Calvin and Hobbes

27 Jan

Popular culture has often been described as shallow and lacking substance. Others have accused pop culture of taking something of substance and reducing its complexity and adding worthless content. However, this is not always true and it can be argued that there are many examples of pop culture that deserve a deeper look and more serious consideration. One comic series that deserves a more comprehensive analysis is named in reference to two great philosophers, John Calvin and Thomas Hobbes. John Calvin and Thomas Hobbes were pioneers in thought and asked profound questions about the nature of society, and the comic series “Calvin and Hobbes,” by Bill Watterson contains allusions to their thoughts. The comic follows Calvin, an imaginative, creative, intelligent, selfish, and insanely rude six year old, and his trusty stuffed tiger Hobbes. In the comic, Calvin and Hobbes have many exchanges and adventures in Calvin’s imagination, and what appears to be a simple comic about a young boy and his stuffed tiger reveals surprising depth and content about values of our culture.

Occasionally, Calvin and Hobbes discuss our society’s interpretation of happiness. In this comic, Calvin and Hobbes converse about if they had a wish, what they would wish for.

The superficial punchline of this comic is that Hobbes gets what he wishes for, and Calvin doesn’t. A closer analysis shows there is a subtle commentary about what our society quantifies to be happiness. Watterson uses Hobbes, who is not constrained or influenced by human society, as a character to make a comment about the how happiness is measured in our culture. Watterson continues this message in another comic.
This comic more boldly remarks about how happiness is taken for granted in our society. “Happiness isn’t good enough for me! I demand euphoria!” is an extension of the attitude that Calvin has from the previous strip. Calvin has a warm place to live, no need to worry about food or danger, and has free education. The three basic needs for survival, food, shelter, and water have been fulfilled so Calvin should be happy, yet he has been influenced by society to always want more. In these comic strips, a deeper analysis shows one value of analyzing pop culture as revealing the interpretation of happiness in our society.

Watterson also uses Calvin and Hobbes to remark on how our society treats other animals and their natural habitats. One example is a comic where Calvin writes a morbid science fiction story about the destruction of the human race by aliens.
Hobbes has a interesting reply, “Not enough, really.” This short reply invokes a question, why isn’t doesn’t he consider the story strange enough? In Hobbes’ view, the plot of the story closely resembles how humans actually destroy animal habitats to make profits, and so the idea of aliens annihilating habitats for their jobs is not a new story. From Hobbes’ viewpoint as a tiger, humans are the aliens and animals are the victims of Calvin’s story. An analysis of this comic reveals how destructive and uncaring our society is when it comes to our jobs against the habitats of animals.

Another value of our society that Watterson writes about is the value of growing up. In one comic, Calvin and Hobbes find a dead bird on the ground. The corpse ignites a very solemn conversation about how life goes by in a flash, and how after something dies the world just continues without them.

Calvin’s last comment and the way the comic ends begs readers to question themselves. How many times when we were children have we been told that things will make more sense when we are older? Are we actually any wiser about topics such as life and death as a result of living longer? This topic of growing up is not just contained inside this comic, but it is an integral part of the entire series. Watterson draws Hobbes as a living, breathing character when only Calvin is in the strip, yet when any adults or other people come in Hobbes turns back into a lifeless stuffed animal. This shows the relationship between Calvin and the world he lives in versus the “grown up” world, and Watterson has been asked about how the portrayal of Hobbes changes in an interview. In the interview, Watterson explained, “When Hobbes is a stuffed toy in one panel and alive in the next, I’m juxtaposing the ‘grown-up’ version of reality with Calvin’s version, and inviting the reader to decide which is truer” (Christie). This technique forces the reader to consider seriously, is Calvin’s philosophical discussions and the conclusions that he reaches with Hobbes worthless because they took place in his imagination? An analysis of Calvin and Hobbes also reveals questions about the importance of growing up.

Because of its medium as a comic strip, Calvin and Hobbes is considered to be pop culture. There are very few, if any, comic strips that our culture considers worthy of deep thought and consideration, yet an analysis of Calvin and Hobbes shows that conversations about very profound questions happen quite frequently. It is no coincidence that the title names of two great philosophers John Calvin and Thomas Hobbes. Calvin and Hobbes embody the same questioning spirit of values of our culture as the two great philosophers, as a serious inspection of the comic series reveals important ideas and outlooks our culture values. Calvin and Hobbes is only one example of many items of pop culture that not only serve as entertainment, but also reveals values of our society.



Christie, Andrew (January 1987). “An Interview With Bill Watterson: The creator of Calvin and Hobbes on cartooning, syndicates, Garfield, Charles Schulz, and editors”. Honk! (magazine) (Fantagraphics Books) (2). Retrieved 2011-12-24.


One Response to “Calvin and Hobbes”

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