There’s a good article in today’s Los Angeles Times about the most commercial non-commercial holiday special, “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” which airs tonight on ABC. (Full disclosure: Keep watching ABC for a few more hours, and you’ll be able to see me on “World News This Morning” at 4:40 a.m. talking about people who are reinventing Hollywood, featured in Fast Company’s December issue.)
But back to the article: In railing against the commercialism of the holiday, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” resonated with its viewers, and has become a fixture since its first airing in 1965. (The underlying message of the show is even more poignant these days, considering that you can find Christmas advertising before Halloween.) But ironically, in becoming such an icon, the special now draws $200,000 for a 30-second ad spot, and “Peanuts” licensing has become the juggernaut of the comic strip world. This is the sort of thing that Bill Waterson, the creator of “Calvin and Hobbes” loathed, and I can see his point. When Snoopy appears on the side of blimps, you begin to wonder if the brand, and its underlying artistic merit, loses some of its credibility and value, especially since there will never be any new Peanuts comics to keep things fresh.
But maybe that’s the key to “A Charlie Brown Christmas”: Made in a time before rampant commercialism even though Coca-Cola sponsored it–imagine if they had hit upon product placement then–it has a timeless quality to it that, in its own quiet way, transcends and subverts all the noisy advertising crowded around it. Which may be the greatest lesson of all.
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