Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Charlie Brown Controversy

Russell Wiseman, the inappropriately named mayor of the Memphis suburb of Arlington, Tennessee, is the only person I know of who can take a wonderful thing like Christmas and turn it into a problem.

ABC, which has aired classic "Peanuts" holiday television specials since 2002, had planned to air "A Charlie Brown Christmas," the first and still the most loved of all the "Peanuts" specials, on December 1 at 8 PM Eastern Time this year. But President Obama announced a speech on Afghanistan to be broadcast to the nation at the same time, and ABC was obliged to carry it. Wiseman got so upset that he blasted Obama for forcing the pre-emption of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" with his speech and accused him of being a Muslim. Only an Islamic president, Wiseman reasoned, would give a speech on a political issue (involving a Muslim country!) and cause ABC to pre-empt a Christmas special in which Linus Van Pelt recites Gospels text about an angel announcing the birth of a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

Good grief.

Obama, probably being too busy to watch TV or even check the schedule, probably didn't know "A Charlie Brown Christmas" was on because he was busy with . . . the war in Afghanistan! Specifically, he was busy with preparing to explain the surge in the war, and pre-empting TV shows was the furthest thing from his mind. Besides, "A Charlie Brown Christmas" was aired this past week, and ABC will air it again before Christmas Day. Wiseman's outlandish questioning of Obama's Christian faith over an animated cartoon was so embarrassing to Arlington, Tennessee, even the town apologized for their mayor. Obama is only waging a war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda, not Christmas.

If anyone is waging a war against Christmas, it's the powers of commercialism. According to Dallas TV critic Ed Bark, WFAA-TV ABC's Dallas affiliate pre-empted this week's showing of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" - in which Charlie Brown bemoans the commercialization of the holiday - and the new Christmas special "Prep and Landing" with a prime-time Christmas special version of its morning talk show, "Good Morning Texas." The show is regarded by many as an abomination even by local television standards, stringing product placements and promotional segments in the form of a morning talk show. Bringing such thinly disguised infomercial programming to prime time in place of ABC's nationwide schedule was nothing short of crass. The show's hosts apologized for this, pointing out that both ABC specials will be re-aired later, but this hardly excuses the airing of such a special in the first place. You can read more about it here.

ABC is hardly innocent in the commercialization of Christmas, though, and not because the Disney-made "Prep and Landing" was specifically made for the Disney-owned ABC. The original December 1 air date for "A Charlie Brown Christmas" this year was far too early. Rebroadcasts had already been planned, suggesting deliberate overkill. And to make matters worse, ABC cut scenes out of the special. Various scenes - Sally dictating a letter to her brother, Lucy goading Schroeder to play "Jingle Bells" properly - were conspicuously absent from ABC's December 8 airing. ABC apparently wanted to show more . . . commercials.

We all know Christmas is a big commercial racket. It's run by a big Hollywood (not Eastern) syndicate, you know. Sadly, despite Charlie Brown's sentiments, this Christmas is not a Christmas that will be free of commercialism . . . or real blockheads like Russell Wiseman.

"A Charlie Brown Christmas" is too good to be seen in butchered form. If you want to see the show without cuts or commercials, go to YouTube. Why didn't Russell Wiseman think of that?

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