Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Calvin is less fun these days

No no, not the Calvin the Reformer. He's still barrels o' fun. I mean Calvin the Destroyer.

Like everyone else, I loved Calvin and Hobbes in its heyday. How could you not? The strips were very well-drawn and imaginative, the characters were vivid. I especially liked Hobbes, the tiger. How do you make a toy tiger so expressive?

But I guess I've changed, I guess maybe another 15 years of parenting have changed my perspective. Not that my kids are Calvins; I just think being a parent changes your perspective more than merely thinking or reading about being a parent can ever do, even if you have perfect kids. Which, of course, you all do.

Whatever the reason, it's just not being as fun for me to read the strip. Bill Watterson stopped producing fresh strips in 1995 — it's been that long? — but they're still circulating. I've set up a comics page via iGoogle, and see a classic Calvin and Hobbes strip daily.

I still love Waterson's art, and still like the tiger... but Calvin just isn't fun for me. Maybe I'll simply delete the strip.

Why? Oh, you've probably already guessed it

If you take it any kind of seriously, that is just one miserable house, and one miserable family. Calvin is at constant war with both of his parents, everyone at school, his teacher. He hates everything his mother cooks, and insults her over every meal. He won't do anything that isn't his own idea without griping — bathe, get dressed, go to bed, stay in bed, go to school, play. He disrespects both his father and his mother, constantly reports to his dad that he's failing as a father, accuses his mother of trying to poison him.

They can't even take Calvin picture for a Christmas note. Bathe him, dress him, comb his hair - and he makes faces to ruin the shot. He's a happiness-thief. He robs mom and dad of the joy parents should have, and spoils their ability to enjoy each other.

And the parents (do we ever know their names?) aren't much better. They are clearly embattled. They can't enjoy their son, each other, life. They have to approach everything strategically, as if in a war — because they are! They're grim, they're sarcastic, they are worn-out, they are (at best) dutiful, but they are joyless.

Calvin should be making them happy. That's his God-given job.
The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice;
he who fathers a wise son will be glad in him.
Let your father and mother be glad;
let her who bore you rejoice (Proverbs 23:24-25)
Of course, Calvin is not to disrespect his parents...
There are those who curse their fathers
and do not bless their mothers (Proverbs 30:11)
...but he is positively to  honor the both of them: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you" (Exodus 20:12; cf. Ephesians 6:1-3). You know there are a host of similar Scriptures, and Calvin is most lustily failing in the role for which God created him.

The parents? Well, I say again, it is just a comic-strip.

But I don't recall their ever pointing Calvin to Christ, to say the least, nor walking with Him themselves. So they may have had nothing to give — and that is a massive fail, as people created in God's image and as parents.

An aside: you've probably seen the bumper-stickers of Calvin worshiping Christ.  I won't reproduce or link to one, because they are all counterfeit; none of them is authorized by Waterson. Isn't that ironic? People selling something dishonest, putatively to honor Christ? But I digress.

Calvin most needed mom and dad to love God with all their beings (Deuteronomy 6:5) and, out of that overflow, to teach him the words and heart and mind of God (6:6ff.). They failed

Calvin needed them to teach him, and to love him enough to discipline him and teach him his God-given need of the Gospel, and his need to respect God's lordship and their delegated authority (Proverbs 1:8ff.; 13:24; 29:15; Ephesians 6:4). They didn't.

Now, even had the fictitious lad been the model child, there's no guarantee that Calvin's "mom and dad" would have been model parents; and even had they done everything right, there is no guarantee Calvin would have snapped into line.

But, HSAT, reading the strip is like having to watch a horribly dysfunctional family being dysfunctional every day, and it's losing the fun-factor for me.

So I'll probably delete it.

Anyone else feel the same? Am I the last to the party, or just a sourpuss?


RT said...

The possibly sad reality is that disfunctionality is funny whereas normality is boring. I could quote Nietzsche but in deference to your predjudices, will not.

DJP said...

By "predjudices" you mean "settled, informed conviction born of experience." Yes, thank you.


CGrim said...

