I saw a couple old friends at my son’s elementary school the other day.
They looked happy enough, but I had to wonder if they weren’t frolicking on borrowed time.
“Peanuts” may be a remarkably successful ghost franchise … but it’s still a ghost franchise.
The sight of Charlie Brown and Linus and their compatriots made me imagine a time when elementary school kids have no idea who they are. And it can’t be that far in the future, can it?
The kids certainly aren’t going to discover the strip in the paper, because they won’t read newspapers.
Their parents might not introduce them to it, either. In a few more years, we’ll start to approach a point where the parents of elementary school kids are too young to have established their own childhood connections with “Peanuts,” which was already declining in humor and relevance when I was a kid.
If they didn’t bond with the strip and its characters, they won’t make it part of their kids’ lives. They won’t sit down with them to watch shows like “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving,” which marks its 40th anniversary this year.
(The holiday airwaves are pretty crowded these days, and there are a lot more channels than there were in 1973, which makes it less likely the kids will stumble across the shows on their own. If they do, they might well be put off by the simplicity of the animation and the period details: What’s that big black thing Charlie Brown picks up to talk to his grandma?)
Charlie Brown and company are not necessarily on the fast track to oblivion. There are always grandparents to introduce their grandkids to “Peanuts.”
Also, Charlie Brown and Snoopy are familiar enough characters to remain popular in plush toyland, even without the power of a daily comic strip to sustain their identities. Kids will probably be getting stuffed white dogs with long ears and black gumball noses for decades to come.
Elementary schools aren’t havens for the cutting edge, either. So the “Peanuts” gang is likely to have a place over the water fountain for at least 10 years after they begin to significantly fade from the public consciousness. And if no other characters come along with their mass familiarity, maybe they’ll hang around even longer, just ’cause they’re there and they’re friendly enough.
It won’t be a bad thing when they disappear. Every cultural touchstone has its day, and Charles Schulz’s characters have lasted remarkably longer than most.
I wonder what will replace them in America’s childhood consciousness when they finally fade.
Hopefully, the new cartoon overlords will be as nuanced as Schulz’s characters were at their best, and won’t be one-dimensional Elmo-ish caricatures.
America’s children deserve better than that over their water fountains.