Yeah, so, it’s my fault. I’m sorry. That thing where we all went around all day Wednesday thinking it was Thursday? And a whole bunch of Thursday thinking it was Friday? That was me. I messed up somehow and took two days off my Peanuts page-a-day calendar. I don’t know how. I’m usually good about this, taking one day off per day lived. I haven’t got any excuse and I apologize for having everyone’s sense of what day it is messed up. I’d like to make it up to everyone by leaving it on Saturday/Sunday for an extra couple days but I know deep down that would just make everything worse. Best I can do is spread the word, let people know why all this is going on, and we’ll get back to normal as we can manage. I mean normal for us.
OK, so, MOS Burgers: at the time I was living in Singapore and they had the Japanese(?) chain there and I really got into their whole style. Not just a good variety of burger and burger-like patties, and the choice to have a rice bun instead of a bread-based one, but also, like, advertising copy about being in touch with nature and all that. The reference to someday getting to be Head Beagle is from Peanuts, of course, and a storyline that they reran earlier this year that made Charles Schulz seem impossibly timely. Seriously. Scarily timely.
I suppose it’s inconsistent with my opening-sketch claim that Professor Bobo was good with forms that he misreads one in the closing sketch. The idea that he would be good with forms was ripped off of The Mary Tyler Moore Show where Ted Baxter had some weirdly specific moments of supreme competence. (Knowing who had won every local-TV award ever, for example, or being able to do arithmetic instantly as long as he imagined it was about money.) I like idiot characters with narrowly-defined fields of competence.
The closing line about Heidi Klum refers to a cranky person who used to haunt the late-night talk show newsgroups on Usenet. He had the idea that the aliens guiding human destiny left clues to their plans in the news about Heidi Klum. Sounds ridiculous? All right. He was incredibly happy to answer any and all questions you had, indefatigably. He eventually promised his wife and therapist he’d stop promoting his Heidi Klum theory, and as far as I know he did. But boy did he leave a deep impression on everyone who saw his work.
> Today, we have discussed segments of our shared history that
> explain your origins and the basis of your present condition of
MIKE: Next week, remember, we’re doing the Polish-Lithuanian monarchy,
so read up chapter eight and be ready with questions, people.
> We ask you to use this awareness to examine how far you
> actually have come!
CROW: I’m suddenly more aware of my tongue.
TOM: You don’t have a tongue.
CROW: Then I’m suddenly confused and distressed.
> Your liberation and new world service are truly
> within reach!
TOM: As soon as you pay up your library fines!
> We now take our leave.
MIKE: [ As Groucho ] I’ve had a wonderful evening, but this wasn’t it.
> Blessings, dear Ones! Know, in
> your Heart of Hearts,
CROW: In your Diamond of Diamonds,
MIKE: In your Spade of Spades,
TOM: In your Club of Clubs..
> that the eternal Supply and perpetual Prosperity
> of Heaven is yours!
MIKE: This reads like the advertising materials for MOS Burgers.
> So Be It! Selamat Gajun! Selamat Kasijaram!
CROW: They’re either Malay or the Klindesteron beademungen.
> for Be One! Blessed in Love and in Joy!)
TOM: And there’s some fine print where you sign up to buy two CDs
each month for a year.
> Planetary Activation Organization
MIKE: Somebody check the Earth’s batteries. Venus was dead
three months before we noticed.
> This copy was reposted by Robert E. McElwaine
TOM: The `E’ stands for `Extra.’
CROW: Robert E. McExtralwaine?
> PAO Member
> Eckankar Initiate
MIKE: And a good friend.
> B.S., Physics and Astronomy, UW-EC
CROW: Hah … Mike?
MIKE: Not my fault, guys.
> http://members.aol.com/rem547 PLUS
TOM: That adds up to rem 1007.
> See also http://www.paoweb.com/sn122600.htm ,
CROW: A URL actually created by a snore.
> http://www.disclosureproject.org .
> P.S.: PASS IT ON !
MIKE: You’ll never guess which of your close friends is waiting
for this very message!
TOM: OK? Is that all you have to say for yourself?
[ 1… 2… 3… 4… 5… 6… ]
[ SATELLITE OF LOVE DESK. GYPSY, TOM SERVO, and CROW are there, with
many papers scattered on the desk. A pencil is wedged into
CROW’s hand. ]
GYPSY: You need line 17 from form 8-E.
CROW: I know, I’m just — look, how many amiable characters from the
movies and shorts we watch have visited us on the Hex Field View
Screen this year?
TOM: 28, including four visits from Marrissa Picard.
GYPSY: You have to tell them how you made Jay Gordon cry.
TOM: Tell them 35.
CROW: I’m not cheating on these forms!
TOM: Oh, like they’ll check?
GYPSY: It kind of goes against the spirit —
[ MIKE enters. They all hush up for a few seconds. ]
MIKE: So. Who wants to —
[ Simultaneously: ]
CROW: We realized we haven’t filled in our reports for the
Galactic Federation of Light this year yet.
TOM: You wouldn’t believe how many forms it is, either,
but it’s worth doing.
GYPSY: It’s an important part of bringing light to the universe.
MIKE: [ Playing along ] Plus you might get to be Head Beagle.
GYPSY: So we’re listing all this year’s light-bringing.
CROW: You got anything you want reported?
MIKE: I, uh, cleaned the burnt pizza stuff out of the toaster oven.
