Thursday, July 8, 2021

Blake Scott Ball's "Charlie Brown’s America"

Blake Scott Ball is Assistant Professor of History at Huntingdon College.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Charlie Brown's America: The Popular Politics of Peanuts, and reported the following:
On this page we encounter Snoopy as the World War flying ace in hot pursuit of the Red Baron. We learn that cartoonist Charles Schulz introduced the new fantasy story at the outset of US combat presence in South Vietnam in 1965. We also find that some of Schulz’s colleagues, like Beetle Bailey cartoonist Mort Walker, were deeply concerned that Schulz might ruin the appeal of his popular strip by drawing analogies too close to a gruesome real-world conflict. We also get a good sense of just how the American public felt about the emerging Cold War conflict through a range of opinion poll results. Finally, page 99 explores why Schulz might have chosen to put Snoopy to war in World War I rather than the conflict the cartoonist had experienced firsthand, World War II.

For Charlie Brown’s America, the “page 99 test” works fairly well. There are really three threads at the heart of this book: the content of the Peanuts strips, the intent of the cartoonist Charles Schulz, and the interpretation of his diverse national audience. On page 99, we get a glimpse of each one of these elements at play with one another during the Vietnam War era. Over the course of the rest of the book, I explore the interaction between these three threads through a wide variety of issues: evangelical revivalism, civil rights, abortion, feminism, environmentalism, the rise of modern conservatism, and more.
Visit Blake Scott Ball's website.

--Marshal Zeringue