Thanksgiving pop-culture plans
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What are your pop-culture plans for the long Thanksgiving weekend? Do you have established Thanksgiving entertainment rituals, and do you intend to follow them this year?
Ever since I started participating in the year-end Best Films Of The Year round-ups, my Thanksgiving-weekend ritual has been pretty much the same: huge Thanksgiving dinner with my partner’s family and neighbors (they live here in Chicago, my family is on the East Coast), after which I’m generally expected to divert the rowdier, drunkier element with a party game like Apples To Apples or Who What Where. (Which I recommend over Pictionary or Telestrations or other drawing games I’ve tried—it just gets funnier with alcohol.) The rest of the weekend is spent on film catch-up. Thanksgiving is when we start getting piles of screeners from the studios and figuring out what to prioritize; I did some sorting last night, and at some point this weekend, I’m hoping to sit down with Jiro Dreams Of Sushi, The Queen Of Versailles, and I Wish, for starters. More for my own fun, partner and I are planning a double of Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World and Safety Not Guaranteed, which have conflated a bit in our minds as rom-coms with nominally science-fiction themes they may not live up to. Basically, there will be a filmapalooza of some kind, as usual.
As the guy who wrote about the pop-culture significance of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade here a couple of years ago, I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about that. My wife thinks it’s insane that I carve out at least an hour or so for the thing every year, especially since it’s so damn cheesy, but I can’t help it. There’s something about the sheer glut of commerce masquerading as entertainment that entertains me, and the little rituals within the parade—like the arrival of the various long-running balloons, or the part where Santa arrives to kick off the Christmas shopping season—are also great. Plus it’s such a useful way to chart which celebrities are on the way up and which are on the way down, especially as they’re inevitably surrounded by costumed characters. And barring that, I love going shopping on Black Friday in the afternoon (when the crowds have died down) with my wife and sister, to spend way too much money on Blu-rays I’ll probably never watch. So what I’m saying is that what I love about Thanksgiving is consumption. How American of me!
My grandmother was a fan of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, and no matter who was hosting Thanksgiving dinner, we had to watch it before we all sat down for the big meal. So even now, 10 years after she passed away, and in my mid-30s, I still watch the parade while having my Thanksgiving morning coffee, just to make sure I get it in as a small way to honor the family matriarch. That, and every single possible minute of NFL football.
Due to scheduling conflicts and family-in-law obligations, my folks generally don’t have Thanksgiving dinner until the Friday after the big day. (It helps that, having worked at a college library for the past, ye gods, 10 years, I always have Friday off.) This leaves me with a Thursday to kill, which is harder to do when all the stores are closed. This year, I’m looking forward to repeating a semi-annual tradition I started a few years back: namely, watching all three Lord Of The Rings movies back-to-back. Yes, the extended editions, which means I’ll be spending the whole day sitting on my ass in front of the television. It makes for a thrilling, exhausting time, and I usually experience something of a total emotional breakdown around the 12-hour mark (“YES, SAM, YES, YOU CAN CARRY HIM!”), before toddling off to bed to have a lot of weird dreams about giant eagles and elf queens, just like the pilgrims did.
On the day itself, I’ll be annoying my mother by watching football instead of passing the gravy. After that, it’s all about TV catch-up for me, with marathons of Sons Of Anarchy and Dexter lined up. To slake any violent tendencies those shows might create, I’ll be playing through Saints Row: The Third on my PS3. I imagine I’ll be too deep in turkey coma to be any more active than that.
Growing up in a household of sports fans, I had football foisted upon me as a holiday tradition that spanned from Thanksgiving through the New Year. Although I wasn’t into it, I wasn’t anti-sports, but I quickly grew bored while my parents could watch games for hours on end. Luckily we had cable on the TV in their bedroom, so I could watch whatever there. Still, no personal Thanksgiving tradition emerged from that. I received a Planes, Trains And Automobiles DVD for Christmas recently, so I was thinking I could watch that with my nieces and nephews this year. Despite the John Hughes treacle, it has some funny stuff in it, and it’s high time these youngsters learned about John Candy. My sister will probably make me fast-forward through Steve Martin’s scene with Edie McClurg, though.
My older sister and I are slightly different, in that pop culture is my life and she has at best a passing familiarity with it. She hasn’t owned a television in decades, got wi-fi only recently, and will only watch one television show at a time, and not if it entails murder or other crimes. She loves Parks And Recreation, though, and enjoyed Flight Of The Conchords, which she adorably described as “that show about the New Zealand folk people,” which makes it sound more like a sociological expose than a deadpan cult comedy. Every Thanksgiving, though, I travel to Virginia to visit my sister and her family, and we make a point of heading to the theater to see a movie. Last year it was The Muppets. This year, we’re planning on seeing Lincoln. So while my sister is pop-culture averse, we do find a way to include at least a little entertainment in our Thanksgiving festivities.
For me, it’s all about The National Dog Show. I grew up in a family of dog-lovers (excepting my brother, who would be angry with me if I included him in that statement), so any televised dog competition is worth watching. We of course pick our favorites to win: we root for Shetland Sheepdogs and greyhounds (which always get shorted for some reason); both of those are the family breeds. The miniature poodle is the worst. It’s like the Yankees of the dog-show world—enough, already! Give someone a little scrappier a shot. And does John O’Hurley impersonate Fred Willard in Best In Show, or is it the other way around? I love learning about the new breeds, re-establishing my favorites, and making fun of the dog handlers’ outfits. And the fact that it comes between the parade and dinner gives it an extra-special place in the day. It’s good, old-fashioned, slightly weird fun.
