The Death of a Poet

The Death of a Poet

The Death of a Poet

What the foreign papers are saying.
Feb. 15 2000 3:30 AM

The Death of a Poet

Rarely has anyone had such a send-off as Charles Schulz, the creator of Peanuts. In one of several large obituaries of him Monday in the British press, the Times said that his cartoon characters "have played as big a part as Coca-Cola or Levi's jeans in making much of the world dream the American dream," the Daily Telegraph said that the strip's "distinctly American culture did nothing to hamper its universal success," and the Guardian that Charlie Brown—"the champion chump, the favorite fall-guy"—was the "typical, real-life American hero." The Independent said the success of Peanuts in the United States was a paradox. "Here, in the most gratuitously positive society in the world, is a popular comic strip devoted to failure, in which nothing ever happens," it said. "No conflict is ever resolved, no personality defect overcome, no love requited. Charlie Brown is the least effective hero in American history, beset by anxieties and insecurity, unable to make his mind up, a loser." The Daily Telegraph also noted that "Schulz was given to anxiety and low spirits, and there was an underlying sadness in his stories, a bitter-sweet quality that clearly fascinated many of his fans."

Advertisement

The greatest tribute to Schulz was paid by La Repubblica of Rome, which splashed his death as its main front-page story. The normally solemn-looking Die Welt of Germany ran a large color picture of Charlie Brown on its front page over the headline "The father of Peanuts is dead." "Snoopy loses his master" was the angle in Le Figaro of Paris, which concluded that "with his light and simple line, his elegant humor, and the poetry which emanates from his characters, he will remain an enchanter of the comic strip." In an inside double-page spread devoted to Schulz, La Repubblica called him "the eternal child who drew dreams" and said it was "tempted to think" that the timing of his death, immediately after the last appearance of Peanuts, wasn't accidental. "We have no proof nor grounds for suspicion, other than the coincidence of the dates, and we prefer to believe that it wasn't him, but the draughtsman of destiny, who rewarded him with the mercy of so perfect and poetic an ending," it said.

La Repubblica also carried an interview with the creator of Beetle Bailey, Mort Walker, whom it described as "the last survivor of a heroic era of American cartoons." Walker said it is impossible to exaggerate the impact of Schulz because "Charlie Brown has influenced an entire phase of our national consciousness." He said Schulz and Charlie Brown were "as alike as two drops of water—in good times and bad, in their honesty, and in their way of facing up to the anxieties of life. Snoopy, on the other hand, represented Schulz's ambition, what he would like to have been and perhaps never was." Walker said Schulz was right to kill off Charlie Brown rather than allow another cartoonist to take over the strip: "If you live in symbiosis with a character, you can't let someone else take him over."

The European boycott of Austria because of Jörg Haider's rise to power came under heavy attack Monday in the conservative British press. Writing in the Daily Telegraph, which is owned by her husband, Conrad Black, Barbara Amiel took up more than two-thirds of the op-ed page with the message: "If he is evil, the time to denounce him is when he tries to do or say something evil." She attacked Israel and the World Zionist Organization for their attitude. Recalling the United Nations' "reprehensible" resolution that "Zionism is racism," she wrote, "Of all people, the WZO and we Jews ought to know how easy it is to make baseless statements against political opponents." Amiel noted the paucity of evidence suggesting Nazi sympathies by Haider and said, "For the moment, he has done and said nothing that would merit this hysterical behavior." She blamed it on the European Union's "efforts to create a supranationalist Europe run by a Left-wing bureaucracy," one in which "any EU country that elects a government not to the EU's liking will see its right to representative democracy challenged." Jews, she said, are "allowing themselves to be used" by the statist forces of "the Brussels New World Order."

The Times of London ran a similar op-ed piece by columnist and former editor William Rees-Mogg. He wrote: "We should return to normal European relations with Austria, unless or until the new Austrian Government takes some step which is anti-democratic, which threatens world peace, or endangers human rights. It is acts, not thoughts, which matter." Recognizing that Haider is a populist who exploits the cult of the leader and the cult of youth, Rees-Mogg said these traits "have also been associated with perfectly democratic leaders, such as President John F. Kennedy or, as Haider observes, Tony Blair. The television age has made the cult of modernism, youth and energy even more important than it was in Nazi propaganda."

Advertisement

The Sunday Telegraph, another Conrad Black newspaper, carried the first interview with Haider by a foreign journalist since his Freedom Party joined the Austrian coalition government. Insisting on his belief in democracy, Haider said, "I think I would have been in prison during the Nazi period, because I am a fighter for freedom and not for dictatorship." His only political hero, he said, was former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, a Social Democrat, because "he was a tough prime minister and had a good stance on international security questions." He said he also preferred the British Labor Party leader, Tony Blair, to the Conservative opposition because "I think that Mr Blair is a nephew of Margaret Thatcher in some way and not a socialist." He added, amazingly, that he didn't like the Conservatives because they were "to a certain extent anti-European." But Haider also sounded a little bit less politically correct when he said that both sides in World War II were fighting for justice and decency and that there were "a lot of bad things" about Winston Churchill, just as there were about Adolf Hitler.