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Charlie Brown and the Little Red-Haired Girl and the reigning cultural algorithm

November 10, 2009

A few perturbations have rocked my already tenuous orbit lately. Like most Americans, I’m aware that we have predictable terrorist events waiting to happen within our own country. Like most Americans, I live in a county, and the county is run by council members whose pragmatism and blatant willful ignorance of the law jeopardizes the operation of ordinary services for ordinary citizens. Like most Americans, I sometimes wish there were such a place as “away” to which to run. But there isn’t, and this is largely due to the legacy of Charlie Brown and the Little Red-Haired Girl.

Charlie Brown and the Little Red-Haired Girl did not invent the terrorist-as-victim ethos, but I think they had a lot to do with defining it intelligibly. Charlie Brown’s secret adoration of the Little Red-Haired Girl was consistently thwarted by her sanguine indifference. I recall this fragment from one of the Peanuts books I read when I was twelve and my mother was trying to wean me from comic books:

Charlie Brown: ‘There she was, the little red-haired girl. I didn’t know what to say. I was all embarrassed and confused. So I hit her’.

Of course we empathize with Charlie Brown’s thwarted romance. But in his own small way, he was a self-styled victim-turned-terrorist. Charlie Brown is a gentle soul and no one’s idea of a terrorist. But in his frustration, he lashed out, and now liberal pundits wonder why Fort Hood (“alleged”) mass murderer Dr. Hasan didn’t receive help, why no one reached out to him, and why no one even questioned him closely, when there was clear evidence that he was maybe a tad testy, or at least potentially so. Allegedly. Probably no one seriously contemplated Charlie Brown striking the girl of his dreams, either. Each at his own level, Charlie Brown and Hasan had a peculiar notion that they were entitled to manifestation of their particular dreams. Other people failed to play their parts as Charlie Brown and Hasan thought they should, and the guys blew. In cartoons, damage is always reversible.

Charles Schultz showed real insight into the defects of human character. He likely understood the biblical concept of total depravity. Peanuts tracks the gospel, and a child can be mortified by Charlie Brown’s lapse when he decks the object of his thwarted love. Even Lucy, a paradigmatic fascist, rants against truisms in favor of some brand of ultimate truth. Linus exuded that soon all the birds would be flying south for the winter. Lucy seized the opportunity to burst his bubble and be the defender of truth. “Chickens are birds aren’t they? Did you ever see a chicken flying south?” At least she knew her logical syllogisms.

But something happened at some point to connive victim status from the vanquished and award it to the vanquisher. Relativism cloaked as fairness placed all human actions on a spectrum, and that spectrum was stripped of principles of conduct in favor of a “dynamic” state of existence. Principles always present tripwires to relativism. Dynamism is the fuel of relativism. A dynamic discourse need not make any sense. A principled discourse necessarily must make sense. Unfortunately, those who participate in relativistic discourse have lost track of what sense is because they have lost track of what principles are.

An example of relativistic discourse elevated to the absurd is presently before my county council. A judge who was convicted of a criminal offense resigned his seat. (Weirdly, he was under no clear statutory duty to do so.) The council decided not to replace him, citing emergency budget concerns. The council was informed by the county prosecutor that it had acted outside of its authority, because only the state legislature has the authority to set the number of judicial seats. With many litigants already waiting upwards of a year for trial because of a crowded docket, the county’s decision to reduce the bench by one member only aggravated the problem. One councilman’s response: “Sue us.” The County, prepared to sacrifice the interests of its citizens, is now the victim. And Dr. Hasan, sensitized by fantasies of spurious persecution and turned murderer, is now a victim because he was misunderstood; we failed to save him from himself in time. Unprincipled thinking often misplaces blame.

Unprincipled thinking co-occurs with abnegation of the absolute. This is a natural consequence of atheism, and Americans need to face that they live in atheist society, and that many Christians contribute to the problem when they insist upon fusing “God and country.” Principled thinking tracks the moral law of God. “Don’t murder” is a divine imperative. The relativist adds, “without some reason, even if it’s just an emotional thing. After all, we’re all in this together.”

And of course we are all in this together. And I can’t say Charlie Brown and the Little Red-Haired Girl changed history, but sometimes I wonder. What if the Little Red-Haired Girl had been honest and said, “Buzz off, I’m just not that into you.”?

  1. November 11, 2009 12:19 pm

    Very good thoughts Lauren, and packed with stylish punch.

    The only thing I thought possibly worth qualifying (and it may not be, because you may not have meant it in a way that would need qualification) is that Schulz — having migrated through Lutheranism, Church of Godism, United Methodism, to self declared secular humanism — though demonstrating in his cartoons that something has gone very wrong with us, might not have had much clear understanding of the biblical doctrine of total depravity? I was disappointed reading up on him to find that his cartoons contain much more profundity than the expressed views of the man himself (Peanuts is definitely a microcosm of profundity).

  2. November 11, 2009 1:31 pm


    Thanks for filling me in on Schultz’s theological devolution. All I remember, and I haven’t looked him up since, is what I heard of him when I was reading his books as a pre-teen, that he wrote about “the gospel.” As Charlie Brown would likely say, “Sigh.”

  3. erick permalink
    April 12, 2011 6:57 pm

    Love this article! Btw do you have a visual of the peanut cartoon you allude to?

  4. April 12, 2011 6:59 pm

    No… it was in a Peanuts book I no longer have.

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