I just saw the new Peanuts movie with my kids, who are avid Peanuts fans and aged 8 and 11. We all felt it captured the nature and tone of the comics very well, even though it uses a sort of felt/fuzzy 3D that adds texture and stereoscopic effect without trying to create a weird 3D world. Snoopy when he's not fully to the side is represented as in the comics—with his eyes like a flounder, which looks correct!
But the little red-haired girl is a prominent plot point in the movie and, spoilers ahead, I fear the film recapitulates some troubling aspects from the strip. Charlie Brown is not a harasser or an aggressor, nor, should it be noted, are his intentions even inappropriate for his ostensible age, which seems around nine in the movie, though the kids are asked to write a 1,000-word book report in a week at one point.
Charlie Brown becomes infatuated with her from the back of her head and her hair color. We have all done worse, I'm sure. One aspect of someone, even the angle of a face in the dim light, can make us have a crush as intense as if beneath thousands of feet of water. But the difference between an infatuation and mutual respect and liking, which is seemingly the only requiting that Charlie Brown desires, is acquaintance.
The little red-haired girl is spoken of only as the little red-haired girl throughout the movie, like the inestimable Veronica Lake in Sullivan's Travels, who is only "The Girl" in the credits. Her interests and desires are unknown to us, though we have indications she enjoys dancing, as Charlie Brown stalks her from across the street, staring into her front window from his living room and bedroom, she never aware that he's looking. Is she pleasant or awful, kind or cruel, good at school or indifferent? Angry, sad, happy, melancholy, silly?
We know none of these things. She has no presence; she exists only through the interest of Charlie Brown, as if he created her through his pounding need to be meaningful. She is the object of the desire; Charlie Brown is the camera. His gaze falls upon her again and again, though she almost never knows.
Charlie Brown, meanwhile, meets no one's standards, despite his sterling qualities. He is the shlemiel (the one who spills the soup) and the shlemozzel (the person upon whom the soup is spilled). He is the Blockhead. He can get nothing right. But it's unclear how much has to do with his innate lack of ability, and how much the need of those around him to grind him down—Linus excepted. (Linus is the Christ figure in Peanuts, and even he sometimes is tired of Charlie Brown, but he often offers him succor and the best advice.)
But this film has a unique property: Charlie Brown, the donkey, becomes the unicorn. He masters a magic act, but gives it up to save his sister from humiliation. He makes wonderful cupcakes, and Snoopy eats them all. He saves Marcie from dropping the punch, but then spills some to later effect. He studies dancing for days or weeks, and masters it—only to slip in the punch.
The ultimate indignity is that he is raised up on high for a perfect standardized test result. The film makes good sport of this kind of testing, extolling his 100-percent result as something the school and other students celebrate—subversive. Because the top score is obtained not by him, but by Peppermint Patty, who has filled out a smiley face on her sheet, which corresponded accidentally to the answers. Thus doubly subverted.
During his period of popularity for the test results, he is like Roberto Benigni in To Rome with Love (the last Woody Allen film I will ever watch), where an absolutely ordinary man becomes inexplicably the object of obsessive media attention. The filmmakers surely riff off this concept.
But Charlie Brown cannot win, despite everything being a contest in school: the dance (a trophy), the book report (gold star), the standardized test (100 percent). He realizes on stage the perfect test is not his; he outs himself before it turns into a sitcom plot, but doesn't ridicule Peppermint Patty for her testing strategy. (Subversive, subversive.)
The end of the school year approaches, and Charlie Brown has spoken to the little red-haired girl twice, at most. He introduces himself with the wrong name (a callback to a summer-camp romance with Peggy Jean in the comic strips), and later on the playground when she discovers he had written an elaborate book report that he would turn in as both their work, since she was out of town (visiting a sick grandmother, but portrayed as her choice, rather than obviously that of her parents). There is no moral opprobrium in the film that he is removing her agency from participating, even though she was unaware of the assignment and would not be marked down for it.
But the last day of school, she is finally allowed a moment of action. Charlie Brown's name is drawn during a summer pen-pal matchup—why have pen pals with each other when everyone lives in the same tiny town?—and she volunteers. Again, he does not speak with her.
