Communication Currents

Assorted Nuts in Peanuts

October 1, 2009
Visual Communication

Charles Schulz's comic strip, Peanuts, officially debuted on October 2, 1950. The conversations among characters in the comic strip illustrate how the cartoon was well ahead of its time in regards to racial, gender, and sexual diversity.

It was sunny day on the beach on July 31, 1968, when Peanuts' main character Charlie Brown met Franklin, the comic strip's first African American character. Sally, Charlie Brown's little sister, threw a ball into the water, and Franklin, who was out swimming, retrieved it and returned it to Charlie Brown. They became fast friends and just like that the Peanuts gang had their first black friend. While Franklin wasn't as popular as some of the other characters in the strip, just his presence in the comic was remarkable nonetheless.

Despite the racial hostility of the ‘60s, Schulz made it a point not to make a political statement with the character. In fact, Franklin was treated as any other character by openly interacting with the other characters and attending school with the white characters in the comic. His race was never discussed or made an issue in the strip. Schulz's matter of fact treatment of the character was in itself a political statement as Schulz's treatment of Franklin illustrated that there should be no difference based on race.

One of the Peanuts' gang favorite pastimes was playing baseball. The Peanuts team included both male and female players, which was a at least decade before women were allowed to participate in professional sports. In fact, not only were some of the female characters such as Lucy, Violet, and Marcie regular players, but Peppermint Patty was the team's manager. Such gender equality had not been seen in other comic strips at the time. Thus, Schulz uses the Peanuts' baseball team to make yet another political statement–again focusing on commonality, not difference. However, in the animated special Charlie Brown's All-Stars, Schulz's views on gender equality are made quite clear when Charlie Brown refuses a sponsorship offer because the sponsor would not allow girls or dogs on his team.

Based on her character being a confirmed tomboy as well as her clothing and mannerisms, Peppermint Patty is a character that has sparked quite a bit of speculation regarding her sexual identity. Peppermint Patty always wears a green flannel shirt and Birkenstocks. In the television specials, she speaks with a deep, gravelly voice and is often quite abrasive. Last but not least, her best friend Marcie always refers to her as, “Sir.”These are all unquestionably stereotypes, but these characteristics have caused both readers and critics' gaydars to go off. However, there are many others who refute that Peppermint Patty's sexuality is anything but heterosexual. They counter her possible lesbianism with the fact she constantly fawns over Charlie Brown in many of the comic strips that feature her. Some even question if her sexuality should even come into question since she is a cartoon character and not human. Intentional or not, Schulz uses this character in an unassuming way to society insight that we can still use today on how to treat others who might be different than ourselves.

Peanuts is considered by many as the most popular and influential longest running comic strip in history. Although the strip ended on February 13, 2000, the Peanuts gang continues to be a media phenomenon that even children today recognize the characters thanks their appearances in malls, annual television holiday specials, DVDs, and theatrical performances. Hopefully, one of the greatest legacies left by Schulz and his creation of these characters is his subtle yet poignant message about how racial, gender, and sexual diversity should be accepted and embraced

About the author (s)

Victor Evans

Thiel College

Assistant Professor