I definitely know what you're talking about. The strips where Calvin was enraging his parents, ambushing neighborhood girls, and defying teachers were kinda lame. However, the ones with aliens, dinosaurs, and snowy-day philosophical ruminations I usually tended to enjoy.

But I haven't read C&H in a long time.

Brad Williams said...

1995? I can't get past the fact that they were last made in 1995.

Maybe that's why he quit. Maybe Waterson got sick of him being a brat as well.

Rhology said...

It's "dysfunctional", BTW.

Most of the strips are still funny to me, but I see your point.

DJP said...

I knew that.

Stupid fingers.

RT said...

Actually I had in mind "knee-jerk, partially distilled, blindly recieved assumptions," but what do I know? As the great man said, "everything is subject to interpretation, and the interpretation that prevails at a given time is a function of power rather than truth." Sorry - that just slipped out . . .

Unknown said...

I think my first thought upon encountering Calvin & Hobbes recently after a long hiatus was simply, "this strip is a perfect illustration of what a Christ-less existence looks like."

So, ditto.

HSAT - I think the snowman strips are some of the funniest things ever put to pen and ink. ;-)

Colloquist said...

I own quite a few C&H collections books from way back when. They'd been hiding on a bottom shelf for many years when, in a cleaning frenzy, I found them and pulled them out. I'm still amused by his snowmen, but I also think that, were Calvin MY kid, I'd have choked him by about the middle of the second book. What's that say about the sanctification of my parenting skills???

Herding Grasshoppers said...

I see what you're saying, Dan, and you're right. But... even with three boys (who at times remind me of the cartoon Calvin), I still think it's funny exactly because it's so exaggerated.

Putting the "fun" back in "dysfunctional"...


Cameron Shaffer said...

I think you're a sourpuss. :p

I still enjoy the jokes and the themes that run through the comic strip, regardless if in real life Calvin would need some massive discipline instilled in his life.

But I see where you could stop enjoying the strip. It just hasn't lost its spark for me.

JR said...

Most cartoons are rooted in exaggeration and hyperbole, so that can partly explain the extreme nature of his rebellion. Further, as in most comic strips, Calvin doesn't grow. He is six and a half...forever. Given this fact every strip is rooted in that specific place and time. We don't see his parents training him because training him would communicate that we are supposed to see Calvin actually maturing. He's an ornery, sometimes brilliant, defiant, and articulate 6 year old. Every strip starts over at that point, and we treat it unfairly if we expect Calvin to change.

Could we ask the strip to give us the period five minutes after Calvin pops off? Sure, but then it wouldn't be a comic strip anymore, and it certainly wouldn't be about the antics of smart, lonely boy and his stuffed tiger.

All that being said, I always hoped for a spin off with just Hobbes.

LeeC said...

No you are not alone.

And yes I'm often considered a killjoy.

The thing is I often do find it initially funny. When someone shows me a snippet from The Simpsons or some such or makes a joke I might snort at it or chuckle. In fact I have a decidedly grim sense of humour that I actively strive to repent of just as I would looking at a woman other than my wife.

I laugh, and then I think about it. The pain it represents, the grief, the sin. And no I cannot laugh anymore.

Sure I like to laugh, and I do often. But I would rather laugh about whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy...

It's a cleaner laughter full of light. Sure the wine sparkles in the cup, and tastes good going down, but in my stomach it is like ashes. Bleak, unourishing, not only unproductive, it can be destructive.

I have co-workers who show me things and when I don't laugh they say "Come on yhou KNOW thats funny!" and yes I do find it funny. But just as indulging in anything that is sinful is "fun" that doesn't mean that I should.

And no I'm not saying that if you enjoy Calvin and Hobbes you are sinning. :)

Merely that for me it may very well be. I avoid it BECAUSE I enjoy it. And I think thats natural, but thats the point isn't it?

My word verification is "gravy" everything is better with gravy...

I want to laugh at good things.

VcdeChagn said...

By "predjudices" you mean "settled, informed conviction born of experience." Yes, thank you.

The quotable Dan Phillips.

I find myself in the same boat with stuff that I used to enjoy.

As the father of five boys, there is much in the 5 minute snapshots of comic strips that I see in them.

Then it hits me that I need to shepherd my sons and not be so amused by their sin (a tough prospect at times).

