A kitchen in Prairie Village, Kansas, sometime in 1986.
Mom: I left the funnies out for you. You'll like today's "Peanuts."
Me: What's "Peanuts"?
Mom: Charlie Brown.
Me: Why'd you call it "Peanuts"?
Mom: That's what it's called.
Me: You mean "Snoopy."
Mom: No. Snoopy is in "Peanuts."
Me: Why do you keep saying that? It's called "Charlie Brown" and/ or "Snoopy." It's about them. He's a people, and Snoopy's a dog.
Mom: It's "person," hon, and the name of the comic strip is "Peanuts."
Me: Where's Dad? Go get Dad, please.
Mom [over shoulder]: Bill! Please come explain Snoopy to your son!
Dad [from other room]: He's a dog who acts like a person! He has a friend who is a bird!
Me [to Dad in other room]: BUT IT'S NOT CALLED "PEANUTS," IT'S CALLED "SNOOPY," RIGHT?!
Dad [from other room]: I don't-- the Beach Boys song? It's "Sloop John B." It's about a boat. Common mistake, especially for children!
Mom [to me]: That's why we're so big on you staying in school.
Me: NO, "SNOOPY" IS ABOUT A DOG.
Dad: "Sloop B. the Dog"? Hold on… [sound of footsteps approaching] What are you asking me?
Mom [to Dad]: The name of the comic strip is "Peanuts."
Dad: Yeah, "Peanuts." Correct.
Me: No, it's called "Charlie Brown." I saw it on TV. It's also called "Snoopy." I'm four, and this is one of the dozen or so facts of which I am certain.
Dad: The thing on TV is a different thing. The comic strip is called "Peanuts."
Mom: Charlie Brown and Snoopy are in it, but the title is "Peanuts."
Me: NO IT ISN'T. IT'S CALLED "SNOOPY" AND ALSO "CHARLIE BROWN."
Brother [entering kitchen]: Who's yelling?
Me: MATT, TELL THEM IT'S NOT CALLED "PEANUTS."
Brother: What's not called "Peanuts"? Peanuts are called "peanuts." I know that much. I'm five!
Me: I KNOW, BUT SNOOPY.
Brother: Oh, this is about comics? [brother exits kitchen, completely uninterested.]
Dad [gently pointing to title above that day's edition of "Peanuts"]: See? "Peanuts."
Me: …It's called "Snoopy."
Dad [taps finger on title]: "Peanuts." [kisses me on the top of my head.] It's okay, this is how we learn.
Mom: It's probably a nod to the "Peanut Gallery" on "Howdy Doody."
Me: I'm four! I have no frame of reference for that! Why's it called "A Charlie Brown Christmas," then?
Dad: Because "A Peanuts Christmas" would confuse viewers. They might just hear the title spoken and assume it's "A Peanut's Christmas," and like we learned the other day at the library, the peanut is the most…
Dad/ Me [in unison]: "…agnostic of all the legumes."
Mom: It's okay, sweetie. Remember last week, when you thought Nermal was real, and cried all night when you learned that not only was he fictional, but also male?
Me [frustrated]: He's so pretty, and sounds like a girl on the cartoon! [wipes away tear]
Mom: Here we go again…
Me: I WISH YOU AND MOM WERE INVISIBLE AND HAD TRUMPET VOICES. I CAN'T WAIT UNTIL THERE'S AN EASILY ACCESSIBLE NETWORK OF THE WORLD'S KNOWLEDGE FREELY AVAILABLE TO ANYONE WITH AN ELECTRONIC TERMINAL AND A MEANS OF CONNECTING TO A MODEM. THEN WE'LL SEE WHAT'S WHAT.
Dad [chuckling]: You and your imagination, kiddo.
Mom: Bill, I think it's maybe time we got him switched over to a cereal without so much sugar. Look how sweaty he is.
Me: Aaargh! [tumbles over backward]
As loath as I am to admit it, the folks were correct. I only wish I'd listened, especially before going through the lengthy and expensive process of emancipating myself from them as a result of this mixup.
So here's why it's called "Peanuts": Charles Schulz started a single-panel strip in the St. Paul Pioneer Press in 1947 that later ran in The Saturday Evening Post called "Li'l Folks," starring a bunch of children, some of whom were named "Charlie Brown." He then sold the strip as a multi-panel daily to United Features Syndicate, with standardized, named characters and a more built-out world for them to inhabit. The original name of "Li'l Folks" was deemed too close to two other popular strips of the day, "Li'l Abner" and one called "Little Folks," which, yeah, might get confusing.
The strip was rechristened by his syndicate editor as "Peanuts," which was indeed a reference to the "peanut gallery" on "Howdy Doody," which itself is a reference to the cheapest seats offered to Vaudeville patrons, where dirty-faced urchins gobbled peanuts (the cheapest snack available to thrifty hecklers) and frequently flung them at the stage to demonstrate their ill breeding and relative lack of hunger. Hence the phrase "no comments from the peanut gallery," which still pops up in modern usage to preemptively shush a crowd who might otherwise heckle or comment on a given speaker's message or performance. That said, any and all comments are welcome on our blog, even when they're computer programs auto-posting about deals on Air Jordan sneakers. Thanks for the attention, bots!
According to an article reprinted in the first of Fantagraphics' "Complete Peanuts" collections, Schulz never liked the title: "It's totally ridiculous, has no meaning, is simply confusing, and has no dignity-- and I think my humor has dignity." I'm inclined to agree, but upon reflection, it's a fine title: it frees the strip to focus on whichever character it prefers instead of just Good Ol' Charlie Brown or Snoopy, and is otherwise vague enough for readers to interpret it however they choose. Granted, on occasion, it can cause deep, painful rifts between parents and children, but on balance, Schulz's work has done more for the world than Christmas, and I'm willing to entertain the idea that I haven't always been so open to contradictory viewpoints. Not that I'm admitting I was wrong, mind you. I have the courts on my side for that one.
Thankfully, years of psychiatric treatment have molded me in to a much more reasonable fellow overall, and with the benefit of the generous health coverage we receive here, the co-pay for therapy is only five cents. There are a few drawbacks, like my very, very limited choice of doctors, and her office is technically outdoors, but at least her hours are somewhat flexible.
Next week: Snoopy with a mustache.