Saturday, November 18, 2017
Lucy, Charlie Brown, and 43 Footballs Part 2: 1960-1964
1960-1964: From Epistemology to Legality
6. October 16, 1960
As Lucy promised just over a year ago, she sees Charlie Brown in the same place a year later. They both start coyly. Lucy holds the football and asks "Is that about right?" and Charlie Brown answers "Is that about right for what?," as if they both do not know what is about to unfold over the next few minutes. Charlie Brown resists and begins to walk away; Lucy pulls him back with a bit of statistical analysis. She tells him "The odds now are really in your favor!" Charlie Brown falls for it, even though you would think a baseball player would know what a small sample size is. He is about to make only his sixth attempt to kick the football. Odds account for chance occurrences. When Lucy says "One of these times I may not jerk the ball away!" This statement is true only in the sense that one of these times a bolt of lightning might strike her dead or a hole in the ground will open up and swallow Charlie Brown. Lucy has zero intention of not jerking the ball away. "WHAM!" Lucy has told a double truth. 1.) We are exactly back where we were a year ago when she promised to see him "next year". Charlie Brown lies prone looking up into Lucy's face while she holds the football in her left hand. 2.) She simply states "I'm sorry . . . this wasn't the time!" And it wasn't. They both know it never will be. And they both know they will be back next year.
7. September 10, 1961
Lucy starts with some complacency, asking the same question she asked last year as she positioned the football. "Is that about right?" Charlie Brown finds himself absorbed into the repetition. He cannot even get angry. There's no wide open mouth, no leaning aggressively forward and shouting. He turns away from Lucy, his mouth a straight line, and just thinks to himself "She must think I'm a complete fool!" He cannot even say it aloud. He knows there is no point. He walks away from the football and turns with grim determination, his teeth showing in an angry grin as he declares that he will not "be fooled" this year. He runs toward the football. But he is early. We are only in the middle of the strip. He stops his run short, just out of kicking distance. Lucy does not flinch. She says "Well?" Charlie Brown can only respond with a nonverbal "?" and a look of surprise as he holds his arms up at his sides as if he might take the next step necessary to be close enough to kick the ball. Lucy stares at him . Charlie Brown turns his head away and looks directly out at his invisible audience. His mouth is a short, straight line. The strip comes to a stop while we all wonder what will happen next. What will Lucy say to make him try again? She shames him. She's insulted. He walks away from the football chastened, a frown on his face and his hands in his pockets. As he starts his run back, Lucy asks him "Has your mind become so darkened with mistrust that you've lost your ability to trust people?" The combination of shame and the accusation of Charlie's Brown's lost trust in people works. He comes running in. "WUMP!" But, as Lucy asks "Isn't it better this way Charlie Brown? Isn't it better to trust people?," the final panel undergoes a radical change from every past year. Charlie Brown does not look up at Lucy. He turns his head outward, once again towards the reader. And what do we see? His one hair is disheveled. Double lines radiate out from each eye. His collar is slightly askew. Has Lucy shaken him up with her questions. Is it better to trust people and accept the hurt they will inflict on you? In his turn away from Lucy, Charlie Brown deflects these questions to the readers of Peanuts. It is better this way. We will see you here again next year Charlie Brown.
8. September 30, 1962
Lucy starts off enthusiastically this year, waving the football and asking Charlie Brown if he is interested in "a little 'kicking-off' practice?" His subtle eye roll tells us he is not buying this offer. But he agrees to the normal terms, and says "Okay . . . It's a deal" when Lucy makes the same "I'll hold the ball [. . . ] offer of previous years. As he walks back to get the space needed to run up, he tries to outthink Lucy. He thinks she "has a different idea" to trick him by not jerking the football away. He states what he thinks he knows. "She knows I know she knows that I know she knows I know what she's going to do . . ." As he begins his run he gleefully declares "I'm way ahead of her!" But he could not be on shakier epistemological ground. Of course Lucy knows everything he knows. "WUMP!" Charlie Brown lands harder than he ever has before, the ground shaking his body so much that he is almost unrecognizable. Lines of force darkly flow out from his impact points and three stars of pain shoot upward. All he can do is lie prone and look up at Lucy's face as she tells him that she had known, and will always know, what he knows. This whole routine is not a battle of knowledge. Everybody knows that knowledge will produce the same result, again and again. No football will be kicked. In the words of the late Leonard Cohen, from a song not released until 1988, "Everybody talking to their pockets / Everybody wants a box of chocolates." Desire--Charlie Brown's to kick the football; Lucy's to jerk it away--drives this story. Or maybe, their collective desire is to play out the scenario forever, with only minor variations. "Everybody knows the fight was fixed." But everybody still wants a box of chocolates, except for the coconut ones.
