A group blog for Introduction to Media Criticism at NYU, Fall 2009.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Franklin in Peanuts
The Peanuts cartoon franchise started in the early 1950s and is one of the most famous and influential cartoon series of all time. Because Peanuts was featured primarily in comic strips in the Sunday newspaper and later in films and television specials, its target audience is family friendly, with both children and adults taking part. In 1968(according to Wikipedia), which was also in the heat of the civil rights movement, a new character, Franklin, was introduced into the Sunday comic strip. Because he was African American, Franklin made history and quickly became one of the most famous African American cartoon characters of all time.
Franklin represents many complex themes and ideas, both positive and negative. Primarily, his presence represents the acceptance of diversity. Franklin appears to be normal, and is easily accepted by his peers. His actions and personality appear to be remarkably average. Franklin's ability to blend in sends a message to the readers that being a minority is no big issue because everyone is truly equal. Franklin is normal, therefore all African Americans must be too.
However, Franklin also appears to represent an underlying notion of segregation. Charles Schultz seems to include certain subtleties in order to keep Franklin from fully integrating with the other characters. For example, in this screen shot, taken from A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (1973), Franklin is sitting across the table from the other characters all by himself.
Perhaps decisions like these represent political pressure on Schultz in order to diminish Franklin's role. Or maybe they stemmed from the creator himself, who believed that minorities could never be fully immersed into American society. Whatever the case, minor details like these, although not entirely noticeable, tend to become unconsciously consumed by the audience and affect their thoughts and behavior.
Overall, the character Franklin featured in the Peanuts series represents a seamless inclusion of minorities into a largely Caucasian society, however other characteristics appear to undermine this concept by promoting a separate-but-equal mentality.