Thursday, November 30, 2017

Lucy, Charlie Brown, and 43 Footballs Part 5: 1975-1978

1975-1978: Gender and other troubles

21. October 19, 1975
Lucy sings with glee and with four eight notes. Charlie Brown rolls his eyes. Lucy gives him a short version of the proposition. She doesn't say Charlie Brown's name. There are no exclamation points or ellipses in her offer, only a comma as Lucy says with a smile "I'll hold the ball, and you run up and kick it. In fact, the end of her statement has no punctuation whatsoever, a rare occurrence in the iterations of this statement in the football strips, and a relatively rare occurrence in Peanuts as a whole. Charlie Brown responds to this simplicity with utter contempt. He shuts his eyes tightly and scowls; his hair obscures it, but he may be furrowing his brow. He looks disgusted as he says what he always says. This actually seems like a moment when he might just walk away from the scene. But he does not. Lucy waves her arm at him, accusing him of "mistrust." "That's mistrust of me as an athlete, a person, and a woman! Do you mistrust all women?" Then she adds the kicker, "Do you mistrust even your mother?" And she has him. As he walks away from the football, Charlie Brown exclaims "Good grief, No!! If there's anyone in this world I do trust, it's my mother!" Lucy clearly is a psychiatrist; she has, in one panel, convinced Charlie Brown to transfer his trust of his mother to her. Charlie Brown runs silently toward the football. Is he thinking about his mother? We will never know. "WAM!" Lucy's final comment is inevitable. "I'm not your mother, Charlie Brown!" Charlie Brown looks out toward the reader with both eyes open. He knows that Lucy can manipulate him at will. As we have seen in 1968, 1969, and 1971, Charlie Brown cannot handle 1970s-era gender politics. He falls, literally, for Lucy's performative gestures of tears, innocence, and motherhood. Or does he? He does not look stunned in the final panel. There are no pencil swirls, no staring up at Lucy. His look seems knowing, or at least accepting. Lucy has not lied to Charlie Brown. She is not his mother. What about his mistrust of Lucy as an athlete? As a person? Is Lucy an athlete? Is she a person? Is Charlie Brown?

22. September 12, 1976

This one ranks with 1972, the year that neither Charlie Brown nor Lucy admitted their psychiatrist-patient relationship in the context of football, in what is unsaid. The opening panel introduces a variation. Lucy faces to the right, bouncing the football in her hands, and whistling (at least that is how I read the two eight notes speech bubble connected to her closed mouth). Charlie Brown approaches in the next panel. He must see Lucy because his speech bubble is a question mark: "?" Does the question mark signify speech? Maybe, just maybe, it is meant to sound like "huh?" or some other interrogative sound, but it might just be a means of signifying a curious look on his face. Regardless, Charlie Brown does not say any actual words in this questioning panel. Charlie Brown does not say any words in this whole strip, except for the involuntary "Aaugh!" that will come as he is flying through the air.  CHARLIE BROWN DOES NOT VOLUNTARILY SAY ANY WORDS IN THIS WHOLE STRIP. In panels two, three, and four, he looks expressionless. He is drawn in profile each time, but his mouth is not visible. His eyes are just dots. His eyebrows are not visible. The hair on the top of his head curls slightly forward like a question mark of its own. Lucy is brilliant. She describes exactly what she is going to do.  "I'm going to pretend to hold the football, Charlie Brown . . ." she tells Charlie Brown, who looks expressionless at the football. As he turns and begins to walk away from the football, Lucy says "But when you come running up to kick it, I'm going to pull it away . . . Okay?" Charlie Brown does not respond. And, judging by her facial expression, Lucy speaks matter-of-factly. She is not really smiling; her mouth is open just enough for her to say the words. Charlie Brown comes running. "WUMP!" Even as he has moved mechanically through the routine, Charlie Brown still feels the pain of the fall. He hits the ground hard. His tongue, which, remember, has not uttered a word, sticks out. Three lines and four starts radiate outward from his body. The final panel returns to a familiar tableau. Lucy, holding the football under her arm, leans over a prone Charlie Brown, looks him in the eyes, and says " Men never really listen to what women are saying, do they?" Charlie Brown, in pain, two lines near his eyes, can only look up in pain as Lucy offers a gender-inflected comment for the second year in a row. Maybe Charlie Brown thinks it would be better if Lucy said nothing in the last panel. They both seem to know that something more than a gender-difference joke is at stake here. The roteness of this year's routine does not work to alleviate the pain of the fall to the ground. Charlie Brown becomes purely reactive in this strip; he does what he is expected to do, what he expects himself to do, what Lucy expects him to do, with no thoughts and no words. While lying on his back, Charlie Brown should think of Nietzsche's question, "How well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal?" If he thought of this question, he would see the answer when he looks up at Lucy. She calls herself a "fanatic" in 1965. Once a year, all that she craves is the recurrence of these events. Charlie Brown might join her in this affirmation, when Lucy tells him that the "confirmation and seal" was not notarized. Time is the shape of a football.