Finally, he realizes he must return a pencil she lost on the first day of school—a totem of hers he kept secretly, failing to return. (She even notes when he finally does that she had been missing it.) Through a slight misadventure, he manages to fly a kite—symbolically, his kite is always eaten by a tree, preventing him from soaring—and get to her before he bus leaves for summer camp, and address her, but still as an inferior.
Charlie Brown is a victim of toxic masculinity, or perhaps a more general toxic culture of success and failure. His inabilities may be innate, but his behavior doesn't justify the scrutiny to which he is held. His bully, Lucy, is both supportive and condemning, in the nature of true bullies, though she finally comes around. (The movie is generally kinder on average to him than the strips.)
He cannot live up the standards of perfection to which he believes he must achieve, and he sees the little red-haired girl as something while he is nothing. That is, she is out of his league. But why? All humans are the same ultimately, except for the contents of our soul.
When Charlie Brown finally speaks to his paramour, he is contemptuous of himself, but he is at the verge of satori. He needs to believe someone else has found something worthwhile in him, and he makes the ultimate act of vulnerability and self-abasement: he asks her why she asked to write to him.
She then lists his virtues, as clearly portrayed in the movie. Her virtue, so far as we know, is that she has red hair; his are manifold, but he refused to recognize them. He achieves satori and the acceptance of his peers. She achieves her selfhood—her agency is finally available, before she journeys to another place.
Then, Lucy pulls the football away from him again, he falls to earth, and the cycle of his melancholy repeats, as it does for all of us on this karmic wheel.
“I don’t like to hire people to do work that I can do,” [Jonathan Franzen] says. So that means he does his own dusting in the New York apartment he shares with his girlfriend? Franzen looks slightly shifty. “We do have a cleaner…
“I repainted our guest room this summer in our rather small house in Santa Cruz.…If I had hired someone, it would’ve been done better, and I was very sick of doing it by the end, and yet it seemed important. The first two coats I enjoyed and the third coat I was getting tired of it and the fourth coat was just sheer torture."
—Financial Times, 9 October 2015
Franzen looked down into the terraced pit. It was now all his.
"You never did say what you wanted to buy an iron mine for, Mr. Franzen," said the weather-beaten manager.
"Never mind, Philip," Franzen said kindly, although from lofty heights, "I have my reasons."
Franzen felt the heat of the blast furnace as he shoveled in pig iron to create the steel he needed for printing plants and trucks, for his lumber mill saws and typewriters.
Hefting an axe over his shoulder, Franzen strode boldly into the forest, as if on seven-league boots. "These trees are worthy to form the pages of my books," he said to the birds and squirrels.
A knife clenched between his teeth, Franzen leapt from the deck of the ship, a ship he had built himself from the wood of his forest, the iron of his pit.
Down he swam, down past the limits of human endurance and of sanity, to find the squid that would surrender ink for his pages.
"Mr. Franzen, I know that many authors have owned bookstores or set up shops. Larry McMurtry, for instance. But I'm intrigued about the choices you made for yours."
"To build the shop with my own hands? To make all the shelves? To create a new form of currency? To program the cash register?"
"Yes, yes, all that. But also, selling just the one book. That one you wrote."
"My plan has come together."
Franzen looked around his shop and the awkward customers who tried to avoid eye contact. It was dusty. Perhaps he should hire someone to take care of that.
“This shave is so smooth, comrade. How did you get such a decadent blade!?”
“Natasha, is not decadent—it is revolutionary!”
Chorus: “Byyyyyyy Lenin"
We liked the factory that makes the blades so much, we seized the means of production.
We send a handle, three blades, and a Molotov cocktail to your door.
The Lenin: such a sharp razor, it doesn’t leave marks.
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I always thought the bit where Mr. Burns briefly turns off the power plant to spite a strike among his workers was a joke ("Last Exit to Springfield"; script). You know, he and Smithers go through an array of high-security doors, including a facial recognition system that literally recognizes the shape of his face. Then they wind up in the control room, which has a faulty screen door and a dog has wandered in.