CROW: That’s good! What else do we have?
TOM: We played keep-away with Observer’s brain for like ten minutes.
MIKE: That didn’t really uplift anyone’s soul.
CROW: Well … what about that fun we had playing backgammon? That had
to bring something good into the world.
GYPSY: We just moved the checkers around randomly for five minutes,
got bored, then you threw them like ninja stars until
you broke the McVote McDLT glasses.
CROW: Oh yeah.
TOM: Well … we had to have done something, right?
GYPSY: We didn’t stop anyone from bringing light.
CROW: OK, I’m writing that in — Mike, you have any stamps? We
need to mail this to the Galactic Federation of Light Central
Processing Bureau in Menominee, Michigan.
MIKE: Oh, fresh out. Let’s check in on Pittney-Bowes, shall we?
TOM: Four, five — hey, does Sonic the Hedgehog still exist?
[ CASTLE FORRESTER. The stage is filled by shipping cartons of all
sizes, marked “LIGHT BULBS” and stacked precariously high.
BOBO, PEARL, and OBSERVER are squeezed in front, reading
papers on a business envelope. ]
OBSERVER: Dahdahdaaah … appreciate your filing early … blah de
blah … having reviewed your Federation of Light returns this
year … yeah, uh-huh … computed against withholding reported
in form 671-X …
PEARL: So how much of a light-bringing refund did we *get*?
BOBO: [ Pointing at a line ] Fifty-five thousand, three hundred
[ A pause, as PEARL simmers. ]
PEARL: That’s our Zip code, you — [ She pinches his nose. ]
[ BOBO barks, Curly style; his left arm windmills around and hits
OBSERVER’s brain, which he drops, apparently onto PEARL’s
foot as she grabs her foot and hops. She trips into BOBO, who
bounces against one pile of boxes, sending it crashing. He
rebounds to knock PEARL and OBSERVER into their own huge stacks,
which sends off volleys of crashing and imploding light bulb
sounds through the credits … ]
\ | / \ | / \|/ ---O--- /|\ / | \ / | \
Mystery Science Theater 3000 and the characters and situations
therein are the property of Best Brains, Inc. The essay “GALACTIC FEDERATION Update: August 5, 2003” comes to us from Robert McElwaine
and Sheldan Nidle. This MiSTing as a whole is the creation of Joseph
Nebus, who intends no particular ill-will towards Robert McElwaine,
Sheldan Nidle, or any nigh-omnipotent beings guiding humanity towards
a glorious new destiny in the stars, but does enjoy following Kansan’s
reports of how they signal their intents through the life and career
of Heidi Klum. Come back, Dr. Mike Neylon!
> Greetings, dear Hearts! We return with more interesting topics to
> share with you.
Hi, reader. This is my best attempt at explaining what’s been going on in James Allen’s Mark Trail for the last couple months. If for you the last couple months do not include, like, May of 2017 then I might be writing here about a story that’s not going on anymore, if the current story ever ends. Right now it’s not looking promising. But in case the story has ended by the time you read this, try reading this instead, as a more current essay might be among its first links. I hope this helps you find what you’re looking for.
19 March – 10 June 2017
My last Mark Trail report coincided strangely well with the start of a new adventure. 17-year-periodic guest star Johnny Lone Elk had invited Mark Trail to South Dakota, there to watch the prairie dog census and to find out if there’s some way to get the black-footed ferret to explode a boat. I’m interested in this because as a kid I was deeply impressed by that Peanuts sequence where Snoopy pretended to be a prairie dog. To this day I think of the punch line “prairie dogs are making a comeback” as the sort of appropriately odd not-a-joke thing to be dropped into a conversation and so make it that much needlessly weirder, so once again I’m reminded why everybody treated me like that in middle school. Anyway, this would be the start of a lot of talk about prairie dogs by Mark Trail.
Meanwhile in Rapid City, South Dakota, a local tough has robbed a bank, taken a woman hostage, and spotted in the fresh-arrived Mark Trail just the unwitting getaway driver he wanted. Mark Trail, thinking fast, has enough of an internal monologue to ponder the need to alert some official without betraying what he’s doing to the bank robber. And, to a wonder, he does it without letting the reader in on his plan.
My best guess: he’s figuring to pull a Ransom of Red Chief only instead of being a holy terror, he’s going to drive the bank robber past every possible scene of animals interacting in some way. Am I being unfairly snarky? From the 19th of April through the 28th the strip showed the car driving past a clutch of groundhogs, wolf pups, some falcon-class bird learning that it can’t just pick up a jackrabbit, a herd of sheep, another falcon trying to prey upon the dialogue balloons, a couple rams head-butting one another, and some moose or something. After that the bank robber has enough of this, figures out Mark Trail’s got a tracking device put on the car, and rips that out.
After driving past some buffalo, antelope I guess, and groundhogs looking disapproving at a wolf the bank robber tells Mark Trail what they’re going to do. They’re going to go to Johnny Lone Elk’s, tell him that the bank robber and the kidnapped woman are his new camera crew, and put the stolen money in Mark Trail’s camera bags. Then they’ll all go off together to see these prairie dogs and an abandoned airstrip that Mark Trail exposited about earlier.
