ON THE AVENUES: Faux thanks and reveries.
A weekly web column by Roger A. Baylor.
A self-appointed citizen’s activist lurches toward a bedecked podium. There, the winning candidate stands in readiness, basking in the glow of victory as he prepares to deliver his speech before family and friends.
The woman fondles an official, licensed Hillary Clinton charm bracelet, and it jangles all plastic-like as an indulgent crowd, one dreamy with a sense of possibility and a few too many Early Times and Cokes, graciously parts to allow her a clear path to the stage.
Her nicotine-stained fingers are wrapped tenuously around an aluminum can of the very best imported beer Italian lira can buy, at least in those old-school service clubs with ballrooms: Budweiser, a factory-brewed product of the multi-national wunderkind AB-Inbev — once solidly American, now lost to foreign money amid the recovering stock portfolios of the 1%.
The woman shakily places the can of Budweiser on the floor off to the side, and gestures to the candidate. Confused, and not a little bit horrified, he considers the likelihood of far better beers being poured just down the street. Amid the gathered throngs, there is an odd, brief pause. Who is that woman, anyway? She seems lost, someone whispers. Is she really a professor, or does she just play one on the Internet? And why is she putting the beer can there?
Very soon, the moment passes. The woman cackles back into the rear of the hall, and her votive offering is ignored, to be consumed and recycled later by the facility’s janitor. The speech is made, and eventually, the celebration ends.
Somewhere in the city, a dog barks.
But enough about these purely imagined weird scenes in the post-election night of a New Albanian’s perpetually inebriated lifespan – it’s almost Thanksgiving!
A couple of years ago, before those humorless Alabama retirees demanded my newspaper platform be dismantled as punishment for my audacity in seeking local office, I stated that there’s never any better time than Thanksgiving for an iconoclast’s thoughts to be made public.
However, I soon learned the futility of expecting anyone to read such an outpouring of words on the holiday itself. Given the inability of most readers to proceed down any of my pages without scratching their heads in vocabularic confusion, it seemed almost impolite to expect them to waste valuable football viewing time in what surely would become a frustrating, household-wide search for seldom-used dictionaries and thesauruses.
And so, we’ll do it today. First, let’s revisit the notion of “iconoclast”:
1. A breaker or destroyer of images, esp. those set up for religious veneration (like the untended can of warm Budweiser stained by venom and tobacco).
2. A person who attacks cherished beliefs, traditional institutions, etc., as being based on error or superstition … rather like your humble correspondent.
While others grew up idolizing athletes and rock stars, my own heroes (Reggie Jackson, Keith Moon and George Clooney aside) have always been iconoclasts. From Socrates through Tom Paine, and not exempting 20th-century polemicists like H. L. Mencken, there’s nothing quite like an iconoclast taking a headlong swipe at unexamined assumptions.
Consequently, around this time each year, it is my duty to remind you that Thanksgiving, while perfectly enjoyable from a hedonist’s standpoint, and wholly conducive to this bibulous trencherman’s standards, actually stands for something more than gluttony and sports.
But that certain “something” isn’t the prevailing viewpoint that the Puritans and Natives once merrily gathered for a quaint New England picnic, pausing only occasionally from the consumption of corn chowder and non-alcoholic cranberry wine to pray to their respective deities for continued prosperity and happiness.
Rather, it is this:
The need for Christian apologetics aside, and whether or not Squanto miraculously facilitated a peaceful first Thanksgiving at Plymouth Rock, the subsequent history of the white man on the North American continent boasted the unabated slaughter of Native Americans, incessant pillaging of the environment, and an exculpatory doctrine of “manifest destiny” interwoven with prevailing Christianity, as intended to ease the consciences (if any) of those pulling the triggers.
We’ll leave the approval of African-American slavery emanating for many generations from Southern pulpits for another day of “thanks”.
In the context of genuine American history, and to the exclusion of mythology and wishful thinking, the holiday we term “Thanksgiving” is ironic, to say the least. I prefer reflections on all human history to be in accordance with the record, and as events actually occurred, without the tidying impulse to obscure and sanitize them.
I accept that people in all places and times do what they can with what they have, and believe that the best we can hope for is to learn from the past in the hope of learning worthwhile lessons and avoiding mistakes. In my opinion, the worst error of all is to misrepresent the historical record to justify theological needs.
Yes, I observe Thanksgiving, too. It’s just that I do it realistically.
America’s Christmas shopping season appropriately commences on Labor Day, and it will reach a crescendo on November 25, which frenzied pop culture vultures have dubbed Black Friday. Pavlov’s overworked mutt can be expected to salivate continuously as fevered analysts seek to determine if holiday season retail sales will be sufficient to keep Wal-Mart, Best Buy and their suppliers in China solvent for another year.
At least there’s food on Thanksgiving. This year, it means a longer than usual ride across one of the remaining bridges to Louisville’s South End, and transformative dining at the venerable Vietnam Kitchen. Iconoclasm aside, I enjoy the traditional Norman Rockwell spread as much as anyone, but cooking it at home simply isn’t an option for us. Instead, we indulge in crisp spring rolls, exotic peppery noodle dishes and the occasional clay pot catfish, accompanied by India Pale Ale and French coffee for dessert.
After all, to each his own “tradition” – and may yours not be harmful to others.
(Elements within today’s column were “sampled” from my OSIN column of November 25, 2009)