Charlie Brown of the peanuts! | By Khalid Saleem


Charlie Brown of the peanuts!

HOW one misses Charlie Brown! With his inimitable style of doing things, he would have found a way out of the mire the Land of the Pure – and the world in general – finds itself in today. What our region of this blessed planet lacks at the moment is a dash of no holds barred humour. We are fast losing our capacity to laugh, particularly at ourselves. This is a sure shot recipe for disaster. If only our self-styled saviours would realise this! But, as things stand, no such luck!

When Charles Shultz decided to discontinue drawing the “Peanuts” comic strip sometime before his tragic death in February 2000, one could hardly help the feeling that an era in the history of cartoon strip humour had passed away. A generation and more, young and old, in the USA and around the world had got used to opening the morning paper to be greeted by Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang: not to forget Charlie Brown’s lovable dog, Snoopy. It is some consolation that the strip that Shultz drew with such loving care for half a century remains alive so far through the process of recycling. Though, it must be added in parentheses, it is not quite the same thing!

Charlie Brown was not just a cartoon strip character. He had a personality that was way taller than any character in or out of a cartoon strip. One outstanding quality of Shultz was undoubtedly his uncanny understanding – and appreciation – of human nature. This he brought to bear on the little characters in his strip. Each of the Peanuts characters stood out as a distinct and characteristic individual, with his or her peculiar traits painstakingly etched out much as in an old master’s painting. Charlie Brown – ‘the little round-headed kid’ – along with his pet beagle Snoopy had become an institution of sorts. The rest of the gang – Lucy, Linus, Schroeder, ‘the little red-haired girl’ and others – are all thoroughly lovable characters each with an image distinct and unmistakable. Over the years, one had learnt to empathize with the members of the ‘peanuts gang’ in their ups and downs. There were times when one actually identified oneself with one of them.

This was the greatness of Charles Shultz. Charles Shultz was something of a pioneer in a world teeming with professional gag writers and hired artists. He possessed a profound sense of humanity: few can match the humanism that he infused in his characters. Regrettably, he was also one of the last of a dying breed. As it is, humour is fast losing its rugged homespun character; falling prey to expediency in a world addicted to mass production. One has witnessed in horror Haute Cuisine being afflicted by the virus of fast food. The comic strips too are suffering a similar fate. Both are fast losing their wholesome character.

Looking at things in a broader perspective, one cannot help noticing that the world at large is fast losing its sense of humour. Humour, that once provided a cushion against the rigors of life, is being systematically drained out of our lives.

This is perhaps a necessary corollary of the technological revolution. It may sound strange; but the more one is technologically advanced less one is prone to laugh. The so-called modern humour hardly measures up. It is, in effect, laced with a melancholy of sorts. Laughter, too, lacks the spontaneity that was once its raison d’etre. One may be forgiven for being appalled at the thought of a world devoid of the likes of Charles Shultz. And yet, it may well come about and there is little that one can do about it.

Man is the sole creature on earth endowed with the capacity to laugh. This, then, is the singular quality that sets man apart from the animal world; a quality that man would be well advised to hold on to. The consequences of a world shorn of humour are simply too horrible to contemplate. Man’s ability to laugh at himself is perhaps the one attribute that helps keep him sane. It is an insurance of sorts against one going round the bend, given the crazy world one is condemned to live in. Sense of humour, then, is the key to a sane future. It is the same sense of humour that can see a person through the darkest of days. The same is true of nations. When a people lose their collective sense of humour, they also lose the will to survive. Nations begin to die when apathy sets in. History is witness that the world has survived the severest calamities, both natural and man-made. The loss of the capacity to laugh is one calamity that humankind may not survive.

A sense of humour is the one quality that the man of today would be advised to hold on to, if he wants the world to last and progress. In the absence of this attribute there would be little to tell him apart from the other species. Enough said. The world owes a debt of gratitude, therefore, to the Charles Shultzs of this world. They taught mankind to laugh through its tears. Charlie Brown – not Superman – is the real hero the world should be looking up to.

It takes little courage to stand up to evil if you possess superpower. It is the Charlie Browns of this world – who by refusing to give up through emotional ups and downs despite their evident shortcomings – that remain the real heroes of the times. If only society would give them due recognition! As Charlie Brown would have said “Oh, Good Grief!”

— The writer is a former Ambassador and former Assistant Secretary General of OIC.