Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Lucy, Charlie Brown, and 43 Footballs Part 4: 1970-1974


1970-1974: Three-Faced Lucy


16. October 11, 1970

Some people say that the Altamont Free Concert of December 6, 1969 marked the end of the 1960s. I say it is this comic strip that truly marks the end of that decade. By the end of this strip, Charlie Brown will have given up all hope and all trust that he will ever kick the football. After the familiar preliminaries of the first three panels, Charlie Brown, after looking at Lucy holding the football, an expectant smile on her face, raises both hands to the heavens, turns his head back, and exhorts, "How Long, O Lord?" In words one would more readily ascribe to her younger brother, Lucy instantly recognizes the words. She picks up the football and says "You're quoting from the sixth chapter of Isaiah." She then proceeds to quote more of the verse, one arm held up even as she kneels, her other hand holding the football a bit askew as if it is an afterthought, as Charlie Brown walks away from the football. As Charlie Brown runs toward the football, Lucy performs a bit of biblical exegesis. "Actually there is a note of protest in the question . . . for we might say he was unwilling to accept the finality of the Lord's judgment." "WUMP!" Once again, Charlie Brown lies prone, facing the reader, as Lucy delivers a heavier blow. "How long? All you life, Charlie Brown . . . All your life . . ." Lucy is God. Charlie Brown is Isaiah. Lucy is God. But this chapter of Isaiah tells us that a seraphim has purged Isaiah's sins by touching a hot coal to his mouth. God calls out for a prophet, and Isaiah answers, Here am I! Send me." (Note the Schulzian exclamation point in the New King James Version). God speaks to Isaiah and makes him a prophet. Isaiah prophesies the downfall of many nations and kingdoms, but he also tells of the coming of a messiah. "For unto us a child is born, Unto us a Son is given." O course,  Linus recites a much longer and more palatable version of this prophesy from Luke in A Charlie Brown Christmas, but Lucy and Charlie Brown are more interested in the Old Testament God. And the reason for this is clear. In both Chapter Nine and Chapter 10 of Isaiah, Isaiah says this of an angry God: "For all this His anger is not turned away, But His hand is stretched out still." Lucy is the Old Testament God, holding the football under her outstretched hand; Charlie Brown the prophet cannot but attempt to kick it for all his life. 


17. September 26, 1971

We are back in the secular world, as Lucy cradles the football, shows her teeth in a wide grin, and sings out "Charlie Brownnnn . . ." Charlie Brown repeats three times "I can't believe" that Lucy would think he was stupid enough to fall for the ploy again. Lucy has a new plan this year, one that she must have been thinking about since at least 1963, when she told Charlie Brown that "A woman's handshake is not legally binding." Back in 1971, she tells Charlie Brown that she represents an organization, "And I'm holding this ball as a representative of that organization." That is all the explanation that Charlie Brown needs. As he walks away from the football, he says that as the representative of an organization, I guess she must be sincere . . ." And there is that word again--sincere--signifying for everyone in the world of Peanuts, either a place (a pumpkin patch) or a person (Lucy) who is utterly worthy of trust and free from artifice or pretense. "WHAM!" Lucy leans over a prone Charlie Brown, a triple pencil swirl and a star above his head, an uneven frown on his face, and delivers the punch she has been holding back for eight years. "This year's football was pulled away from you through the courtesy of Women's Lib!" She reveals her earlier gender-based reasonings as ironies for Charlie Brown to consider as he flies through the air with an ""Aaugh!"1963: Why shouldn't a woman's handshake mean the same as a man's? 1968: Why should a woman's "innocent look" engender trust? 1969: Why should a woman's tears lead a man to trust her? Why, Charlie Brown, why? Lucy is a second-wave feminist.


