Of boys and tigers

Jan 152007
Authors: Daniel GibsonReinemer

Eleven years ago, we lost a bit of our wonder. On Dec. 31, 1995, the last “Calvin and Hobbes” comic strip appeared in newspapers. Charles Schulz’s “Peanuts” ended a few years later.

With the passing of the two strips, we were left with a void. We lost wonderful artists in Bill Watterson and Charles Schulz, two men who were able to give us genuine views of humanity through the simple space of the comics page.

Calvin’s follies were a daily reminder that we tend to be selfish, impatient and greedy. Hobbes, the eternal best friend, reminded us of our failures – and that we could be loved in spite of them.

In the final strip, Calvin and Hobbes look out on snowy hills with their characteristic enthusiasm. In that blank expanse of fresh-fallen snow lie endless possibilities, should we possess the spirit and imagination to explore them.

Since then, the most recognizable childhood cartoon figures in pop culture are poorly animated children living in a small Colorado town. Rather than earning laughs through honest exploration of the human condition, the creators rely on scatology, blasphemy and unrelenting insensitivity.

The problem is not that the show is evil or responsible for moral decay – it is at times clever and capable of making a point. (I offer my congratulations for a well-deserved Peabody Award).

The problem is that it is merely cheap. Like the animation itself, the overall character of “South Park” lacks art. Without being obsessively offensive, without shock humor, the wheels fall off.

For the creators of “South Park,” nothing is sacred. But as humans, we believe in the sacred.

In 1965, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” aired on primetime national television and was immediately popular among the public and critics alike. More than 40 years later, it is still shown in primetime.

One reason for its continued popularity and relevance is its ability to authentically and elegantly depict the pathos of childhood and the joy of Christmas. Although we hear cynics in the Peanuts gang, they’re silenced by the voice of Linus. As he reads from the Gospel of Luke, we’re reminded of the great hope that trumps jaded materialism.

Charles Schulz’s widow spoke with USA Today in 2005 about her late husband, who was known to friends as Sparky. “Sparky always used to say there’s a market for innocence,” she said.

It might be easy to argue that market is shrinking, but I don’t believe that it is. I believe the market for which Charles Schulz and Bill Watterson wrote still exists. I believe the ideals and adventures of boys and tigers offer a better perspective than those of caustic cynics.

A fresh coat of snow has once again covered the town, offering us the same blank slate Calvin and Hobbes faced when we last saw them. As you begin a new year and a new semester, may you view the future with the same wonder.

Daniel Gibson-Reinemer is a fishery and wildlife biology masters student. His column appears every Tuesday in the Collegian. Replies and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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