"Charlie Brown's america: Peanuts and the politics of wishy-washy, 1950-1989"
The long 1960s is often considered to be a period of extreme polarization in American politics. This study of Charles M. Schulz’s Peanuts franchise (comic strips, television programs, films, and merchandise), however, reveals that through the 1960s and 1970s there remained a large popular audience for centrist discussions of the period’s most controversial issues. Public religion, racial integration, the Vietnam War, feminism, the environmental crisis, and conflicts over the future of consumer capitalism all received considerable treatment in Schulz’s work. While this might be surprising to critics and journalists who often assumed that Peanuts was merely an escapist endeavor, this perception could not be further from the truth. Peanuts readers and viewers certainly saw the truth. Over the forty years covered in this project, they wrote thousands of letters to Schulz to praise or condemn his discussions of real world issues. These letters have provided a rather unlikely window into the political and social thought of Middle America in the Cold War years. Such correspondence formed the focal point of this dissertation. Ultimately, this dissertation shows the ways that Schulz cunningly navigated the politics of Middle America, gaining historic popularity and demanding unprecedented editorial and licensing control over his franchise. But this dissertation also shows that as Schulz became increasingly popular, corporate interests, government officials, and the public increasingly appropriated the Peanuts characters, infused them with new meaning, and deployed them to their own ends.