. I’m going to bullet points, as there is too much for me to handle individually.
* Pharell Williams’s hat: It’s a hat. It’s too big of a hat for Williams’s head. This is worthy of attention. I like Pharell, but is this really the best summation of the year?
* Kim Kardashian’s ass: This was intended to break the Internet, but why the magazine editors chose this specific ass, instead of, say a cat dressed up as Iron Man, is baffling [2].
* Viral culture: Granted, this has been befuddling me for a while. 2014, however, was the Year of the Hashtag, or at least that’s the way it felt. Everything now has a social media component; clickbait is not only the most prevalent media strategy but also the most mocked [3]. A lot of the items on this list are only here due to the rise of memetic viralization, including…
* Ebola: Not the virus. I’m talking about EBOLA,the monster disease that will steal your soul, kill your family, cripple the economy, give the Republican Party control of Congress, and eventually wipe out all life on Earth. The Western world hadn’t had a good old-fashioned disease freak-out in a while, and Ebola proved to be the ideal channel for privileged white people’s free-floating anxiety. Never mind that the number of confirmed Ebola cases in the United States never reached beyond the low double digits, that Ebola is damned hard to transmit, requiring direct contact with the body fluids of an infected person, and that Ebola symptoms don’t manifest until the disease has nearly killed you; the facts have never gotten in the way of a good mass panic and they weren’t about to rear their ugly heads now.
* The Golden Age of Television: So, have you noticed that TV is really good lately? Really, really good? Yeah, me, too. There’s no denying that. I have two problems with the new orthodoxy that TV has Never Been Better. First, the praise seems directed principally toward dark dramas with complex morality and serialized arcs—your Breaking Bads, your Games of Thrones—with breadcrumbs tossed to animation and sitcoms. Second, golden ages are retrospective; it’s the nature of the beast, because the underlying assumption is that things were so much better Back Then compared with our degraded modern civillization. Saying that we’re living in a golden age of TV because premium and online services are pumping out quality content on a level unparalleled is foolish and meaningless.
Moving forward
My prevailing attitude for this past year is, “Thank God that’s over”. 2014 was a slog through torrential streams of excrement in which the occasional bright spots shone like beacons of light which made the shit all the more clearly shit. Hopefully, 2015 will be better[4]. The upcoming movies give me hope—Avengers 2 and Star Wars Episode VII in particular, as well as two Pixar flicks and that new DreamWorks movie, although the Minions film gives me pause. I’ll concentrate more on Maple Street. 2014 was a year of changes for Chasing the Rabbit, and 2015 might well be one of larger changes. I’ve had it up to about here with Blogger’s problems and idiosyncrasies, and the fact that the URL change so completely screwed me up may well be the straw that overburdens the camel. I’m considering moving to WordPress; more on this situation as it develops.
In conclusion
2014 sucked—ass, balls, on toast, however you want to say it. I approach 2015 with a not wholly unjustified sense of optimism; 2015 will be better, or at least less painful. Happy New Year, and thank God that’s over.
——
[1] Free speech good, I can’t care about The Interview and they’re turning a profit anyway, and you’d think a multinational conglomerate with a heavy tech and entertainment presence would have better cyber-security.
[2] Whether or not they succeeded, however is a separate matter altogether. The trouble with breaking the Internet is that the Internet is a nebulous, decentralized thing—a series of tubes, in the words of one of our great legislators. Breaking it isn’t as simple a matter as breaking NBC or breaking Sony Pictures Entertainment, where a single or two co-ordinated attacks can shut the entirety down. The other problem is that the cover may well have been a self-fulfilling prophecy: Saying that Ms. Kardashian’s ample hind-bosom (or Iron Kitty) is intended to break the Internet will produce an effect, and this effect may overwhelm some servers—severely damaging, if not breaking outright, the Internet. It’s a hell of a meme, but it’s a bad business model.
[3] “This Man was Transformed into a Cyborg incapable of Telling Right from Wrong and Filled with a Desire for Vengeance. What Happened Next will Astound You.”
[] If the Lord is willing and the creek don’t rise.

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