Meanwhile the local FBI, looking for the bank robbers, is following the clue that there’s something weird about how Mark Trail rented the car. I admit I have never tried to rent a car while being held at gunpoint by a bank robber, but for the life of me I can’t figure how I’d do something weird with my car rental. I mean weird enough that car rental people would notice. Maybe tell them yes, I’d love the car insurance that’s an extra $75 a day and doesn’t do anything my home insurance doesn’t do anyway.
Mark Trail does his best not to act weird around Johnny and his wife and their handyman Nick Charles. But a stray $100 makes Johnny’s wife suspect there’s some connection to the Rapid City bank robbery, suggesting that she’s not really into this story and hopes to get it to the end as soon as possible. On the trail, Johnny knows something’s wrong and arranges for some dramatic talk about trick riding. Meanwhile a prairie dog tries to evade another swooping hawk, possibly the same one that was getting kicked by a rabbit a couple weeks back.
I know this sounds like a lot. But I gotta say, reading it one day at a time, it feels like the whole story has been waiting for stuff to happen. I expect James Allen is going for suspense in the question of how Mark Trail could possibly have arranged for help in all this, but the lack of specifics, or even hints of specifics, undermines that. I’m hoping that we’re about to see some action that brings this to a clear resolution. I’m also curious how the strip is going to turn into some major natural disaster that teaches us to never go anywhere more wild and untamed than an Apple Store. Well, there was threatened bad weather. That could mean anything.
Sunday Animals Watch
Animals or other natural phenomena featured on Sundays recently have included:
- Bees, 19 March 2017
- Moose, 26 March 2017
- Platerodrilus Beetles, 2 April 2017
- Feather Stars, “Crinoids”, 9 April 2017
- Dracaena Cinnabari, the “Dragon’s Blood Tree”, 16 April 2017
- Giraffes, 23 April 2017
- Male lions, 30 April 2017
- Parrotfish, 7 March 2017
- Saiga Antelope, 14 May 2017
- Alligators, 21 May 2017
- Black Rhinoceroses, 28 May 2017
- Sanguinaria Canadensis, “Bloodroot”, 4 June 2017
- Tornadoes, 11 June 2017
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth. Not to say too much about what’s been happening, but: cruise ships!.
OK, so, what’s worse than seeing any city’s name trending on Twitter? Seeing your city’s name trending on Twitter. So, thank you, Twitter, for putting ‘Lansing’ right there as the third item under Trends for most of the last week.
Don’t worry. There’s, as of my writing this, nothing to worry about going on in Lansing. This has to be them Helpfully Localizing my content experience. It’s all been about normal recently. There was a power outage downtown last Friday during lunchtime and that’s been the big news. Sure, that’s the sort of thing that’s fun to go through, especially since it hit the capitol and the state office buildings and stuff. Power failures are the snow days that office workers get. So there’s the understandable thrill of, like, seeing State Supreme Court justices just wandering down Washington Square Street with nothing particular to do.
But is that thrilling enough to last a week? So a State Supreme Court justice figures he might as well head to the downtown peanut roastery. That’s not all that exceptional. Who doesn’t like peanut roasteries? Even the people deathly allergic can appreciate the carpet of expectant squirrels staring at customers who don’t know whether to follow the signs warning DO NOT FEED SQUIRRELS or whether there’s no way they’re getting out alive without dropping at least a four-ounce bag of cashews and running. We would go on about that for a while, sure, but a week? Not worth it.
And there’s one of the smallest measurable bits of excitement coming out of East Lansing. There’s been a ball python on the loose since the weekend. Channel 6’s article about calls it a “runaway” snake, which suggests the lede’s writer does not fully understand snakes. But it’s not an aggressive species, and it’s not venomous. It would eat small animals, but it’s way far away from the peanut roastery, so even the squirrels don’t get bothered by it. So while that’s kind of interesting again there’s no way this is trend-worthy.
One of the top items under ‘Lansing’ was remembering the birth of actor Robert Lansing, 1928 – 1994. Remember him? (Correct answer: no. I’m sorry but there is a Ray Davies song about this.) He was in the original Star Trek. In this backdoor-pilot episode he played alien-trained super-duper-secret-agent Gary Seven, the United States adaptation of the Third Doctor Who. Terri Garr played his human female companion. And if you want to protest that the episode (“Assignment: Earth”) was made and aired in 1968 (1968), years (2) before the Actual Third Doctor was even cast (1970), then let me remind you, time traveller. Sheesh.
And it isn’t like Lansing doesn’t have some stuff worthy of quirky Internet fame. I was reading Helen E Grainer’s Pictorial Lansing, which in 1976 put in book form the school field trip tours she gave kids. It mentions:
One of the early trains to Lansing brought a piece of coal as big as the front seat of a car. It is still sitting by the train tracks on Grand River Avenue east of Cedar Street.
I submit that even in this jaded age, a piece of coal as big as the front seat of a car, and that’s been sitting on the street for a century, is worth looking at. They have a picture of it, sitting in front of the train tracks and some house. But I’ve been to that spot. As best I can figure there’s no huge lump of coal there. The house is gone too. So Lansing apparently had a right big lump of coal that sat on the street corner for a century, and then someone went and took it. Also someone took the house. Taking a house is normal, although good luck explaining to a six-year-old why anyone thinks that’s normal. Taking a huge lump of coal? That’s noteworthy and is anyone tweeting about that? That’s getting freaky. You know, it would be a scandal if a State Supreme Court justice had pocketed both house and coal under cover of the traffic signals all being out.
