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December 11, 2013 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

Wednesday, December 11, 2013 --- 5A

The Michigan Daily - michigandailycom Wednesday, December 11, 2013 - 5A

We Support Detroit
Schools mobilizes youth

DailyArts Writer

tion teacher with Teach for
America. Having spent. most
of his young life in Huntington

Performance issues. ABC
Merry Christmas,
Charlie Brown

It's a seasonal classic
for a whole lot
of reasons
Daily Arts Writer
Charlie Brown is a prepubes-
cent with a premature balding
complex. He suffers from pan-
phobia - the fear of everything -
despite havingbarely reached the
age of reason. His doghouse pessi-
mism eclipses every iotaof charm,
he perpetually mismatches the
same pair of pants and shoes and
he incubates an enormous, if not
offensive, disapproval of the holi-
day season. But Charlie Brown,
above all else, is an icon, a hero, an
underdog's underdog.
In 1965, executives from
Coca-Cola pitched an idea for
a Christmas special to CBS.
They demanded that Charles
M. Schulz's already classic Pea-
nuts cartoon be brought to life.
CBS turned to Lee Mendelson
("San Francisco Pageant") - who
would become the executive pro-
ducer of the show - and placed
the idea and the sponsorship in
his capable hands. Having been
given a pocket-sized budget and
only a few months to complete
the project, Mendelson drafted
animator-director Bill Melendez
("Here Comes Garfield") to begin
brainstorming the concept.
On Dec. 9, 1965, the half-hour
Christmas special that featured
Schulz's beloved characters aired
on CBS. As expected, the anima-
tion was choppy, the sound mixing
was far from quality and the dia-
logue was poorly enunciated. Pro-
duction had been rushed, as only
a handful of the studio employ-
ees managed the entire spot. The
executives weren't even confident
that Melendez and his team were
finished with the show. But 50
percent of all television sets in the
United States played the broadcast
that evening. Critics raved about
it. Commercial viewers fell in love
with it. Charlie Brown and com-
pany even made it to the cover of
TIME magazine later that year.
Every year since 1965, "A Char-
lie Brown Christmas" has aired
at least once - most of the time
twice - on either CBS or ABC dur-
ing the Christmas season. It won
an Emmy in 1966 for Outstanding
Children's Program and was sub-
sequently nominated, even in later
decades, for a Grammy (1978) and
a Satellite Award (2009). Popular
demand has called for the cre-
ation of Charlie Brown specials for
nearly every holiday: New Year's,
Easter, Fourth of July, Halloween
and Thanksgiving. Several spinoff
shows have since been made to
supplement the ever-increasing
international desire for the char-
"A Charlie Brown Christmas"
truly is a staple of the modern
Christmas holiday. Its endurance
is proven simply by the unfailing
demand for it to be aired, and by
the fact that major television net-
works have responded - and con-
tinue to respond - favorably to the
demand for nearly half a century.

And as indicated by ABC's recent
renewal of the Peanuts contract
through 2020, there are no signs of
this phenomenon stopping.
But what is it about the show
that has garnered such a fervent

love from its viewers? How could
a single half-hour program tran-
scend cultural delineation, pass so
easily from one generation to the
next and not taint its own legend?
Let's start with the production.
Mendelson and Melendez knew
from the show's inception that
children should and would domi-
nate the story. That's why when
the time came for them to employ
voice actors and fill the roles, they
looked no further than their pro-
spective audience. Every charac-
ter, from Charlie Brown to Linus to
Lucy, is voiced by a child. Some of
the voice actors, like Kathy Stein-
berg ("It's the Great Pumpkin,
Charlie Brown"), who played Sally,
were even too young to read and
had to be helped deliver half a line
at a time. True to their goal, Men-
delson and Melendez engineered
a children's cartoon comprised
entirely of children: Through the
show's 25-minute animation, not a
single adult makes an appearance.
Mendelson's riskiest move, per-
haps, was to hire jazz composer
Vince Guaraldi ("From All Sides")
for the show's music. Guaraldi,
who had been a long-time admirer
of the cartoon, agreed and pro-
duced the entire soundtrack with-
in a few weeks. The renowned
track "Linus and Lucy" - though
not specifically written as the
show's theme - quickly became
the special's, and the Peanuts fran-
chise's signature score. "Christ-
mas Time is Here" has expanded
from its Peanuts mold and since
become a seasonal classic. But
other tracks like "Skating" and "
Tannenbaum" mark the brilliance
of Guaraldi, who could capture the
insouciance and adolescent joy of
the characters. The soundtrack
remains a best seller and frequents
many greatest Christmas albums
lists (like Rolling Stone maga-
But soundtrack and produc-
tion aside, it is Schulz's charac-
ters that have sustained the love
of their viewers for so long. It's
the endearing love/hate relation-
ship between Charlie Brown and
Lucy - secretly beggingto become
something more ambivalent, but
staying wishy-washy in spite of
it. It's the precocious empathy of
Linus, complemented both by his
wisdom and his attachment to his
little blue blanket, lending a well-
placed maturity of perspective to
the show. It's the man's-best-friend
dynamic casually portrayed by
Snoopy, who has too many tricks
and tonalities of his own to ever
really be a Charlie Brown subordi-
nate. Part ofwhatwe all love about
the show is that all of these charac-
ters, so unique and strange intheir
own ways, can come together to
celebrate the holiday and be com-
pletely happy.
Each of these aspects has con-
And while the show's plot might
not be particularly outstanding, it
entire production in order. Two
subplots develop simultaneously:
Snoopy's house decorating contest
(in which he wins first-place) and
Charlie Brown's struggle to find
the proper Christmas tree.
Early in the show, Charlie
Brown is tasked with finding an
appropriate tree for the school's
play. Ultimately, he is ridiculed by
his friends for his choice, and only

