As Empty Nesters age, traditions take on added weight, holiday rituals being the heaviest of all. Add to that general sentiment the fact that the world decided to spin backwards this year. The result is that the over-50 demographic currently craves normalcy like a dieter needs doughnuts. A Charlie Brown Christmas, broadcast for 55 consecutive years, qualifies as quintessential comfort television, perfect for this messed-up year. Right on cue, Apple TV buys the rights to the classic and removes it from our living room, saving only those who will pay tribute to Steve Jobs. Damn this year.
The story has every element needed to incite my old-man rage. I want to appear tech savvy, so I cut the cable cord. Now, I deal with an endless list of streaming options. The switch to streaming means I must remember seven user names and passwords; the different techniques through which one searches for programs on each service; and a constant cross-cataloging of the hot shows to my services to alleviate my fear of missing out. Frankly, keeping up with all of this is exhausting. Buying a brown recliner with a cup holder for my beer and sleeping through re-runs of the Golden Girls looks more appealing every day.
Will somebody just make it easy? A Charlie Brown Christmas is so pure that it cannot possibly be involved in a plot to drive me insane. Can it?
Apple and its huge-tech brothers and sisters know that control of your television equates to control of your pocket book. For years, the tech and media giants fought viciously to integrate their technology into your set so you simply cannot do without them. Apple leads the world in hooking people with its technology. I have little doubt that if I add Apple’s streaming service, the interface will be easier, the content more cutting edge, and the experience cooler than other streaming services. I mean this company realized when their buyers could not find the power button on their tablets, the customers would feel better if the guy who showed them the on button sat behind a “genius bar.” Genius, indeed.
Fighting this kind of marketing savvy leads to an inevitable result. Throw in the lure of a Charlie Brown Christmas and you know I will be auto-debiting another $5.00 a month to Cupertino, California.
I so want to fight back. Gather the clan around the set with cookies and milk, and enjoy a wholesome Christmas message. Forget the pandemic and vaccine; the electioneering; and the murder hornets (they are still out there). The wicked logic problem is that A Charlie Brown Christmas, while being the perfect way back vehicle, can only be accessed through way forward technology. Hot cocoa with tiny marshmallows or a double soy latte? You cannot have both.
A Charlie Brown Christmas was Peanuts’ first foray into television. Charles Schulz carefully oversaw the storyline, which he lifted from a smattering of earlier strips. For those a bit foggy on the plot, Christmas weighs heavy on Charlie Brown because he cannot find the spirit needed to make the holiday a success. The Peanuts’ gang must overcome Charlie’s angst to successfully stage the school pageant.
THE MORE THINGS CHANGE.
Great art carries a timeless quality. Schulz wrote A Charlie Brown Christmas as a subtle protest against the commercialization of the holiday. The animation is simple, the dialogue mellow and the incredible music meanders. The climatic scene is a scripture reading. The television executives were not great art critics. They wanted to dump the program after the screening, but they had nothing else to air.
Like the execs, we think we want faster, brighter, happier and louder. And we certainly think we want more of everything in general. Western civilization is on the verge of a nervous breakdown because for nine months, Mother Nature has denied our pursuits.
A Charlie Brown Christmas gave us little of “faster, brighter, happier and louder” 55 years ago. The show certainly pales in comparison to computer generated animation today. Yet, every year we find ourselves strangely mesmerized by the show. We ache for Charlie and find relief when Linus leads him to contentment.
My biggest objection to moving A Charlie Brown Christmas to a limited availability streaming service is that everyone needs to hear its message. Schultz often gets credit for biblical insertions into his scripts; this one was overt. Schultz also gets labelled as a “secular humanist” for later works. The man confessed late in life that his faith was complex and personal.
Based on all that, I do not believe Schultz intended A Charlie Brown Christmas as religious instruction or argument. The character Charlie Brown reflected Schultz’ desperate loneliness as a boy and his insecurity as a man. Schultz constantly was working out that theme. He used Christmas as a setting to remind himself and us that happiness does not come from faster, brighter, happier and louder.
A HAPPY ENDING.
Schultz found his comfort in art. Maybe yours is in literature or music. Our own Peanuts’ gang, our friends and family, amplify that joy better than any technology. In this season of this year, we all need reminding of the truths that made the show annual must-see television. Enjoy the simple things and the best people
Bowing to public pressure, Apple TV has agreed to stream the show free from December 11-13. And for one last time, to broadcast A Charlie Brown Christmas over the air on PBS at 7:30 pm Eastern time. I will be in my recliner with my hot cocoa.