November 29, 2008

Peanuts' Thanksgiving propaganda

Statue of controversial Colonial figure finds peaceful place in WindsorIn “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving,” Linus Van Pelt stands over a table festooned with plates of pretzel sticks, buttered toast, and popcorn as he gives his friends an abridged story of the Massachusetts Bay colonists’ first Thanksgiving meal.

An ardent sentimentalist, Van Pelt is describing a harmonious relationship between the country’s first settlers and the area’s Native American inhabitants, focused primarily on sharing and community.

Of course, he glosses over what ultimately turned into a troubled relationship that boiled over 16 years later at a gruesome massacre in Groton, which is commemorated by the Capt. John Mason statue, which sits at the Palisado Green on Route 159.
And:Ultimately, a 9-foot-tall statue of Mason was erected and placed at the site of the massacre in Groton. In 1991, Lone Wolf Jackson, a Pequot tribal council member, petitioned the Groton Town Council to have the statue removed.

The statue was subject to repeated vandalism and red paint was spread over Mason’s hands with the word “murderer” scrawled over the statute.

What ensued was years of wrangling between the tribal members and the Town Council over what to do with the statue, and a peace was finally brokered to move the statue to its current home in Windsor, where Mason lived most of his life and is considered to be one of the town’s founders. He also is considered a hero for defending the town of Wethersfield against a raid by Pequots.

“It was certainly a contested issue,” said Jason Mancini, another researcher from the Pequot Museum. “The tribe was adamant to not have that statue there.”

Jackson no longer is a member of the tribal council, and now runs the We-Tu Bait and Tackle Shop in North Stonington. Not only was the tribe upset that the state has designated the site of the massacre as an appropriate place for the monument, but a plaque that characterized Mason’s actions as “heroic victory” was a slap in the face to local Pequot descendants.

“The plaque was very offensive,” Jackson said.

The statue was moved to Windsor in 1995, and the editorializing on the original plaque was discarded and replaced with neutral wording, describing how the statue came to town.
Comment:  The interesting part of this article is the bit about A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. I hadn't thought about it before, but it's another piece of the mythmaking process. Along with the school pageants and Thanksgiving Day parades, it promotes a false message of interracial harmony.

In other words, Peanuts is propaganda for a white male Christian America. Males dominate, nonwhites are rarely seen, and everyone's presumably a believer. Compare this strip to something like Doonesbury, Boondocks, or La Cucaracha and you'll see how insular and old-fashioned it is.

As for the Mason statue, you gotta love how blatant people were about celebrating the killing of Indians. A nine-foot statue dedicated to the Anglos' "heroic victory." While you're at it, why not make it 100 feet tall and show it crushing Indian bodies underfoot?

But the statue to a less offensive location and changed the plaque's wording, so this controversy is more or less over. For more on the subject, see Best Indian Monuments to Topple.

Below:  Linus shares the American myth of Thanksgiving with his white friends and a token nonwhite guest.

Plus:  John Mason, the "heroic" Indian killer.


dmarks said...

"....Doonesbury, Boondocks, or La Cucaracha and you'll see how insular and old-fashioned it is."

Doonesbury is just "old fashioned" because it has been running on vapors since the Nixon administration ended. I suppose that Boondocks and La Cucaracha are as insular as "Peanuts" because the characters of each are relatively "racially pure" to whatever race is being featured.

Rob said...

Doonesbury may be the least insular comic strip in history. It has included people from around the world: Vietnamese (Phreddie, Kim), Chinese (Honey), Samoans, Iraqis, and more. Women and minorities: blacks, gays, Asians, and more. Conservatives: B.D., Uncle Duke, Lacey Davenport, Mark's father and significant other, and more. As well as a bunch of liberals.

As for old-fashioned, the youngest generation of characters often refers to Google, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, texting, etc. If any comic strip is more up-to-date than that, I haven't seen it.

I think Doonesbury's quality is consistently good, though it isn't as good as it was in its heyday. It's still better than most of the strips out there.

I guess Boondocks is insular in one sense, since most of its characters are black. But it's not insular in its constant references to politics and entertainment. In that sense, it's as cutting-edge as Doonesbury was in its prime.

La Cucaracha has a diverse cast and often refers to pop culture. It's "insular" only in the sense that it's urban rather than suburban or rural. Since most Americans live in cities, I wouldn't call that insular.

Meanwhile, the only nonwhite character in Peanuts is Franklin, the seldom-used token. The gang never leaves its whitebread neighborhood except to go to camp. The most "pointed" real-world reference is to an old-fashioned icon such as Arnold Palmer or Peggy Fleming.

I'm a big Peanuts fan, but that doesn't mean it has a modern, multicultural perspective. Far from it. Like its contemporaries from the 1950s and 1960s--Dennis the Menace, B.C., Family Circle--it's firmly rooted in a Pollyanna-ish past.