"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Thanksgiving dims some as a holiday

The very mild fall that we've had might make it seem surprising that Thanksgiving is near. Thanksgiving seems less and less a holiday unto itself, rather it seems more like a signal that the Christmas shopping season is on.
Best Buy has already had a Christmas-themed commercial on the air.
Thanksgiving has taken on a rather vague purpose which calls for us to simply be thankful. There's no point in being more specific than that, because this could get risky. Boomers grew up seeing pictures of the "Pilgrims" and Indians. It was part of an innocuous tapestry that also included Betsy Ross sewing the first American flag.
The stories were oversimplifications - I wouldn't call them outright mythology - with kernels of truth. They were fun. They were uplifting.
The Santa Claus story is fun.
Today it would be risky to assume that a child would be charmed by banter about Santa.
The image of "Pilgrims" - men with the black attire and women with long dresses - and Indians (native Americans) getting together for a feast of togetherness is no longer considered harmless.
Aren't we aware that the natives were displaced, abused and literally wiped out in some places as time went on? Let's not pretend that the arrival of Europeans was benevolent (so the argument goes). They spread diseases.
Well yes, all of that is true. Fort Snelling was an institution that harshly oppressed the Native Americans, we are reminded. No doubt. But what exactly is the point? The reality is that history is a messy story of the strong exploiting the weak.
The Pilgrims/Indians imagery was an attempt to bring out the best in us - to instill in young people a desire to get along and be peaceful.
But it was hard to commercialize the holiday of Thanksgiving in its original form. In America today, something that cannot be commercialized might just as well not exist.
No point in putting the name of some stupid politician on a sports stadium when you could put the name of a big company on it and get some money out of them. Besides, Hubert Humphrey was a Democrat and aren't Democrats menacing? When I was a kid, a gesture like this was reasonable. Not today, when a stadium might be called Enron Field. Wait a minute, that name has been erased. Well, we all make mistakes.
Thanksgiving by itself didn't have enough of a commercial purpose. It was idle time when your aunt and uncle might motor over, you'd eat to excess and then sit and visit. No productivity there. No "ka-ching" of the cash register except at the grocery story for purchase of a turkey.
Many in the media have chosen to call the day "Turkey Day" rather than Thanksgiving. It seems safer although there is the risk of alienating traditionalists.
Media people prepare each year for those stories about turkey fryers that lead to fires destroying homes. The sports media always ask the question of why we have to watch the Detroit Lions each year.
As a society we politely acknowledge Thanksgiving while getting more foggy about its purpose. Then it's on to a "holiday" the very next day that didn't even exist when us boomers were kids. It's on to "Black Friday."
Now we're cookin'. Here's a holiday that's all about American consumerism. It arguably gets more attention in the media now than the trite old Thanksgiving.
Indeed the media truly push "Black Friday," imploring all of us to get out there and shop. Then we wait breathlessly for reports in the following days about just how all the retailers did.
Were the door-buster specials really eye-popping? Were any people trampled and killed by the urgency of the mob to get at some new "goodie?" Isn't America grand?
Good reports about Black Friday might even make the stock market go up the next week. And this is so essential because our lives truly turn on the stock market. Except that they didn't when I was a kid. If our parents even made enough money to save, they put it in the bank. Prudence and thrift were promoted. Stocks were risk investments that were best kept at a distance if you were "middle class."
When I was a kid, it seemed like everyone was "middle class."
We accepted the borderline mythology of Pilgrims/Indians, Betsy Ross' sewing, Paul Revere's ride and the like; and the commons area of Longfellow Elementary School in west Morris included that famous portrait of "George Washington in the clouds." You couldn't miss it every time you went to the "milk machine."
A lot of that mythology came crumbling down when America became mired in the Viet Nam War and we had to re-think our whole national story. There has since been a backlash as we have come to see Viet Nam as an aberration. Boomers who once talked about burning draft cards - there was an absolute defiance of authority - have come to see U.S. conventions and traditions as basically sound, and that the Viet Nam War was just an episode of profound mistakes that for some reason couldn't be checked by the people.
As I have written before, Billy Graham should have called an abrupt press conference in about 1967 to announce that the U.S. should get the h--- out of Viet Nam. Close your eyes and think about that happening. There would be a firestorm at first. But we might have then seen enlightenment spreading like the ripples from throwing a pebble into a pond.
We can only imagine what might have happened. But it didn't. To this day I'm disturbed to remember a war casualty whose funeral I attended in Brainerd, whose skin was purple in the casket.
Why this tragedy? Was it because America had won "the good war" (WWII) and we were destined to continue our warrior culture?
The draft card-burning boomers seemed to have straightened things out for a while. But now we seem to be engaged in military adventurism again, and the consumer culture has grown to be almost dehumanizing.
To the point where we marginalize Thanksgiving in favor of "Black Friday."
The good news is that the Detroit Lions seem a little more competitive this year.
Happy Thanksgiving.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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