Tag Archives: memes

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.

The Death of Humor?

basket blur boy child
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

When I was younger and Saturday Night Live was just getting its start, I thought that the show marked the death of humor in America.

Yes, it was funny and yes, it introduced lots of fine new comedians who went on to brilliant careers.

But what bothered me was that as it filtered down to the general public, all people seemed to be doing were reciting lines and discussing skits from the show, not making humor on their own.

I’m pleased to say that I was wrong. Mostly. There is now the phenomenon of people passing along funny memes on Facebook, seldom taking the time to make their own. These floating bits of humor make their pervasive way into all our feeds, but our reaction to most of them is a snicker, a groan, and a click on the share button.

(Who makes all those memes anyway? If you look closely at who originated them, sometimes the answer is a radio station you never heard of. These businesses are trying to increase their interaction numbers by “click-farming.” Having a very responsive audience means more advertisers, which means more money. Simple as that.)

But truly, SNL marked the renaissance of comedy in America. Comedy clubs and ensemble comedy teams like Second City grew from humble beginnings into forces to be reckoned with. Stand-up comedians got their own Broadway shows and movies and HBO specials. Improv comedy became a thing. From this flowering of talent and innovation we got Whoopi Goldberg (remember when she was a comedian?) and Ellen Degeneres and Drew Carey, movies like Airplane! and TV shows like “Whose Line Is It Anyway?,” books like Christopher Moore’s Lamb and David Sedaris’s works, cartoons like The Simpsons and King of the Hill and (for those who liked that sort of thing) South Park. Even MAD magazine and The National Lampoon added to the mix. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert and John Oliver and Samantha Bee became late-night staples.

But where, you may ask, is local humor, from people that you know personally? Local people, not Hollywood’s cream of the crop?

Just look around. Plenty of bars and comedy clubs have open mike nights that welcome not just singer-songwriters, but comedians as well.

And what about those singer-songwriters? Plenty take after Weird Al and make comedy music. Oddly, one place to find them is at science fiction and fantasy conventions. There they practice a style of music called “filk” (yes, it was once a typo, but now it’s not). Although many of the songs are about space travel and such, plenty of songs are humorous, such as Michael Longcor’s “Kitchen Junk Drawer” and Tom Smith’s “Talk Like a Pirate Day” (the official song of a yearly celebration made famous by humorist Dave Barry).

And written humor? You have only to look at past and present attendees of the Erma Bombeck’s Writers’ Workshop. There’s a book of essays by various participants called Laugh Out Loud (see http://humorwriters.org/2018/03/05/lol-2/). Past attendees have written and published books, including If You Lean In, Will Men Just Look Down Your Blouse? by Gina Barreca, Who Stole My Spandex? by Marcia Kester Doyle, Are You Still Kidding Me? by Stacey Gustafson, and Linda M. Au’s Secret Agent Manny. Their books are available on Amazon, even if they don’t yet have the following that their patron saint Erma had.

Even I have attempted humor at times. (https://wp.me/p4e9wS-Gc, https://wp.me/p4e9wS-5I, https://wp.me/p4e9wS-8W, https://wp.me/p4e9wS-7E, https://wp.me/p4e9wS-yn). I bet you can too, if you give it a try.

My specialty, though, is puns. Once when having breakfast with a friend I almost got thrown out a window. She had complained that her Eggs Benedict was taking an awfully long time.

“They probably had to go out and find a hubcap to serve it on,” I said.

“I know I’m going to hate myself for asking,” she said, “but why?”

“Because there’s no plate like chrome for the hollandaise.”

Okay, I didn’t make that one up, but I knew the perfect setup for it when I heard it. They say that in comedy, timing is everything.

Even if she had thrown me out the window, it would have been worth it.