Anyway. Twitter, stop letting place names trend. It’s not good for any of us. With thanks, trusting, yrs very truly, pls also vide letter of last week, etc, me.
Kangaroos. For this review I regard ‘Kangaroo’ as including all the variant models. Kangaroos, Wallabies, Potoroos, Wallaroos, Pottabies, Wottabies, Kangabies, plus any of the new 4th-generation-compatible variations to come out the last month. Doesn’t matter. They’re great all around. Fine body plan. Fur that can feel surprisingly like my sideburns when they get the most bushy and out of control. They anthropomorphize well by just adding a vest and maybe a pair of glasses. They’ve got everything under control. Rated A. The only thing keeping them from an A+ is the sloppy design job regarding the male genitalia. Granted that most mammals have design problems on this point. The only species that’s really got that handled with dignity are guinea pigs, the males of which keep their out-of-use private parts in safety deposit banks with an institution in Lima, Peru.
Koalas. Generally adorable, with great ears. But they have been coasting on past fame since the mid-80s. They’ve done nothing to freshen up the line to respond to the rise of fennecs for the status of “oh such adorable animals they look like plush toys only they’re alive!”. Nostalgia acts are fine but we should make way for new innovation. B.
Alpine Tasmanian button grass. Much-needed bit of flora with the sort of name we have the word “mellifluous” for. As plant life goes these are plants that live while not dead. Button grass looks like the hair of a minor Peanuts character with a name like “Leland”. Shows good imaginative use of the “long thin stuff with beady tops” motif. B+.
Platypus. You figure the platypus came about from someone hearing a jumbled description of a griffon and going wild with what they had. And that’s great. Some awesome stuff comes about from trying to follow a jumbled description. It’s how we got centaurs and Cincinnati chili and Chinese lion costumes and some other things that don’t start with ‘c’. All that’s fine and this blend has a nice self-assured weirdness to it. And then it sweats milk. That’s getting into strange-for-the-sake-of-strange territory. C+, would accept resubmission. Not of milk.
Wombats. Are real things? Huh. I thought they were made up so cartoons could do stories about Australian wildlife without getting into hassles from the real species over inaccurate depictions. You know, the way they make a movie about “Charles Foster Kane” instead of William Randolph Hearst, or a political TV show will do a story about going to war with a fake country, or people will vacation in “Florida”. OK, if they’re real then. C, get your brand identity under control. Next.
Octopus Stinkhorn. I just learned about this on Sunday thanks to Mark Trail and WHAT THE HECK, Australia. WHAT THE FLIPPING HECK? You know when we other continents talk about the problem of Australian species THIS is the sort of thing we’re talking about, right? We’re talking about spiders that have enough toxin in each of their fourteen venom sacs to knock unconscious 6.25 billion people and every raccoon in North America. We’re talking about snakes that spontaneously detonate with the force of a malfunctioning Saturn V rocket smashing into a xylophone Daffy Duck rigged with dynamite to make getting rid of Bugs Bunny “look like an accident”. And now we’re talking about octopus-tentacled corpse-smelling alien-egg fungus. REALLY? What is even WRONG with you? I mean, you give us a tree kangaroo, a kangaroo that literally lives in trees, and you follow that up with this? Stop, go back, redo this entire disaster from the start, and by redo I mean “never do anything even remotely inspired by anyone who has thought this a possible idea again”. This doesn’t even get a grade because we need to invent whole new letters to deal with how flipping WRONG EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS IS. I mean, just, I mean. The flipping heck? I mean. Just. UGH.
Microbats. Microbats! Australia’s got lots of microbat species and they’re exactly what you think, bats that are small. Everything great about bats only little. This could get us back on Australia’s side. Even the name of the grouping is so adorable we don’t worry about whether they’re flying into the nostrils of everyone in Canberra. Microbats! B+ and not just because we’re getting them right after alien egg octopus corpse fungus. Seriously, Australia.
Marsupial tigers. OK, so, they’re kind of dog-shaped, and they have kangaroo heads. They have pouches, males and females. They’ve got tiger stripes down their back and tail. Oh yeah, and they’ve been extinct since Joseph Lyons was the prime minister. Great job piddling away an easy win, Australia. Check the backs of your closet and anywhere else they might be hiding and you can re-submit for an A-. I just … honestly.
Editorial note. While reviewing Wikipedia’s entry on the flora of Australia I encountered this sentence. “The dominant Acacia species varies with the location, and may include lancewood, bendee, mulga, gidgee and brigalow.” The page is clearly still subject to rampant vandalism. Fix and re-submit.
So among the bonus content that’s put on the back of my Peanuts Page-A-Day calendar, instead of the Sunday strips and pages for Sunday as a day on the calendar that I would think was the main content, was this:
Groaners: World’s Best Bad Jokes And Puns
A man walking with his friend says, “I’m a walking economy.”
His friend replies, “How so?”
“My hairline is in recession, my stomach is a victim of inflation, and both of these together are putting me into a deep depression.”
