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What Does “Charlie” Say About Us?

This blog is part of our Pumpkin Spice and Everything Nice series offered this Fall.

I just finished watching Its the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. In another few weeks, I’ll watch the Christmas Special.

Don’t get me wrong, I love these specials. They transport me back to a happy time in my life.

When watching one of these old cartoons, have you ever thought about how much times change though?   For example, Charlie Brown, a child, clearly suffers from depression, and he is bullied at school.   No one intervenes, and treats it as normal.  We make it the centre of the show.  And yet we show the episode in a slot suitable for children.

I’m not going to start some anti-Charlie Brown campaign.  But as someone who likes to find contemporary matters and apply them to modern people practices, this is excellent material.

Here are some of my observations about the various Peanuts cartoons that are cause for concern:

  • They purport violence. In the pumpkin patch, Sally tells Linus, “If you try and hold my hand, I’ll slug you.” The threat of being slugged is constant throughout all the specials.  So are young relationships.
  • Where are the parents? Linus stays out all night in the pumpkin patch and it is Lucy who comes to get him. Charlie Brown hosts a Thanksgiving dinner for Peppermint Patty and gang, and there are no parents to be found.  In real life, if kids were left alone that much, we are talking about jail time for the parents.
  • They don’t care about safety. At the end of the Thanksgiving special, the gang jumps into the back of the station wagon without seatbelts, and they are all facing the wrong way!
  • They’re all mean to each other.  This is on top of the bullying behaviour.  In all episodes of Charlie Brown, they all call each other blockheads.
  • They aren’t good sports. Lucy always removes the football before Charlie Brown can kick it. When trick-or-treating, the adults all give Charlie Brown “the rock”.

To be clear, in my childhood I watched these cartoons and didn’t pick up on the messaging.   I never got past the candy in Willie Wonka or the hooka-smoking rabbit in Alice in Wonderland until I was much older.

Do we in HR have some sort of obligation to look for subtle, possibly improper messages in our own domains?  Or do we do like everyone else, and just keep letting the classics be the classics.

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