after a collective, heartfelt apology
for their act of callousness, does

his tree finally get spruced up and
fully appreciated.
For many viewers, the scene is
special because the audience real-
izes that Charlie Brown's diligence
was vindicated, and that he actu-
ally made the right choice. All the
children sing together around the
tree, and it's really a proper happy
ending to the program. Perhaps
what's less noticeable is Charlie
Brown's symbolic actof heroism.
Charlie Brown's tree, for him
at least, represents the true ideals
of Christmas: simplicity, tradi-
tion, virtue. Even his friends, who
are too preoccupied with other
things, insult him for adhering
to these values. And even though
they didn't realize it at first, as they
come to apologize and stand next
to Snoopy's first-prize doghouse,
they see that Charlie Brown's tree
holds a truer Christmas meaning.
So they take from Snoopy's beacon
of commercialism and add bit by
bit to the tree. And little old Char-
lie Brown, afraid of everything,
lacking any trace of hair or charm,
saves Christmas. Charlie Brown
the hero.

In Ann Arbor, the loom- Woods, Mich., a suburb shel-
ing giant of Detroit has a small tered from neighbor Detroit,
presence - its skyline can be Siporin wanted to combine his
seen on fliers plastered on passion for teaching and his
posting walls, and its plight is curiosity about Detroit into a
taught in economics classes; its mutually beneficial organiza-
name peppers the course guide; tion: a student-run group that
slogans urge students to "vol- collaborates with high-school,
unteer in Detroit" and to "help students in Detroit on shared
Detroiters." However, for one projects and initiatives with
small group on campus, We Sup- the purpose of building rela-
port Detroit Schools (WSDS), tionships.
the notion of a helpless Detroit This goal seems to have been
doesn't exist. Instead, the group achieved. The high school-
urges reciprocal learning, shed- ers buzzed about, introducing
ding light on the fact that the themselves while professors,
only true experts on Detroit are alumni and university students
Detroiters themselves. filled the room. There was a line
"The students are the of 20 pizzas, pop; cookies and
experts," said WSDS member more - libations selected by
Stephanie Yassine. "We aren't the high-school students who
here to tell them they're wrong planned the event.
or refocus them. It's really
important that they come here
and present their information Ninth-graders
because they are the experts on
this. They live there. They go to take action.
school there. This experience
is empowering for them and
empowering for us."
Five such experts sat at a long One of the attending teach-
table in the School of Social ers, University alum Robyn
Work's Educational Conference Paul, selected the five students
Center on Monday. They are from her ninth-grade class that
ninth-grade students from Cor- aims to use information learned
nerstone Charter Health High in core courses to fix real-
School in Detroit, and WSDS 'world problems. These prob-
brought them to the Univer- lems include the decline of the
-sity to present their research automotive industry, the riots
projects on the causes of vacant of 1967, population decrease,
lots in their city. They named crime rates, as well as govern-
the event "Detroit: Research mental corruption.
through our eyes, reshaped After a short introduction
through our voice." from Paul, the students each
Masters of Social Work stu- stood and presented their issue
dent Bobby Siporin founded and how it contributes to lot
WSDS last year after spend- vacancy in the city. They were
ing time as a special educa- nervous; however, it was clear

that they've done their research
as they spouted out staggering
facts and anecdotes that exceed
expectations of 13- and 14-year-
Five million people lived in
Detroit in 1950. Now, there are
only 700,000. It takes the police
aA average of 58 minutes to
arrive after being called; that is,
if they even show up at all.
"My friend was held at gun-
point," Jazzlyn Seabourn said
while presenting about crime.
"We in the city have gone
through a lot," ninth-grader
Antwan Pettas admits, "But the
city has also given me a lot."
After giving their presen-
tations, the students sat back
down at the long table and
fielded questions from audi-
ence members. They developed
their answers seamlessly, hold-
ing the microphone in their
hands and speaking one at a
"I think it's important to talk
about blight in Detroit so that
we can change it," NaTasha
Peace said.
"As young adults, we see the
city differently. As kids, we
aren't so quick to judge," Ewe-
nique Wilson said. "We should
do more things like this to fix
the city, so that people don't
take the media's word for it and
they aren't afraid of Detroit."
She quoted Dan Rather and The
Detroit News, later mention-
ing that she hopes to become a
Though most University stu-
dents are unaware of We Sup-
port Detroit Schools, the group
approaches a better Detroit
through a process of giving and
receiving, empowering youth
without ever using the phrase,
"We're here to help."


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