9. September 1, 1963
Here we return to the complacency of 1961. As Lucy asks if the football is "about right," Charlie Brown cannot even be bothered to move, let alone say or even think something. He stands immobile for the first three panels. He rejects her promise not to pull the ball away with a "Ha!" Lucy raises the stakes of trust with a handshake that will prove her "sincerity." As Linus could tell us, "sincerity" is an almost sacred concept in the van Pelt household, as he carries out his yearly failed search for the most sincere pumpkin patch from which to greet the Great Pumpkin. Charlie Brown can only get ready to kick the football after the handshake; he trusts fully in it as a social convention. "If someone is willing to shake on something, you have to trust her." "WUMP!" Charlie Brown is especially shaken up in the last panel. He no longer lies rigid like in previous years. His head bends forward, his chin on his chest. His arm rests on the ground, his shoulder hunched up near his ear. A spiral of pencil line above him signifies his disorientation. He is not even looking in Lucy's eyes when she says "A woman's handshake is not legally binding!" Is he shocked by her invocation of the questionable legality of handshakes? Or is he taken aback by Lucy's assertion that her gender makes her handshake proof of nothing? According to the Catholic writer Barbara A. O'Reilly, who has studied women's contributions to Catholicism, Lucy may not be wrong in her statement. According to O'Reilly, "Lucy's remark is rooted in fact. In Biblical times . . a woman was considered 'a perpetual minor child,' and as such, was incompetent to give evidence in court and could not defend herself." Has Lucy been talking to her theologian brother? Regardless, Lucy has brought their discourse about the football into two realms that it will often return to: ancient religious law, and jurisprudence. In other words, she has called, among others, Franz Kafka onto the playing field. Lucy has also begun a long feminist game.
10. October 4, 1964
Lucy makes her usual offer and holds the football out to Charlie Brown. Charlie Brown responds, "you must think I'm really stupid." But Lucy has learned from her handshake agreement of 1963 and has come prepared. A sheet of paper lies on the ground in the first three panels. Lucy tells Charlie Brown that she knows "you don't trust me." In the fourth panel, she picks up the piece of paper. It is, as viewers of It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown will surely remember, "a signed document testifying that I promise not to" pull the football away. She offers the document to Charlie Brown who responds with a "?" Nonetheless, he begins walking away from the football, a sure sign that he intends to gain the space needed to run up and kick it, at the same time he reads the document. As he begins to run toward the football, the signed document in his left hand, he assures himself "if you have a signed document in your possession, you can't go wrong." "WUMP!" Lucy's right hand covers the pulled away football, and the signed document gently floats down to her outreached left hand. Lucy avoids lying to him with another legal technicality. "Peculiar thing about this document . . . It was never notarized!" The final panel is noticeably different. Instead of standing over a prone Charlie Brown, Lucy kneels near him, the football on the ground at her side, and reads the document. Charlie Brown, like in 1961, turns his head outward. He looks resigned more than shaken up this time. Only one line borders each eye; his hair looks less disheveled. Most importantly, we see him "sigh" in a slightly deflated thought balloon, with pencil marks on either side of the "sigh." He is resigned toward Lucy's turn toward legalistic tricks, but he knows that she knows such tricks are not necessary. Lucy is making the game more elaborate; she seems to not want to lie to Charlie Brown, only to withhold a small piece of key information until it is too late to act on it. Before the law, stands a gate keeper, who will have a lot more to say. Charles Schulz has brilliantly laid the groundwork for 35 more years of this event.
The second sentence of The Only Harmless Great Thing calls humans “flat-faced pink squeakers with more clever-thinking than sense” (54...