And I’m stuck wondering: who’s the joke supposed to appeal to? Never mind why it’s supposed to make me feel better about the price of the calendar and it not having Sundays. I get a kid finding it funny that older men might lose their hair and get fat, since that really is no end of merriment. But then the language throws you off. To a teen? Isn’t the hoary old joke structure too old-fashioned to amuse someone of that age? To a young adult? Why would they be buying a comic strip page-a-day calendar? To a middling adult like me? The time that joke would’ve amused me is long since passed, and the joke structure would need someone at least as skilled at delivery as a minor Muppet to work at all. To an actual adult like my parents? They’ve never gotten in a page-a-day calendar past the 12th of January. Why are they going to the effort to put a joke like that on the back of the calendar page? They could be putting trivia about the day that nobody will see until they next day when they tear today’s page off the calendar, instead.
Based on a transcript that sees “Christmastime” as two words so that’s why. Yes, there’s one time when Lucy refers to him as “Charlie”, not “Charlie Brown”, and that does feel like an incredible violation of the order of nature. Most surprising: Snoopy is named that little.
For the sake of convenience “Charlie Brown” is counted as one word. Does not include nonanimated documentaries or the theatrical-release movies. Does include You’re In The Super Bowl, Charlie Brown, For Some Reason, although “For Some Reason” is not technically part of the title. No, you may not just append “For Some Reason” to every animated Peanuts special for some reason.
And now that you’re in the midst of this article, may I point out my “The Art Of Maths Edition” of the Reading the Comics posts over on my mathematics blog? I hope that was all right.
In the opening scene of The Peanuts Movie, Charlie Brown is setting out his kite for one more try at flying the stupid thing. That’s natural enough. He may fail every time, but he won’t stop, which is part of what makes him an admirable character. The thing is, it’s the middle of winter. Other characters mock him for this. He reasons the kite-eating tree can’t get his kite in this weather. It’s plausible enough. It even feels, at least a bit, like something the character in the comic strip would do. Especially in the strip’s late-90s renaissance, when Charles Schulz found new inspiration and played a bit more overtly with the comic strip’s motifs and running gags. So I can rationalize it. I can see where it makes sense, if not effortlessly, then at least because I can believe in the thinking needed to make that come about.
That’s what I suppose my verdict on The Peanuts Movie has to be. It’s a project that shows an obsessive, almost fan-like devotion to the comic strip. It attempts to do some original things. I can see where all the reasoning makes sense, even if it seems to fall a bit short of being quite natural. The wintertime kite-flying ends in a crash, as it could not help but do. The sequence goes on to Snoopy swiping Linus’s blanket, and recreate the ice-skating-chaos scene of A Charlie Brown Christmas. And that’s another of the movie’s driving forces, a desire to touch on classic or at least remembered pieces of the comic strip or older specials.
I mean, there’s a scene that arguably calls out It’s Magic, Charlie Brown, one of those Peanuts specials that gets included as an extra to pad out the running time of the remembered, better-liked specials. There’s a quick appearance by not just Snoopy’s sister Belle, but of Belle’s son. You may remember him from his two appearances in the comics in 1976, or as the answer to the never-asked trivia question “did Snoopy have any nephews?” There’s even a quick reference to 5. 5 — 555 95472, to give him his full name — is the Boba Fett of Peanuts, an exceedingly minor character with more appearances and more fan interest than he deserves.
Ahead of the movie’s release my love asked what I hoped for from it. I had ambiguous feelings. It struck me there were always basically two kinds of Peanuts specials or movies. There are the emotion-driven ones — A Boy Named Charlie Brown (the spelling bee movie), A Charlie Brown Christmas, Snoopy Come Home, There’s No Time For Love, Charlie Brown, that ilk. Then there are the plot-driven ones — Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown, It’s A Mystery, Charlie Brown, She’s A Good Skate, Charlie Brown. Generally speaking, the more emotion-driven the better. What makes Peanuts fly is its emotional core — the indignation of wondering why everybody else gets to be happy — and if you want to have a plot, it should serve that. So I hoped for an emotion-driven movie.
(That isn’t to say strong plots make for bad Peanuts. But strong plots make it easy to get so wrapped up in doing things that you lose the sense of what you’re doing them for.)
The Peanuts Movie has a fairly strong plot, although it is a plot about emotions. Charlie Brown wants desperately to impress the new kid in class, the Little Red-Haired Girl. And thus there’s this string of little episodes of schemes attempting to be impressive, which all go wrong. Any one of them is all right. Any one of them could be its own special, really, and probably carry that weight adequately. That there’s so many episodes gets to be wearying. I think I’d have chosen to drop one and provide more time to savor the others, were I making the movie.
The runtime of the movie and the decision to make the plot “Charlie Brown Tries To Impress The Little Red-Haired Girl” work against each other, though. The problem with the Little Red-Haired Girl as a character is that she hasn’t got any character. She’s an invisible slate in the comic strip. All we know about her is that Charlie Brown thinks he likes her, and she chews her pencil, and her grandmother has red hair too. As long as she stays off-screen that’s enough. We don’t need to know why something is important to a character in order to accept that it is important to the character.
Put her on-screen, though, and she has to do something, show some reason why Charlie Brown should put any effort into impressing her. She almost has to do something at the climax, either accept or reject Charlie Brown. If she rejects him then the audience has good reason to have nothing to do with her again. If she accepts him, well, that’s nice, but then what do they have to talk about? Her only character traits are that she’s somehow tantalizing to Charlie Brown, and a mystery to the audience. You’re In Love, Charlie Brown — with a strikingly similar plot — gets away with this. Its short running time helps it. None of Charlie Brown’s attempts can take up too much time, and the contact between Charlie Brown and the Little Red-Haired Girl is short and ambiguous enough to preserve her tantalizing mystery. I’m sad that the encounter between Charlie Brown and the Little Red-Haired Girl couldn’t be shorter and more ambiguous in the movie.
