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COLUMN

You Were a Good Man

Daniel C. Stevenson

Good grief, Charlie Brown. What are we ever going to do? Lucy has sabotaged your last football kick. Woodstock has driven his Zamboni across the frozen birdbath for the last time. We won’t ever again see Sally calling for her “Sweet Babboo.” And we’ll never find out how things go with that little red-haired girl you had a crush on. Your creator and alter-ego Charles M. Schulz died Saturday, and the final “Peanuts” comic strip ran Sunday -- a tragically fitting coincidence.

There will be no more Beethoven from Schroeder, no more of Snoopy’s dogfights (literally) with the Red Baron, and no more 5-cent psychiatrist booths. While we knew a few months ago that “Peanuts” was coming to a close, the end still came as a shock. With Schulz’s and the strip’s death, a part of everybody who was touched by “Peanuts” also died.

Sure, “Peanuts” was funny and charming, and we can find humor elsewhere in the funny pages or on Saturday morning television. But “Peanuts” was more than just a funny, cute cartoon -- the antics of you and your friends resonated with the daily struggles of children and adults of all ages, a pathos that we’ll certainly never get from the likes of PokÉmon.

Where are we going to find another champion everyman? A protagonist who never quite comes out on top, but always manages to get by with help from his dog and his friends? Who will teach us that there is honor and charm in mediocrity? That being the best isn’t what really matters -- a lesson oft-overlooked here at MIT.

In a way, “Peanuts” was our own version of Linus’s security blanket. No matter what happened to you all or to us, it was never too bad, and you showed us how to cope. Peppermint Patty made D-minuses a fact of life long before I did. You suffered with a hopelessly losing baseball team well before the Yankees beat the Red Sox. Tangled kites, unrequited love, and spectacular dogfight crashes were just the facts of life.

We learned from you how to answer adversity with magnanimity. Even in defeat, whether Linus’s perennial failure to witness the coming of the Great Pumpkin or another one of your shutout baseball games, you were quietly triumphant. You also provided us with simple pleasures -- the blissful relationship between a child and his dog, the heady rush of first love, or just playing in the snow -- all in a few panels of black and white, color on Sundays, each and every day for nearly 50 years.

These were the simple joys of childhood, which hold far more meaning in life than most things we strive for today. While other comic strips endeavor to present gripping real-life situations, you and the rest of the “Peanuts” gang could tell it all with just a small repertoire of activities and situations. Your enduring antics were acted out by a cast of characters as rich and varied as those encountered in our own childhood and adult life.

Charlie Brown, you were the center of the strip yet never the hero. It was an ensemble strip that played each day to an audience of millions. Anybody with an older sibling can empathize with Linus or Sally. We all know a Pig Pen, probably have some inscrutable friends like Marcie, and have likely met someone as bossy as Lucy. It’s not much of a stretch of the imagination to see how teachers and other adults speak in what seems a foreign language to children. In a way, you shaped our perceptions of other people -- foibles like Lucy’s arrogance or Schroeder’s aloofness are really quite harmless, and those who have them are still your friends.

Charlie Brown (and Charles Schulz), your legacy will certainly live on in reruns of comic strips and TV specials. And we’ll get great pleasure out of seeing the familiar antics of the “Peanuts” gang again and again. But it won’t be fresh, it won’t be new, and it won’t last forever.

Our children and grandchildren won’t see a new “Peanuts” strip every day, like we, our parents, and even our grandparents have. In the end, it was the devotion of Charles Schulz to his life-work, drawing the strip entirely by himself day after day for half a century, that gave it a longevity and permanence in our culture that makes its passing so significant. Good grief, Charlie Brown.

Daniel C. Stevenson, a graduate student at the Media Lab, is a former Editor in Chief and Chairman of The Tech.