Pizza for the Birds: the Story of Quarantoons

I came across a Peanuts cartoon recently. It’s Snoopy, and he’s sharing pizza with Woodstock and a handful of other Woodstocks. Four birds, one dog, a few slices of pizza and a few cups of … something. The caption reads: “Sometimes friends are family, too.”

December 2020: Pizza for the Birds: the Story of Quarantoons

  • “We Begged 2 Explode” — Jeff Rosenstock
  • “Friends Will be Friends” — Queen
  • “No Regrets” — Aesop Rock
  • “Ruby Blue” — Róisín Murphy
  • “Q.U.E.E.N.” — Janelle Monáe (w/ Erykah Badu)
  • “The Other Lover” — Little Dragon (w/ Moses Sumney)
  • “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 1” – The Flaming Lips
  • “All Star” — Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox
  • “Thriving” — Diet Cig
  • “Holiday Road” — Matt Pond PA
  • “So Much Love” — Nada Surf
  • “Halleluwah” — CAN
  • “Infinite” — Guru (w/ Blackalicious)
  • “The Chocolate Conquistadors” — BADBADNOTGOOD & MF Doom
  • “What a Wonderful World” — Butterscotch
  • “Cheers Theme” — Gary Portnoy

It feels like the final box in a standard Peanuts strip. But it’s not. This sentiment — well, this specific one, in which a dog feeds pizza to birds — is not canon Peanuts. It’s a one-off created for Hallmark, meant to be framed. Which is not to say that it’s gauche or manufactured — the sentiment is real, and the idea of pizza birds is obviously great — but to say that it’s not a reflection of real-life Peanuts lore.

It was created for the moment. It’s a gift not of the Peanuts world, but a gift of the Peanuts spirit.

I see a lot of this year in these pizza birds. Nothing feels canon this year. It started back in mid-April as our work tools started working overtime, creeping into our free time. To pass the time; to connect. But we found it wasn’t working. We couldn’t solve a global pandemic through Facebook livestreams and Zoom happy hours. We mourned, and we wrung our anxious hands, and another week would begin. Again. Always the same — blurred into the last as we looked behind us, waiting for something to catch up.

It was around this time we realized that we’d have to build something ourselves that resembled the things we depended on. That resembled community. For a group of us — a group of industry friends and conference acquaintances and people we’d only really known on Twitter, some closer than others — this became Quarantoons.

Once a week, usually on Saturday morning, someone curates a two-hour playlist of cartoons. Well, it started as cartoons — it eventually grew roots and sprouted new tendrils: themed weeks, film sessions, spin-off birthday parties located completely within a spreadsheet. Without fail, we throw on a Zoom call and watch a shared stream.

We don’t turn on video. We mute our sound. We just chat in Slack, sharing the experience as if we were all transported into a private ICQ room. Together, for that time, to laugh and one-up each other, to carry callbacks through to the next video. And the next.

There is something very “At Home section of The New York Times” about all of it; our tips and tricks on surviving these unprecedented times, our multi-channel solutions to international timezones. It felt necessary, and then it felt cute, and now it feels … great. If anything, Quarantoons is a hostile takeover of our work tools — our Google docs and video backgrounds undermined in the name of an illegal upload of “Porcupine Racetrack.”

More than this, there’s power in sharing. We developed a safe and free place to share — to curate and introduce, where we eagerly try to create something that will make people laugh, or think, or, like, learn a little more about government processes. Being earnest in what we like, and being earnest and supportive in what other people like. Sharing common histories and memories — in awe of those who had Crossfire; flushed over finding someone else who remembers The Letter People.

YouTube playlists, Zoom, Slack; these are tools. They are worthless without people. Good people. People you’d waste a morning with. People who understand when you can’t make it on Saturday, and instead continue to welcome your unfocused links during the week. You might think you’re letting them down — you might even apologize for missing someone’s setlist. It’s all okay. You apologize because you care. And there’s no guilt, because, really, Quarantoons isn’t about the playlists.

Honestly, it maybe never was. Instead, it’s a collective — friends who might have been friends elsewhere, brought together. Over the past nine months — 41 weekly playlists! — we gathered through a stream of communal reactions: shock at what once passed as appropriate; joy at a long lost favorite; surprise; happiness; even tears as we interrupted a Saturday playlist to celebrate as the 2020 Presidential election was finally called. We reimagined the canon — no longer out of desperation, but out of a deep-rooted need to continue being together, in the comfort of our own collected nostalgia. The pandemic is about disease, sure. But it’s also about the friends we made along the way.

That’s really silly, to be honest. What other way would we end a post like this — a year like this? — with the future still up in the air, understanding that 2021 isn’t a magic balm that will fix everything. We still have work to do, which means we still need each other — whether that’s together in celebration of a Muppets universe Christmas program, or…

No, that doesn’t really mean anything. And, really, it would be silly to end any other way. So happy new year. Feed some pizza to the birds. We hope you enjoy this music, from our playlist family to yours.

This was lovingly handwritten on December 31st, 2020