Peanuts and Politics

Things get vicious during election season. Yard signs. TV ads. Facebook posts. Tweets. Even memes. These things are expected and I can ignore them, share them, change channels, or whatever seems necessary, depending on whether I agree with what they say.

What really bugs me, though, is the use of beloved comic characters in political memes. It’s like when politicians use various rock or country songs at their rallies without the permission of – or paying royalties to – the artist. It’s rude. But more than that, it’s illegal. Creators need to be acknowledged for their work and not have it used without permission.

It doesn’t bother me so much when Hollywood stars are used in memes, for some reason. Sam Elliott, for example, appears in memes, usually with the tagline, “You must be some special kind of stupid.” I figure Sam Elliott is big enough to take care of himself, and if he or his agent objected to this use of his image, they could sue, or at least distribute a letter, counter-meme, tweet, or other communication objecting to the use of his image.

No, it’s the beloved icons of our childhood being used for political purposes that gets my goat (or donkey or elephant). The Peanuts characters, for example, appear in memes representing both parties. You see Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown, and suddenly it’s a metaphor for some legislative policy or promise or position. Linus carries a protest sign with a political message on it that was never there in the original strip.

We (or at least I) don’t know what Charles Schulz’s political leanings were. Would he object to half of these appropriations of his characters? All of them? Which side, if any, should his estate sue or want to issue an injunction against? The answer is far from clear. But I, for one, would prefer to remember Peanuts the way they were in my childhood – naive, lovable Charlie Brown; trusting but insecure Linus; crabby Lucy; talented Schroeder; imaginative Snoopy; lovable Woodstock; and all the others.

In fact, the only remotely political thing I remember from the comics is that the three things one should never discuss with others were “politics, religion, and the Great Pumpkin.”

One set of comic characters you never see misappropriated, though, are Disney-owned ones like Mickey Mouse. Disney is notoriously litigious and goes after anyone who infringes on their copyrights. Even a school that used Disney figures in an unlicensed mural received a cease-and-desist letter and the threat of a lawsuit. Most creative types don’t have Disney’s vast power and considerable finances behind them. It may seem unkind for Disney to be so prickly about the use of their work, but they are merely exercising their legal rights.

If only all creative types could do so. I like to think that there would be fewer political memes starring Peppermint Patty or Calvin and Hobbes, and more original humor regarding political sentiments. I just wish the “wits” responsible for them would create their own cartoons and leave our childhood ones alone.

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