Calvin and Hobbes

13 01 2006

“Some people are pragmatists, taking things as they come and making the best of the choices available. Some people are idealists, standing for principle and refusing to compromise. And some people just act on any whim that enters their heads. I pragmatically turn my whims into principles.”

Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes is perhaps the single greatest heretofore unrecognized influence on me. Like a J.D. Salinger for the misunderstood child, Calvin oftentimes seemed to speak to me personally. Calvin’s unique blend of cynicism (especially of the adult world) and idealism catered to my world-view. In fact, it still does. The oft-quoted line from the strip is “Reality continues to ruin my life”; his philosophy’s only drawback is that it can’t handle the adult world. But is it really impossible?

God, I hope not. Maybe I don’t have a literal Hobbes, but there are many aspects of my life that I live just because I’d like them to be that way. “Whether or not Hobbes is real or not doesn’t matter. What matters is that Hobbes is real to Calvin” – Watterson. When I read Calvin’s interactions with Hobbes, I see a child with the imagination, vision, and idealism to live in the world he’d like to live in; in Calvin’s case, this is a world with a genuine friend.

“I’m yet another resource-consuming kid in an overpopulated planet, raised to an alarming extent by Hollywood and Madison Avenue, poised with my cynical and alienated peers to take over the world when you’re old and weak.” Calvin, trying to scare a neighbor while trick-or-treating.

It was Calvin’s relentless cynicism that made his strip a banned book in my household. With oblivious parents, lonely school life, and overlapping references of “building character”, I felt I connected to Calvin and Hobbes as close friends. I guess we had a few things that kept us distinct from one another: Calvin was wittier, I did better in school, Calvin had a perfect imaginary friend, I had very imperfect real ones, he wore the same clothes each day, and I did not. I learned from Calvin (maybe too much), and from him I began to do what all kids do at some point or another: question authority. I questioned authority; this doesn’t mean I raised a Calvin-sized uproar. I just mused on it. Either way, I ended up being told to stop reading my anthologies on several occasions.

“I think we dream so we don’t have to be apart so long. If we’re in each others dreams, we can play together all night”

Maybe it shouldn’t surprise me that a strip entitled Calvin and Hobbes would relate so much with philosophy. Calvin had style, he had grace. His thoughts on the absurdity of art (often portrayed by his beloved and painfully contorted snowmen), his understanding of the power of media (I still remember Calvin informing his dad that, among the household, his poll ratings were falling), and his word play (“As a math atheist, I should be excused from this”) thrilled me.

“Nothing spoils fun like finding out it builds character”

I could write pages upon pages of the adventures I shared, the laughs I had, and the number of times I re-read “The Essential”, “Authoritative”, “Tenth Anniversary”, and other collections at the dinner table. I derive a lot of my personality from Calvin, and at this point I’m pretty sure it’s safe to say it hasn’t hurt me yet. There’s a lot more to Bill Watterson’s strip than meets the eye; as a kid I sometimes missed things and reread them and had “aha!” moments. Calvin’s unmentioned attraction for Susie Derkins and the experimentation with avant garde art, even the entire Hobbes-may-not-be-real story element flew over my head. Even so, the insight stuck. My greatest lesson? Learning about true companionship.

My favorite quote from Calvin and Hobbes:
“The world isn’t fair, Calvin.”
“I know Dad, but why isn’t it ever unfair in my favor?”

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