Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Or Is It Just A Case Of Peanuts Envy?

PARIS: “Snoopy: A Fortieth Anniversary Celebration” (at the Musee des Arts Decoratifs, until April 15) is not an art exhibition. It’s a goddamn supermarket—of every ragtag Charles Schultz-derived doll or doodad made everywhere in the so-called civilized world—from which, Forbes says, the Santa Rose cartoonist entrepreneur derived $60 million smackeroos in 1988-89, making him the highest-paid entertainer in the world.
Now, Mr. Schultz is no Leonardo. I forced myself in the week after viewing the show to “read” (if that’s what you do when your mind chews gum) his strip in the International Herald Tribune. He’s no Walt Kelly, either. Not even a Garry Trudeau. He’s a Disney dupe who has learned, with a modicum of drawing skill and a fey schlemiel single idea, to cash in on the Western World’s ennui at trying to become really civilized.
I hear you saying, “What’s the big deal, Hazard?” Leave the fucking comic strips to those dunces who need them—and more important, take your high horse off my living room rug, turd-dropper.” And you’d be partly right. Except that Jack Lang, Mitterand’s Malraux, just dropped that hot, smoking horse bun, the Order of Arts and Letters, on the grinning simp of Sonoma County. The France of Montaigne, Voltaire and Sartre.
When Lang isn’t making ludicrously simplistic overgeneralizations about the dangers of American cultural imperialism, he’s dropping ribbons over the necks of our dumbest and dullest.
Besides Schultz this year, he has so honored Jerry Lewis, the world’s greatest fund-raiser for MS (it reminded me of George Gobel’s dyspeptic snarl that they had run out of all the good diseases by the time Lewis became a comedian) and Bob Dylan, that set of adenoids with a social conscience.
When I bitched to a PR person about Lang’s loose canoneering in the awards department, she huffily replied that he used to teach law at a major university. Her second line of defense was that it was better to have a clever than a dull person running the Cultural Ministry. I begin to wonder.
I tell you why I deplore the diminution of standards that Lang encourages. There was another exhibition running at MAD, the first appearance outside his native Brazil of Zanine (the nom de chisel of Jose Zanine Caldos), the 70-year-old maquette maker for Brasilia.
Z has just exiled himself from Brazil, the better to use European leverage to save the woods he uses so brilliantly. It’s a sad part of the story that the Brazilian media completely boycotted the show. His contempt for their social scientists—who wangle humongous grants for “solving” the favella problem while they studiously overlook the prototype houses he has devised out of recyclable waste products—is fierce in its intensity.
So the media fall all over themselves to snoop on Snoopy and don’t do diddly to bring Z’s life or death message to their readers and viewers. That’s why I hate chewing gum culture. It displaces proper intellectual and imaginative nutrition. Jaws chomp while Rome burns.
Zanine is a major force for our times. Schultz is an amiable fellow who likes to ice skate. Well, he’s really not a nice fellow—he’s monomaniacally greedy.
When I was the media freak at Santa Rosa Junior College in 1975. I thought it would motivate the Sonomans in my media course if I staged a Charles Schultz Festival to kick off proceedings. Santa Rosa has a rich library of off-air recordings to give timeliness to its curriculum. In all innocence, I phoned Mr. Snoopy to invite him to the opening. He didn’t even reject the invitation. He snarled, “Where did you get the tapes?” I explained the practice of taping off-air to illustrate points in media courses. For which I got an impromptu lecture on piracy.
Come on, Charlie Brown. You can be a better man than that. Later investigation established that when he was a young free-lancer in St. Paul, a syndicate screwed him badly, leaving him with no residuals. But that was almost 50 years ago, for Patty’s sake. Funny that a man who delivers a message of “Easy does it” is so tight.
Here’s a bit from my own bio. When Beaver College, where I was teaching, staged a Charlie Brown opus in 1973, I fell madly in love with the beguiling gamin playing Patty. When I read in December 1975 that the world premiere of Schultz’s second musical might become the solution to my long-stalled May / December romance.
I got on the phone to Philly, talked Patty onto TWA, met her at SFO after giving my media course at SRJC. She was radiant in the black cashmere sweater and Sonoma patchwork quilt wrap-around skirt I had sent her for Christmas.
We attended the world premiere, after-partied at the Barbary Coast with the actors and Schultz and his family—as I taped him for my KALW-FM radio series, Museroom West. Boy, was I floating in space. I decided it was time for the coup de grace. What woman in her wrong mind could resist Hazard at the Top of the Mark? Patty, that’s who.
With the Golden Gate Bridge flirting with the fog to the West and Berkeley’s lights shimmering off to the East, Patty’s attitude changed with the altitude. The higher we got, the lower she felt. “I want to go home,” she reasoned. “Now,” she added imperiously. United was on strike at the time, and TWA was easier to get on coming to SFO than going. But I sweet-talked her onto the TWA 8 a.m. plane back to Philly.
I had gone to the Unitarian Church the Sunday before to hear John Beecher tell the sad but exhilarating tale of how “some used car dealer from Sacramento” had pushed a loyalty oath through the California legislature in 1950 which John and a few other noble souls told him to stuff. The Supreme Court had just judged the oath unconstitutional and ruled that Beecher and his peers had to be reinstated at San Francisco State.
His wry exordium in a religious “service” that was dominated by a William Blake-based chorale? “Believe in the Constitution, but get another job.”
You can get his Collected Poems (Macmillan, 1982). It may be the best 20 bucks you ever spent on a poet. (See what you missed, Patty? Faint-hearted May fly. You’ll wait a whole life for another such December, eh?)

Reprinted from Welcomat: After Dark, Hazard-at-Large, April 4, 1990

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