As Thanksgiving approaches each year, I consider assembling my own Mystery Science Theater 3000 “Turkey Day” marathon, only to scrap those plans because spending the entire day alone in the basement of my childhood home defeats the purpose of the holiday. Instead, I typically carve out half an hour or so after dinner to indulge in a more inclusive tradition: an annual meeting between myself, my brother, and two of our cousins on the digital playing field of NFL Blitz 2000 for the Nintendo 64. Sticking to a fifth-generation platform indulges collective, holiday-induced nostalgia while also evening the playing field—skill levels have varied wildly throughout the history of the so-called “Blitz Bowl,” but now that none of us plays an N64 on the regular, the game typically shakes out to an even matchup decided in the waning moments of the fourth quarter (or by an onside kick in a chaotic overtime frame). I may miss out on the one of the few days of the year when I have enough free time to watch Space Mutiny and Mitchell back-to-back, but I end up getting just as many laughs out of the inside jokes and frantic gameplay of the Blitz Bowl.
At the risk of outing my family as the hillbillies we are, we will do what we do every year—crowd into my grandparents’ living room in Indianapolis and yell over whatever is on the television. I vaguely recall a few years when I was young and the family was smaller where we would try to set up card tables and talk to each other while we ate Thanksgiving dinner. That doesn’t happen anymore. Now we’re content to talk over some combination of Discovery Channel marathons and football, usually switching between the two every five minutes, sending up hollers from half the room. In the past, this has included Dirty Jobs, Deadliest Catch, and Punkin Chunkin. This year, it looks like I’ll get all caught up on Alaska: The Last Frontier. Once we’ve stuffed ourselves and my uncles have completed their competitive weigh-in, we’ll probably play bags and maybe light off some fireworks if the ban has been lifted. Then we’ll go to bed early so we can get up at 4 a.m. for our traditional Black Friday shopping. If I can score a copy of Mad Men season five there, it’ll be as close to culture as I’m going to get all holiday.
I’m usually ready to bolt soon after Thanksgiving dessert is wrapped up, mainly because it’s the one night during the holiday week(end) that I know I’ll be seeing plenty of people from my past in various Santa Barbara bars. But this year, I plan on spending some extra time with the fam, thanks to Spike Lee’s documentary Bad 25, about Michael Jackson’s Bad. It certainly isn’t my favorite MJ album, but any kind of doc about the King Of Pop is worth my time.
The pop culture of my actual Thanksgiving day will be an all-American slate of pro football, because that’s how my dad rolls. My mom gave up trying to convince him to shut it off or watch something else years ago. Once we get home and get the baby to bed, my wife and I will finally finish season one of Alphas (having a new baby means falling behind in your pop-culture indulgences) and watch a DVRed episode of The Soup. By then, my wife will be ready for bed, since she’s an early riser, but I’ll have a few hours to myself once she turns in. It won’t be enough for a marathon, but it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving to me without a heaping helping of Mystery Science Theater 3000 turkey, so I’ll use the opportunity to watch one of the episodes I taped but haven’t actually found the time to watch yet. Chances are it will be pretty bad—I’ve long since burnt through all the best episodes—but tradition is tradition, even when it hurts.
When we’re not watching tons of TV, my girlfriend and I do a lot of reading together, and I’m sure that’ll go double this Thanksgiving weekend. I’ve got a huge stack of untouched or barely begun books to pick from, including recent and promising novels like Molly Tanzer’s A Pretty Mouth, Jesse Bullington’s The Folly Of The World, Paul Tremblay’s Swallowing A Donkey’s Eye, Gavin Hignight’s The Freak Table, Chris F. Holm’s The Wrong Goodbye, and Devil Said Bang, the fourth book in Richard Kadrey’s devilishly good Sandman Slim series. In addition to the intellectual nourishment these books will surely provide, lounging around in a nerdy state of sloth-like indolence is a great way not to squander all those hard-won calories we’ll be absorbing via plate upon plate of pie.
Even though the Macy’s parade isn’t what it used to be, I’ll still watch it. Though I wonder if this year, I might watch it with the sound off. Between the forced banter of the Today crew, Al Roker joking around with all the “big stars” from NBC’s lineup, dance troupes that look like they came straight from 1947, and the incessant lip-synching, the NBC broadcast has become hard to watch, mainly because they’ve been doing it the exact same way since the ’70s. The balloons are okay, though.
Given that we have to bounce between two families on Thanksgiving Day, having lunch with my wife’s family and dinner with my parents, there’s precious little chance that I’ll be indulging in much TV or film viewing on the holiday itself. At some point during the course of the weekend, however, my wife, my daughter, and I are going to sit down and enjoy ParaNorman together, which I’m excited about. I’m sure I’ll be watching the last episode of iCarly on Friday whether I end up having to actually write about it or not (such is the price of having a 7-year-old), but beyond that, I just hope to kick back and do as little as possible. Hopefully that’ll end up involving the reading of something I don’t have to read but simply want to, like maybe Frank Langella’s Dropped Names, but if it doesn’t, that’s cool, just as long as I get to relax a bit.