23. October 9, 1977

Charlie Brown takes the first panel this year. "Not again!" he says, eyes rolled toward the sky. Lucy, holding the football in both hands, calls out from panel two, "Over here! I've been waiting for you!" Has she been waiting a whole year? Maybe. But this year is slightly different. After more than twenty years of wearing the same dress, Lucy wears pants for the first time. But the routine remains the same. After Lucy makes the proposition and Charlie Brown responds with doubt--"Oh sure!"--Lucy offers Charlie Brown a "tip." "Just watch my eyes . . ." Charlie Brown looks her in the eye and says "Your eyes?" Lucy offers up a platitude that she knows will get the job done. "You can always tell what a person is going to do by watching their eyes!" As he walks away from the football, Charlie Brown convinces himself of the truthfulness of Lucy's statement. "Watch the eyes . . . I should have thought of that before . . ." He runs toward the football, exclaiming that he is going to "kick that ball out of the universe!" "WUMP!" He hits the ground hard. His legs fly up; his tongue sticks out of his mouth. FIVE lines and FIVE stars radiate from his body. In the final panel, Charlie Brown is granted the silence that he might have welcomed last year. Lucy kneels, holding the football, and for the first time ever in a football strip, faces directly outward, not in profile like usual, and not even in 3/4 profile like in the panels when she reads a document. Charlie Brown, too, looks outward and lets out a "Sigh." There is no eye contact. Lucy is wearing sunglasses. Specifically, she wears Snoopy's sunglasses, his Joe Cool sunglasses. Has she borrowed the sunglasses from Snoopy? Is Snoopy in on her joke? We do not know. There is something eerie about Lucy's eye-obscured silence. When did she put the sunglasses on? As Charlie Brown was walking away from the football? In the moment he tries to kick it. Once again, we do not know. Unlike every other year, we do not see Lucy pulling the football away. All we see is a panel of Charlie Brown flying through the air with an "Augh!!" Where were the sunglasses before Lucy put them on? I bet they were in her pants pocket. We are still left to wonder what she is thinking in a rare speechless (for Lucy) final panel. If you stare at the final panel long enough, it is haunting. Stare at it for five minutes and see.

24. October 1, 1978

This year starts strangely. Lucy is back to her dress. She holds the football with one finger and calls out "Over here!" But there's something else in the first panel. A banana? Is Lucy becoming a prop comedian? As Charlie Brown approaches, Lucy says "I have a bonus for you, Charlie Brown . . ." The bonus is indeed a banana, which she gives to Charlie Brown during her usual proposition. "I am not only going to hold the ball for you so you can kick it, but I am also going to give you a banana!" In the next panel, Charlie Brown is walking away from the football, holding the banana, now peeled, in his hand. Before he begins his run toward the football, there is a one-panel pause. Charlie Brown eats the banana, and says, inexplicably, "if someone gives you a banana, I guess you have to trust her." As we all know by now, Charlie Brown will accept, and/or create, any justification to run towards the football. He runs. "WHAM!" Tongue out; legs up; body vibrating. Lucy kneels near Charlie Brown in the final panel, further away from him than usual. She does not lean over him; we can only see the end of the football on the right; the rest of it is out of the panel. On the left, we can only see Charlie Brown from the stripe in his shirt to the top of his head. He looks outward as Lucy says "Bananas are high in potassium Charlie Brown, which promotes healing of muscles!" Lucy is not lying. She even acknowledges the physical pain Charlie Brown must endure as part of the routine (foreshadowing 1979!) and offers him a bit of relief. To my great chagrin, I just learned that Groucho Marx never said "Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana." Instead, a slight variation on these sentences first appears in a mundane place: an article called "The Uses of Computers in Science" by Anthony G. Oettinger, in Scientific American, Vol. 215, No. 3, September 1966. The sentences are used as an example of teaching generative grammar to computers, based on work that Oettinger did at Harvard with Susumo Kuno. The gist of the discussion is that "flies" is a verb in the first sentence and a noun in the second, even as the sentence structures look ostensibly the same. Therefore, syntax alone would not allow a computer to understand these sentences. Semantics and context become necessary, which Oettinger says are "all too nebulous" and thus much more difficult to teach to a machine. This post would be funnier if Groucho had said those sentences. What does a football fly like? Nothing, if it's not kicked. Time does not fly either, if Charlie Brown does not kick it. Last year, he said he would kick the ball "out of the universe." This year he talks to the ball and reduces the proposed kicking distance. "Get ready, Ball! You're going to the moon!" The football is sitting on the ground in the last panel. On the earth. Where did the banana peel go? Were we expecting Charlie Brown to slip on it? No. These football comics are not a joking matter. Here is a joke from A Night at the Opera. Groucho says, "That's in every contract. That's what they call a sanity clause." Chico replies, "Ha ha ha . . . There ain't no Sanity Clause." Imagine Lucy saying Groucho's line as she shows Charlie Brown a contract to get him to try to kick the football. Then imagine her saying Chico's line in the last panel. No. Do not imagine that. Lucy does not do accents.  Oettinger tells us "it is, after all, only an accident of nature , or for that matter merely of nomenclature, that there is no species of flies called 'time flies.'" True enough. But there are time lords. And they like bananas. The Tenth Doctor said, "Always bring a banana to a party." Time flies like an unkicked football; fruit flies like a TARDIS.

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