18. October 8, 1972

The two opening panels of 1972 offer a stark contrast. In the first, Charlie Brown's bodiless head becomes the center of an enormous, floating football, a football which we first saw three years ago. In the second panel, Lucy cradles a normal size football and sings out Charlie Brown's name. This year, Charlie Brown has a plan to break the routine. After Lucy lays out the same yearly plan, Charlie Brown says "I can't." In the next panel he explains, "I never do anything without consulting my psychiatrist." Lucy thoughtfully responds that he should indeed talk with his psychiatrist "and see what you want to do . . . okay?" In the next panel, we see that the doctor is in and Charlie Brown must have had five cents. He explains his "strange problem" to his doctor. He tells her "there's this girl, see" who always wants him to try to kick a football and then always pulls it away "and I land on my back and kill myself." His doctor listens attentively, her head resting on her hands, he elbows resting on the surface of the psychiatry booth. She moves her left hand to her right elbow and says "She sounds like an interesting girl . . . sort of a fun type . . ." Her diagnosis is that Charlie Brown should try to kick the football because "in medical terms, you have what we call the 'need to need to try it." This consultation has taken up most of the strip; there are only four panels left. We do not see  Lucy getting the football ready. We do not se Charlie Brown walking away from the football. As he runs toward the football he says "I'm glad I talked with my psychiatrist." "WHAM" Unlike in most of his falls, where Charlie Brown's full body takes the brunt of his fall, this time he distinctly lands on his head, bringing us back to the image of his head in the first panel, as if his mind is heavy with what his psychiatrist has told him. In the final panel, he stares up at Lucy as she says "Your average psychiatrist knows very little about kicking footballs." Charlie Brown has a look of disbelief on his face, as if he was expecting one of them to give up the charade and address the fact that Lucy is both his psychiatrist and the holder of the football. Are they both so driven by the desire to kick the football and the desire to pull away the football that they do not see these basic components of their identity? At this point, I will either stop writing or write a 1000 word Zizekian analysis of this strip. 


19. November 11, 1973

In panel one, a semi-deflated giant football rests atop Charlie Brown's head. From the second panel until the end of the strip, Lucy and Charlie Brown are up to something new. Visually, this strip uses the same visual imagery of every football-kicking attempt strip. But neither Charlie Brown nor Lucy never mention what they are doing. There is no sense of anger or doom voiced by Charlie Brown. Lucy never suggests that Charlie Brown kick the football. She never provides a rational for why Charlie Brown might succeed this year. Charlie Brown never offers a justification for why he might indeed kick the football this year. Instead, Lucy, while holding the football, asks Charlie Brown, "Do you like jokes and riddles?" He replies, "I guess so . . . why?" As the visual logic of the routine continues, Lucy sets up the football and asks her riddle. "What are the three things in life that are certain?" Charlie Brown quickly answers "Death and taxes!!" As he walks away from the football he cannot think of the third thing. As he runs toward the football, he says "It's so aggravating when you're trying to think of something, and you . . ." Here is where Schulz's ellipses come into their own.  He uses them to denote pauses all the time. He uses them to denote a thought trailing off. Here, he uses them to show us a dawning realization as Charlie Brown tries to kick the football.  If last year, Charlie Brown and Lucy were able to not acknowledge their psychiatrist-patient relationship, in this year's strip, they feel free to not even speak of the 19th iteration of their routine. Until the last three panels we might as well be in a world of dramatic irony. In the third to last panel Charlie Brown does not shout out "Augh!" as he flies through the air opened up by his ellipses at the end of the previous panel. He somehow pivots in the air so his face faces outward and  says "Now I remember!" "WHAM!" As he looks up at Lucy in the final panel, all she can say is "It was so obvious Charlie Brown!" It really was, Charlie Brown. 


20. October 13, 1974

After the intricacies of the previous few years, 1974 works almost as a reset to earlier strips. There is no giant floating football in panel one. Lucy sings out Charlie Brown's name. In the second panel, he hears her and says "Again, I can't believe it!" Lucy offers the regular scenario in the next panel. Charlie Brown refuses, eyes shut and mouth frowning. He takes up most of the foreground with Lucy small in the background, as we are given a close up of Charlie Brown's face. He looks dignified in his refusal and seems like he might actually refuse this year. But Lucy is ready; she has a document and by now we all now how much faith Charlie Brown puts in the written word. He should really read some Derrida. I suggest "Signature, Event, Context." Lucy tells him "You can't back out now . . . The Programs have already been printed." Charlie Brown turns back with a start, elbow pointed out, and says "Programs?" Lucy hands him a piece of paper. He then reads the program, with Lucy still small in the background, as if he could still walk away. He reads "At One O'Clock Lucille Van Pelt will hold the football and Charles Brown will run up and kick it." He starts to walk away but he is clearly now walking back to get the space needed to run up. He says "If the programs have already been printed, it's too late to back out . . . " Perhaps the formalism of his name--"Charles Brown"--convinced him of the truth of the program. "WHAM" He hits the ground hard; in the final panel he frowns, as double lines radiate from his eyes and a particularly intense pencil spiral (notice the dot at the bottom of it) topped by a star radiates upward from the area of his neck. Lucy leans a bit more forward than usual and says "In every program Charlie Brown, there are always a few last minute changes!" Like in the other document-based strips, Lucy is technically not lying to Charlie Brown. Derrida knows what to tell Charlie Brown. "Writing is read; it is not the site, 'in the last instance,' of a hermeneutic deciphering, the decoding of a meaning or truth." In other words, words can lie Charlie Brown. And maybe this is the appeal of written words, of documents, to Charlie Brown. Writing can lie while Lucy can tell the truth. She can hold the football and he can try to kick it.


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