Halloween Heartache: The Great Pumpkin… and the Not-So-Great Feelings
As I do every autumn, I recently broke-out by DVD of It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown to relive a piece of my childhood and to put myself in the mood for Halloween. They may not be as ever-present today as they were when I was growing up in the late 70s and early 80s, but when it comes to the holidays, the Peanuts gang will forever be associated with the festivities for their mood-invoking half-hour specials. And though I will always register a certain nostalgia when I think about these mainstays of my childhood, I cannot help but question why I find so much undying affection for a handful of awkward cartoon kids who are mercilessly bullied at the hands of their peers.
It breaks my heart to see an earnest boy like Charlie Brown, a nervous misfit who thinks deeply, be put through a litany of injustices for my amusement. He tries to kick the football, his “friend” Lucy pulls it away. He goes trick-or-treating, the adults fill his bag with rocks. His own sister berates him for being wishy-washy. It’s a deluge of horrors that would prompt most children to at least a nervous breakdown, and at the most, suicide. Similarly, his friend Linus, a colorful fellow who believes that giving up “Tricks or Treats” and sleeping in the pumpkin patch on Halloween will win the affections of the elusive Great Pumpkin, who will bring presents a la Santa Claus for such a sacrifice. His friends and sister laugh at him and the story ends with him having laid in that garden and having slept through Halloween, no visit from the Great Pumpkin.
Okay! Okay! Okay! I’m sure many of you will “call me out” for overanalyzing a bunch of simply-drawn cartoons of another generation that are aimed at kids, and perhaps you are right to chastise me for it. I’m quite capable of leaving it alone and saying “sure, it is just entertainment.” I think I am less disturbed by the cartoons themselves, but significantly startled by myself and my willingness to feel nostalgic about these stories. It also makes me wonder why we as collective society have embraced them as part of our holiday celebrating? What is it about the Charlie Brown specials that have gotten inside us and convinced us that these classics are meant to make us feel good?
Having stewed over this for a few days and touched on the subject with some friends who might be a tad more objective than I am, I believe, in the end, we find catharsis in the plight and abuse of Charlie Brown and that’s why we keep going back. In these TV specials, he is the “Everyman,” representing each of us. We feel abused, trampled, worn-down, bullied, and beaten, and watching him endure and overcome gives us strength and a sense that we are okay. The holidays can often be stressful for us, so it helps us let-off a little steam to watch someone else be the focus of derision and failure. How is it that a sweet and idealistic little boy like Linus is never given his wish of the Great Pumpkin? This is a children’s story, after all. He is essentially waiting for “Godot” and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown can be viewed as an essay on life’s futility. Linus not getting his way, waiting in the dark and cold, yearning for the entrance of something powerful and magical that will ultimately give him great joy, is pointedly reminiscent of our day-to-day disappointments and our greater discontent.
Or, it is just a cartoon and I’m think too hard…