This plotting problem could probably have been avoided if they had ditched the Little Red-Haired Girl and used another character from the comics — Peggy Jean, Charlie Brown’s girlfriend from the 90s strips. She was always a character on-screen and accessible. She could interact with Charlie Brown in the relaxed, easy way that makes it easy to understand why Charlie Brown might like her, and why audiences might like them as a couple. But Peggy Jean never had that tantalizing and mysterious aspect, and never captured the public’s imagination the way the Little Red-Haired Girl did. Peggy Jean might have made for a less tortured story. What can you do when a central character can only be glimpsed from afar and can’t say much of substance, and can’t even be addressed by name? But I must admit nobody who isn’t a hardcore Peanuts fan even remembers she existed. Even some who are hardcore fans forget her. The marketing logic probably overwhelmed the plotting logic.
There is much likable about this. The animation style, for example, I think worked better than it had any rights to. (Though there are a few dream sequences with classic animation, and which show how unbelievably awesome traditional animation done on a feature budget would make Schulz’s line style. Add to his personable, wavering line a fluttering in time and you have almost perfected animation. Anytime a straight line has personality you are doing art brilliantly right.) There’s a running secondary plot of Snoopy writing a World War I Flying Ace story that makes for well-timed pauses in the main story. And it provides the mandatory Runaway 3-D Setting for the video game to adapt.
There’s a funny scene of Marcie touting the right book for a book report to Charlie Brown. (Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace.) This feeds into another funny scene of Charlie Brown working out the plot of War and Peace that’s enough of a laugh that only later did I wonder “did I just see that in a Peanuts cartoon?” There are many efforts to pander to the hardcore fan. (Who else could have any desire to see two seconds of Belle’s son?) I admit it’s a quirk of my personality that the more something panders to me as a fan the less I like the result.
So, I’m glad for the movie, and I think it’s worth seeing. It didn’t fall into the obvious pitfalls that could make a bad Peanuts film, although I don’t think it made a great one either. I could probably be more ambiguous, but only by trying.
The movie doesn’t clearly set itself in any particular time. It’s rather like the comic strip that way. Charlie Brown has a land-line telephone with a cord, that sits on a stand in the hallway, but then anyone might. None of the other characters are shown having cell phones or making reference to social media. But they don’t have reason to anyway. There is something naturally detached-from-time about the original comic strip, and it’s disorienting (in Happy New Year, Charlie Brown) to hear a character talk about a computer game. On the other hand, in the late years of the strip Lucy mentioned giving her e-mail address to Charlie Brown and that didn’t feel like it went against the nature of the universe.
The movie gets Peppermint Patty’s last name (Reichardt) correct. It gives Marcie a last name that I don’t think has any basis in the strip. The name went by too fast for me to remember what it was. It takes no stance on the question of whether Schroeder is the kid’s first or last name.
Yes, I recognize the content of this sign is boilerplate. And I recognize that drawing amusement from boilerplate applied to a situation in which it’s not precisely appropriate but it’s too much bother to make something marginally more exact is one of the lower forms of humor. And I am aware of logical reasons for each one of these rules. Still: this is the sign outside a couple of desks set up for kids to use while coloring with crayons.
The Off The Leash blog recently mentioned how one of the top social media tips is using numbers in headlines. I could use some social media top … ish-ness, certainly, and since I’ve got a mathematical background I shouldn’t have any trouble including numbers in things. So here’s some sentences that have a number (2,038) put in them:
- “This set of lectures and their subsequent study of the mockups and trainers gave the [ Apollo ] astronauts a better feel for the Soyuz flight control systems and onboard displays and the environmental controls for oxygen 2,038 generation, temperature levels, and food, water, and waste management. ”
— originally from Edward Clinton Ezell and Linda Neuman Ezell’s The Partnership: A History of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, NASA SP-4209.
- “If you think that nobody would know that a girl in the company had 2,038 married a baronet who was a member of parliament and expected to be in the Cabinet in a few years, you’re wronging him!”
— originally from P G Wodehouse’s Jill The Reckless.
- “Only the Neptunian’s grasp on the controls had kept the cylinder heading down through those currents, and now, as he leaped 2,038 away from the controls for the moment and drew his tube, those currently immediately seized upon the unguided cylinder and in the next moment had whirled it over and sidewise with immense speed and power!”
— originally from Edmond Hamilton’s The Universe-Wreckers, as printed in the June 1930 Amazing Stories.
- “I really tried, but every place I went they 2,038 slammed the door in my face!!”
— originally from Charles Schulz’s Peanuts comic strip of the 26th of May, 1973.
- “He [ Dutch writer Adrianus Romanus, in his 1593 text Ideae Mathematicae pars prima ] uses this notation in 2,038 writing his famous equation of the forty-fifth degree.”
— originally from Florian Cajori’s A History Of Mathematical Notation and writing about unknown quantities being raised to powers.
- “They might just as well have settled that he [ Saint Dunstan ] was a coach-horse, and could just 2,038 as easily have called him one.”
— originally from Charles Dickens’s A Child’s History of England.
