Monday, December 20, 2021

The Villain I Fear


Yes, I’m one of those people who still watches “A Charlie Brown Christmas” annually. It’s a generational thing, I think. It was such a big deal in my childhood. So many small bits in it were special memories to look forward to each year: Snoopy dancing on the piano, Lucy providing psychiatric help for a nickel, Linus adroitly turning his blanket into a shepherd’s costume. Embedded in those memories are vague recollections, such as, “ ‘A Charlie Brown Chistmas’ is brought to you by Dolley Madison Cakes and the folks at your local Coca-Cola Bottling Company.”

It’s funny what you remember.

Readers of this blog know that there is one moment in this Christmas special which has come up time and again:

I did a quick count last night. Sally Brown has appeared at least seven times since 2015. 

…little Sally Brown plaintively justifying her grotesquely inflated wish list for Santa, “all I want is what’s coming to me. All I want is my fair share.”  (Duck Tales, December 25, 2020)

The characters that populate the world of Peanuts may appear to be children but Charles Schulz made each one “more than” in a way that resonates with adults. Snoopy isn’t simply playful, he’s a World War One flying ace. Schroeder doesn’t just play the piano, he’s a Beethoven aficionado with abilities beyond his years. Lucy? She’s not just bossy, she’ll sell you psychiatric advice. Linus is far more than sensitive and thoughtful. He’s a biblical prodigy. And good old Charlie Brown isn’t just down in the dumps, he’s probably clinically depressed.

Sally doesn’t figure as heavily in the grand scheme of things. She’s a useful character device as “the little sister” in many of the comic strips and television specials. In this one she’s not merely a small child excited about Christmas, she’s the epitome of the commercially-driven consumerism which is shaking Charlie Brown’s belief in the goodness of the holiday. Sally Brown: avarice writ large.

This year Sally Brown has come to me in the voices of angry parents whose demands are for their personal convenience and their childrens’ wants alone. Schools must be open, activities must be available, everything must be what they deem to be “normal” or there will be hell to pay. 

There’s no consideration of a pandemic which has killed more than 800,000 country-wide, and sickened others to the degree that they’ve sustained long term and possibly permanent deficits. No empathy for teachers, school staff, bus drivers, admin, or anyone who is working face to face with their children every day. Those people have lives, and children, and families, too. But their wants and needs are invisible. Their fears and concerns brushed aside.

All I want is what’s coming to me. All I want is my fair share.

The reason I keep coming back to Sally Brown year after year is this: in this moment she looks to be a harmless-looking child, but, all the while, she is spouting the demands of complete selfishness. She has no concern for anyone but herself, no awareness about how her “fair share” may far outreach what is reasonable if others are not to be left wanting.

Sound familiar?

There are many “villains” to be feared in the Christmas television programs that come around each year: the Grinch, the Abominable Snowman in “Rudolph”, Burgermeister Meisterburger in “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”, even Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol”. As adults we probably aren’t afraid of them anymore. And we most assuredly don’t worry about turning into them.

Who me, a Grinch? Never.

But it is Sally Brown I fear the most. She doesn’t come to us painted in villain’s clothing. But it is her ideology that does the most harm. And it would be so, so easy to become her.

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