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Sisyphus vs. Charlie Brown: For millenia, Western civilization has used the myth of Sisyphus as its futility myth. But within the past fifty years a new myth has entered our psyche which I think does a better job in many respects: the myth of Charlie Brown trying to kick Lucy's football.

It may seem silly, and the myth of Sisyphus does have the gravitas, but only because of its great age. The myth has a big buildup about Sisyphus snubbing gods no one cares about anymore and inhabiting an underworld that's long been replaced in our namespace by the Christian hell, then leaving the underworld and being dragged back and blah and blah. All of it is to provide a flimsy justification why Sisyphus should have to push his rock all the time. What's missing is any real motive. Why should he push his rock all the time? He just has to. It must be stipulated.

On the other hand it's not hard to understand why Charlie Brown should, eventually against his own better judgement, try over and over again to kick Lucy's football. Kicking footballs is the kind of thing humans want to do. When the sport of football is forgotten everything will still be explained in the dialogue: "I'll hold the football, and you kick it". Charlie Brown's own desire, vanity, and hope compel him to go after the football time and time again. There is no need for the gods to curse him because he has cursed himself.

Camus would say (and did):

If this myth is tragic, that is because its hero is conscious. Where would his torture be, indeed, if at every step the hope of succeeding upheld him?

The lack of hope is only a prerequisite for Sisyphus' compelled labor. Hope is what tempts Charlie Brown to choose his fate for another year. His "torture", as it were, is delayed until the moment Lucy betrays him, when it is repaid with interest. Camus' Sisyphus has his reprieve while the rock rolls back down his hill, but during Charlie Brown's reprieve, the brief lifetime of his hope, he is building up the momentum that will inevitably be turned against him. I think that's more tragic.

Anyway, according to that history site, starting in 1986 Charlie Brown had actually given up his hope, and those strips are less compelling. The same thing that makes them less compelling also makes them more like the Sisyphean myth. Q.E.D.


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