- “During that beautiful eulogy seen where there about to launch Spock into the stars Kirk says `of all the souls I’ve encountered… this was the most … human‘, is this unintentionally insulting Spock 2,038, because in the series he repeatedly states that he is not human and one point states that he felt insulted by the implication of Doctor McCoy.”
— originally from a TrekBBS discussion about The Wrath of Khan.
How’d I do?
I have a Peanuts page-a-day calendar because otherwise I’d only be reading three different Peanuts strips online every day, and on the back of every page is a miscellaneous bit of stuff, like a word puzzle or a sudoku puzzle or a note about what the day’s an anniversary of, which would be kind of useful if I saw it before I tore the page off the next day. On the back of January 27 they had this:
Corporate executives consider Tuesday the most productive day of the week. It’s the day to get down to business and start crossing off items on to-do lists.
Is this a “fun fact”? I’m not a fair judge of whether something is fun because I own multiple books which explain the history of containerized cargo, and I’ve been thinking seriously about picking up James Q Wilson’s Bureaucracy for recreational reading. I know that sounds like a joke, but I got interested in Wilson’s book because of some reading I was doing about Harry S Truman’s 1946-1949 director of the Bureau of the Budget, so you see why that all makes sense. You can tell me whether corporate productivity assessments are fun.
But is it a “fact”? People have a complicated relationship with facts. We like them, because we’re pretty sure knowledge is built out of them, but just how that building gets done is a mystery. You can check in the World Almanac and find out how many tons of steel the United States produced in 1945, if you were trying to look up when Arbor Day is and had some trouble with the index, but all that really tells you is how much steel the American Iron and Steel Institute was willing to admit was made back then. And really, all you learn is how much the World Almanac claims the American Iron and Steel Institute claims was made back then, and they’re pretty sure you aren’t going to go checking, what with Google being a much easier way to find out when Arbor Day is. Knowing what you do about American steel production rates in 1945 doesn’t give you any idea about why Arbor Day.
We want facts to be on our side, as we get ready to do cognitive battle with the world, but they’re not reliable allies. A fact can be pretty hard to dispute — that steel-production figure has got to be pretty sound if I could figure out where I left the World Almanac so I could look it up — but then it’s also too dull to enlist except on a game show; it’s got at most the power to make you go “huh” and move on. Facts that are about anything interesting are graded and qualified and have subtleties and need other facts to help them out. If we, say, want to know what made World War II happen and what we can do to prevent a recurrence we can’t really grab anything concrete and have to content ourselves to not calling that area “Prussia” anymore.
We want facts to speak for themselves, as long as they stick to our scripts. When we run across a treacherous fact that doesn’t seem to care if it supports us we could say something about how we might change our minds based on “this fact, if it’s true.” This should cause Mrs Furey to pop up from seventh-grade English class and berate our intellectual carelessness. If it isn’t true it isn’t a fact, by definition, which is a kind of fact used to divert an argument we might not win into an argument everybody will walk away from, losing and bitter. We can get away with the carelessness because it’s a big world and Mrs Furey might need years before she can get back to us.
That’s all right; only the old-fashioned try to change minds with facts anymore anyway. Now it’s all done with the right colored lighting, appropriate background music, and the vague scent of vanilla, which research into the psychology of decision-making shows will cause us to decide, never mind what we said before, we are going to buy whatever it is that’s in front of us, whether it’s a Snoopy doll, a footstool, a bowl of keychains, or a 2016 Toyota Something Limited Edition (pre-recalled for your convenience). At least that’s what the facts they report say and who are we to quibble?
If there’s a fact I am pretty sure about, it’s that the calendar company started putting this stuff on the back of their pages at the same time they stopped printing separate pages for Sundays. That’s fourteen percent of the year they’re hoping I won’t miss if they put in a sprinkling of fun facts. I bet they decided to do that on a Tuesday.
So in all the anticipatory fuss about the comic strip The Better Half coming to its kind of noticed end after 58 years, which is nine years longer than Peanuts, is that another longrunning comic strip you kind of remember seems to be vanishing.
The past week, Bill Asprey’s Love Is…, which is not just a Simpsons joke about two naked eight-year-olds who are married but is actually a thing that exists in the real world, has been rather less obviously existing. It used to appear on gocomics.com, and stopped about a year or so ago; it’d since been appearing on comic sites for newspapers with the right Comics Kingdom subscription, but now that’s gone too. Their official web site still exists, but it’s useless, and if it contains any daily comics I can’t find them.
The comic strip began as a set of love notes that Kim Casali wrote her future husband, Roberto, and it emerged into the newspapers in early 1970. When Roberto was diagnosed with cancer Casali brought in Bill Asprey to work on the strip, and he’s been producing it since 1975, facts which I think add a useful bittersweet touch to a comic strip that’s otherwise very lightweight. Of course, the strip has been running for 44 years now, 17 years longer than Walt Kelly’s Pogo originally ran, and trying to think of something like 13,700 illustratable one-panel expressions of love (the strip doesn’t run Sundays) is a pretty difficult task.
I have no idea what’s happening with it: whether the strip is going out of production, whether its Tribune Media Services syndicate is repositioning it, whether it’s changing syndicates, whether it’s becoming self-syndicated, whether something else is happening.
Since I don’t want to just point you to the lastest roundup of mathematics comics over in my other blog without something that’s also entertaining, let me give you this Sunday’s Funky Winkerbean. Every time you think Tom Batiuk’s produced the most depressing Funky Winkerbean ever, along he comes with the most depressing Funky Winkerbean ever.