This has always been a favorite scene of mine, but in reading John McPhee's 1980 book The Curve of Binding Energy, about a former nuclear-bomb designing genius' concern about the ease of bomb making, I came across this amazing passage (in image) from a report by the Atomic Energy Commission—an agency since dissolved and its function moved elsewhere—about spot inspections of some private outfits handling nuclear fuel:
Now I'm wondering if the writers of this episode, Jay Kogen and Wallace Wolodarsky, read the book?!
The episode also has the great dialog:
Who is it?
(opening door) Hired Goons?
The goons grab Homer roughly and take him away.
As a business reporter, I’m always looking for unique economic angles in the new economy. Recently, while walking through my house, I encountered a new economy worker producing a form of scrip for an economy I was unaware of, denominated in Derrick dollars. Here’s the interview, published with the subject’s consent.
Glenn: Who makes Derrick dollars?
Rex (age 8): Any valid Derrick dollar worker. You need a membership card to create valid Derrick dollars.
G: What is Derrick’s role in Derrick dollars?
R: First in command. There are commands. The reason people make Derrick dollars for him is to get higher in command. By the time I finish all of these I am absolutely certain he will rank me second in command
G: What do you get for being higher in command?
R: It means if Derrick is not at school, if you are second in command, you are in charge. If you’re lower rank, you’re trying to be higher, because a lot of people have to be out of school for you to be in charge.
G: Is there any limit to the number of Derrick dollars that can be created?
R: No, you’re trying to create as many as possible to go up higher in rank.
G: That would cause inflation. Each dollar would seem to be worth less if you create more of them.
R: Not really.
G: What can you use Derrick dollars for?
R: To buy anything that’s being sold for Derrick dollars.
G: What is being sold for Derrick dollars?
R: Dudeize cards, paper crafts, chompies (they’re those things that can chomp on things).
G: What are Dudeize cards?
R: They’re cards that have Dudeize members names on them, and pictures on them.
G: Who are Dudeize members?
R: Members of the Dudeize soccer team. It is a soccer team at school.
G: So you can create as many Derrick dollars as you want?
R: That’s true, but there is a limit to how many Derrick dollars members can spend from the Derrick dollars members they make. They have to turn all their Derrick dollars in. They get a paycheck from Derrick.
G: Derrick is the central bank?
R: He’s the first in command.
G: Does he ever destroy Derrick dollars?
R: Sometimes he says they are too big or too small. But that doesn’t matter to me, because I just put them in his desk and afterwards he doesn’t notice.
G: People are making Derrick dollars, giving Derrick the Derrick dollars, Derrick chooses how much to pay his workers in Derrick dollars, and the only thing Derrick dollars buy are paper crafts?
R: True, people are making Derrick dollars and giving them to Derrick. But anything that is going to be sold for Derrick dollars — most commonly they are paper crafts — but anything that is being sold for Derrick dollars can be paid for with Derrick dollars.
G: Who is making things for purchase with Derrick dollars?
R: Robert, the Dudeize team, and a lot of other people.
G: So you make Derrick dollars for rank?
R: Second in command gets the highest paycheck. You get the paycheck each day depending on how many you turn it. If you turn in 10 and you’re fourth in command, you get one for your paycheck; if you make 10 and you’re second in command, you get five in your check.
G: Is this a stable system?
R: As I said before, you do need a Derrick dollars membership to produce valid Derrick dollars.
G: How do you get Derrick dollars membership?
R: You just have to sign up on the Derrick dollars sign up sheet.
G: Does he turn anybody down?
R: No, unless they’ve been known to be opposed to Derrick dollars.
G: Why would someone opposed to Derrick dollars sign up?
R: To spy on Derrick.
I have now officially read so much that I've not only forgotten what I've read, but even any reference to figure out what I've read. Here are some fragments of science-fiction stories that are floating in my mind.
Spider Assassin Lady Princess
There's a young woman, maybe she's a princess, on a planet not Earth that is kind of medieval, and there is some sort of ruling class with a prince or a king. There is also high technology, beyond anything we have on Earth still.