RT said...

Spoken, LeeC, like a good puritan! Personally I find that the grotesque, the deformed, the exaggerated (in myself and others) provokes more laughter than reflection on what is noble, true and pure but we should never forget the admonition of DJP's least favorite philosopher that "we should call every truth false which was not accompanied by at least one laugh." I suppose in that sense I laugh at what is true and take pleasure in the purity of others.

Fred Butler said...

Being a parent now, in some ways I agree with your sentiment. Though I certainly enjoy his various strips on Spaceman Spiff and the dinosaurs and of course his snowman-Santa Claus stuff.

The Tenth Anniversary collection book had a lengthy essay by Watterson. He outlined a lot of his philosophy, if we can call it that, as to his approach to this comic. If I am recalling right, he pulled a lot of his material from his memories as a kid and sort of what he "thought" at the moment.

It is a bit of shame Watterson is something of a J.D. Salinger like reclusive weirdo.

I did admire his tenacity to take on the stale, traditional comic strip format in order to produce material worth reading and enjoying for its artistic value. The way the newspaper syndicate fought him on this shows the petty small mindedness of corporations. It's one of the reasons newsprint is failing.

Aaron said...

Part of the problem is that you are reading it everyday. Sometimes I find it amusing when my kid throws a tempertantrum while writhing on the floor (she still gets punished, of course). But if she did it everyday, it wouldn't be so funny.

The same is true when you see somebody else's kid throwing a tantrum. It's a little amusing because you can relate, but if I had to experience it everyday it would get old.

The last thing is that in some of the C&H comics, Calvin comes across as malevolent, quite beyond normal six year old boy mischieviousness. When you are a parent you don't like to see that in any kid.

Rachael Starke said...

My perspective on C&H changes depending on the general state of the Starke home when I'm reading it.

When peace reigns, I think it's funny. When the combination of non-stop birthday craziness, bad weather and subsequent bad behavior reign, (like the last few weeks), we are not as amused.

I'd not thought about that section from Proverbs 23 though. I might print that and post it prominently in the dining room. Mealtimes have been warzones of late...thanks!

threegirldad said...

You may be late to that party; I never even made it inside the door. Never thought it was the least bit funny -- not that that makes me any sort of noble.

Far Side was my obsession back in them thar days...

threegirldad said...

That was brilliant, now, wasn't it? I got the illustration exactly backwards. I guess I was the first one to the party, or something.

Back to sleep...

DJP said...

Still enjoying Bloom County, though. Also a very good artist.

VcdeChagn said...

Still enjoying Bloom County, though. Also a very good artist.

Ooh...liberal hunting!

Socialized Medicine!

One of my all time favorites.

I even enjoy some of the Doonesbury stuff (some)....which will probably get me kicked out of the comments section ;)

DJP said...

Doonesbury. Tsk.

Lynda O said...

I used to read C&H (1990s), and have several of the collections books. Every once in a while I'll get out those old books again, but not very often... but yes, I see your point about its portrayal of a dysfunctional family. (And that's the reason I never really got into the Simpsons when it first started, because the Christian talk radio I then listened to was always harping about it for the same reasons you mentioned... but they never spoke out against C&H and I just didn't think about it as more than a fun comic strip.) I especially enjoyed the Spaceman Spiff and imagination / philosophy series, and just saw the rest as exaggerated comic strip fun. But then I'm not a parent, either.

Rachael Starke said...

The first moment I thought my husband was The One was when I learned he loved Bloom County too and we started quoting lines to eachother.

candy said...

I don't read Calvin and Hobbes that often, but I still like the comic strip. I observe daily the natural inclination of boys, and Waterson nailed those inclinations in his strip. I see the imagination of Calvin...and Waterson brilliantly nailed it. I see the boys in my classroom, all children of Christian parents, and their natural inclinations as boys, and Waterson nails it every time. I am the teacher in the strip trying to bring them into a place of learning, sighing as I labor against their tendency to burp, box, imagine, and daydream their way through life. BTW...I am a very strict teacher, but I do have a sense of humor with them also.

CR said...


Pfff...have you ever even read C&H comic strip or know what it even looks like.