I don’t want to worry too much about the minor peculiarities of the Peanuts universe but something came up while watching the truncated little bits of You’re Not Elected, Charlie Brown that they show so they can pad out It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown to an hour long. The problem is that as the story goes, Charlie Brown never even runs for school president, so, yes, “You’re Not Elected” is a literally true summary of what happens over the course of the story. But since he didn’t have a chance of being elected it would be no less incorrect if the special had any of these titles instead:
- You’re Not Named Deputy Ambassador to the Netherlands, Charlie Brown
- You’re Not The New County Commissioner of Drains, Charlie Brown
- You’re Not Part Of A Hipster Cover Band Called “Charles Brownies”, Charlie Brown
- You Don’t Go Swimming Right After Eating, Charlie Brown
- You Don’t Make A Spectacle Of Yourself In A Humiliatingly Bad Pricing Game On The Price Is Right, Charlie Brown
- You’re Not The 43rd Person To Walk On The Moon, Charlie Brown
- You’re Not In A Shockingly Bitter Blog Fight With A Guy Who Writes Star Trek Novels, Charlie Brown
- You’re Not A Kangaroo, Charlie Brown
I’m sorry to harp on this point. It’s just that the logical vapidity of the title turned the seven-year-old me into a little quivering ball of young Peanuts fanboy outrage and I have absolutely no useful way of dealing with that.
Maybe you remember New York State getting into some comic parliamentary-procedure hissy fits over whether to declare an Official State Snack, since it was pretty funny as state legislators get in declaring Official State things plus The Daily Show and I think The Colbert Report featured it a couple nights running. Certainly I remember it when I think about shortly before deciding not to snack on yoghurt. Apparently everybody in Albany got tired with the issue because they approved it last week and now New York has an Official State Snack, in case you want to snack in a stateishly official way.
According to the Reuters report on it, there are other states with Official Snacks, some of which make good sense: Texas has tortilla chips and salsa and Illinois has popcorn, both of which I have to agree are unmistakably states. Utah, apparently, declared Jell-O its official state snack, taking the Jell-O corporation almost completely by surprise. You can almost hear the ghost of Jack Benny going “What?”
The startling thing is that South Carolina has an Official Snack of boiled peanuts. I’ve read the article multiple times and read it out loud to make sure I haven’t got it wrong, but there it is: boiled peanuts. I would guess they had translated something wrong, maybe going from roasted peanuts or peanut butter through Google Translate and coming out with something obviously nonsense like “marsupial cactus”, and taking their best guess at fixing it knowing it should be something-or-other peanuts. But the article was posted by Reuters and I’m pretty sure they have English speakers over in Reuterland. So as ever, learning something new causes me to feel like I know less about the world.
There’s an excellent chance you don’t know Percy Crosby’s comic strip Skippy, and that’s a shame. You know its progeny, though. It was one of the first worldly-child comic strips, focused on kids but paying attention to them as thoughtful beings with deep and complex emotions of their own. If this sounds kind of like Peanuts, it should; Percy Crosby was one of the people Charles Schulz drew influence from, and every kids comic strip since then has been a reaction to Peanuts.
The comic is contemporary to George Herriman’s Krazy Kat, but is wildly different from it, not just because it gets remarkably little attention from modern cartoonists considering its influence. It’s also, though, contemporary to Robert Benchley, and in I think a very important way: you see, Skippy as a comic strip is funny, and in about the ways you expect a modern comic strip to be funny. It may be dated in its references, just as a Benchley essay (or film) might be, but in structure, in pacing, in characterization, in what jokes are about it could fit on the contemporary comics page without that standing out of place.
Happily the strip’s been revived on gocomics.com, and I wanted to bring an example of it to your attention. This one originally ran on the 24rd of July, 1927, and I admit it’s not a knee-slapper. It’s more of the sentimental, faintly inspirational comic strip, but in ways that work for me. In the dialogue I can certainly hear the forebears of Linus and Charlie Brown, or Pogo and the Rackey-Coon Chile, or Quincy and his friends, or Calvin and Hobbes, or many more great personae. I hope you like.
And if that’s not to your tastes, over on my mathematics blog I talk about another bunch of comic strips, none of them Skippy, although I also don’t talk about Fourier Transforms. Someday I will. I just don’t need to just yet.
This, now, this just made me smile. It’s “The Daily Extra” that’s on the back of my page-a-day Peanuts calendar, a feature they include so as to distract people from how they don’t have Sundays as separate days anymore even though the “page-a-day” calendar is implicitly one (1) page for one (1) day, of which Sundays (S) are one (1). Anyway, from the back of the 3/4th of August calendar for the year 2013:
Unique Gift Idea
Do you have a unique gift idea, but you can’t find the item locally? There’s a very good chance that you’ll be able to find it on the Internet. Have a friend help you search the Web if Internet shopping is outside your comfort zone.
That’s outstanding advice and I figure to put it into practice just as soon as I’m in 1998.
The new survey of the top comic strip artists is out. According to the American Newspaper Standards Institute and its top survey-response team the most popular creators of comic strips this year are:
- Charles Schulz
- The Guy Who Draws Calvin and Hobbes
- The Guy Who Draws Far Side
- The Guy Who Draws Cathy
- Walt Disney
- The Cryptoquote feature
- Grant Snider