The young woman attends a ball or a series of events, and people are dubious about her, and she doesn't know why. She comes from another land, maybe, or her parents died young. One day, for some reason, staring in the mirror, she pushes on her stomach, and realizes there is something hard and unyielding. She continues to push and pull, and winds up removing her entire body, which is just a costume.
She's actually a spider-like, artificial intelligence-driven robot assassin whose job is to kill the king (or prince). Once she recalls her mission, she flees into the mountains, where she finds a monk. She winds up coming to terms with her identity and purpose while sleeping in a stable, perhaps? And the monk — maybe he is blind, so he doesn't know she's an AI robot spider assassin?
Anyway, eventually she winds up adjacent to the prince and then she — I can't remember. Does she kill him? Or? But she's happy with herself.
Kris Markel suggested it was "The Dust Assassin," which is an amazing story I need to read in depth! But it's not that — probably 40–60 years old, the story I'm thinking of.
Winner! It's "The Mask" from Mortal Engines by Stanisław Lem! You can read a summary of the collection of stories in that book. One of my favorite authors, and I clearly forgot having read that. Thanks, Martina Oefelein, who posted this in the comments!
Naked Lady, Dead Species
This woman wakes up on Earth and she's naked and alone in the woods. She has some memories of herself, but no idea how she came to be there, and there's no other life on the planet that she can find.
When she sleeps, she dreams of little people who were given the ability to revive extinct intelligent species. But they're kind of right bastards. They give her one chance to ask for her species to be revived, and so she's savvy and waits, and asks them about various strategies.
Here's why they're bastards. They keep showing her in her dreams all sorts of civilizations that are better, worse, whatever, than hers, but they've turned down everyone. It's like "bright shiny ball! can't have it!" behavior.
One night, she asks what happened to the race that gave them this power? Oh, they went extinct! And they decided not to revive them because they did it for whatever reasons they had, and what-ev.
The woman ages normally, and when she's near death, she makes her request. She knows they won't revive her species…so she asks that these bastards' patrons get revived. The jerks are stunned. Nobody ever made a selfless request before, and they say, "Well, we can't evaluate the reasons for you doing this, so they must be good. Sure."
But before they can revive their old buddies, a booming voice from some energy void stops them, and says the idiots finally passed their test, which was to understand…uh, how not be judgmental doofuses, I think. They take these idiots up to a higher realm of existence, and have them revive humanity and give them this god-scale power.
Not sure these patrons really think through their gifts very well.
Frozen Dead Professor Robot
This professor guy dies, but has asked to be frozen and put into orbit. He is. Unfathomable time later, intelligent robots arrive, but everything on Earth has worn away into dust, and only dead frozen professor guy remains. They revive him, and stick his brain into a robot body, and then I believe they have a series of adventures.
This is almost certainly "The Jameson Satellite" found in Before the Golden Age: A Science Fiction Anthology of the 1930s, because I've read that book! It's really interesting to see what sci-fi was about before all the tropes became cemented into place. Thanks to Patrick Last Name Withheld!
Benefits of walking on sunshine:
- Knowledge that you love me.
- Anticipation of your arrival.
- Pleasure at visiting mailbox expecting letters.
- It feels good.
Drawbacks of walking on sunshine:
- Lacerations and occasionally bleeding from walking barefoot to establish necessary skin to sunshine contact.
- First-degree burns from contact with asphalt, desert sand, etc.
Benefits of walking on air:
- Sweet, sweet ecstasy.
- Feeling exotic.
- Visiting utopia.
- Ability to go higher, deeper, and harder, sometimes all at once.
Drawbacks of walking on air:
- Crying angels flood earth with their tears.
- Incur wrath of heaven.
- Requires jetpack.
Benefits of walking on the moon:
- Taking giant steps.
- Apparent immortality at the price of eternal peregrination.
- Living with you.
- Soundless footfalls.
Drawbacks of walking on the moon:
- Concerns about breaking legs.
- Oxygen deprivation.
- Low pressure causes blood to boil.
- High potential of asphyxiation in crater full of moon dust.