Retro Thanksgiving ad

Thanksgiving, the Incredible Shrinking Holiday

For those not familiar with the term Christmas Creep — and no, I’m not referring to the skeevy dude dressed as Santa Claus at the mall who looks way too excited to have little kids sitting on his lap — it refers to the ever-widening window stores use to stock their shelves with gift items and bombard us with advertisements.

While some people still debate whether or not climate change is a real thing, there can be no debate that Santa and his multi-billion dollar operation have inched further and further outside the traditionally defined Christmas shopping season barrier of Black Friday. It has become more and more common to see Christmas store displays and ads not only well before Thanksgiving, but now just after Halloween. Hell, I even spotted displays in places like Home Depot and Lowe’s before Halloween.

Robot Santa (Futurama)

Target acquired: Thanksgiving

I’ve come to a grudging acceptance concerning the insidiousness of Christmas Creep. With the economy being the way it is, companies are increasingly desperate to get back into the black as quickly as possible. (Although I suspect that, much like gas prices, we won’t be seeing a pullback away from Halloween once things improve.)  But this year in particular I’ve witnessed a disturbing development, one that I feel compelled to comment upon.

With the retail calendar effectively altered to segue immediately from Halloween into the Christmas season, it seems that Thanksgiving has disappeared from the radar almost entirely. Granted, the holiday doesn’t possess the same commercial potential as Halloween or Christmas, and the whole point of the holiday is far removed from commerce, but it feels to me like it’s just vanishing from the scene altogether.

As of this writing we’re less than three weeks from Thanksgiving, and I have hardly seen one mention of it on TV, radio, the internet, or even just in public. Perhaps I’m guilty of observation bias, but I don’t think so. I really think we’re beginning to see one of our most American of holidays get passed over like a middle child, and why? Because it’s not profitable enough. I guess there’s just not enough money to be had in family and charity.

Oh well, at least we can still enjoy my fine collection of vintage Thanksgiving advertisements, right?

The Horizon Hotel, 1950s/1960s

Is There a Proper Way to Appreciate Nostalgia?

“‘Remember when’ is the lowest form of conversation.” — Tony Soprano

Anyone reading this site or my various social media outlets — Like my Facebook page today! — could figure out in three seconds that I trade largely in the past. And often, a past that occurred many years before I was born. In other words, my internet calling card is nostalgia. And I’m far from alone.

Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe, just because I feel like it.

If the multitude of websites, books, TV shows, and movies that are either informed or dominated by our shared pop culture heritage are any indication, people love thinking about and looking at things that happened a long time ago. If nostalgia were an actual industry — and time spent wading in it were measurable in dollars — it would probably rank somewhere just behind pharmaceuticals or tourism in America.

There are, of course, a host of options for how that nostalgia is packaged and consumed. To my mind there are two extremes on the internet, with varying shades in between. On the one hand you have sites that dive deep into the past and explore historical events and pop culture phenomena of the past within a rather broad context. They offer fresh perspective on things and people we venerate, take for granted, or have completely forgotten.

Then there are whole websites or sections of websites that exist solely to say, in effect, “Hey, remember this thing? It existed!” Think of things like the much-derided Buzzfeed listicles, or websites like Retronaut, much of Tumblr (or at least the blogs I follow), and even this site and its associated offshoots. The point is usually not to examine and frame any discussion or provide insight, but rather to simply catalog things from the past in an easy, quickly digestible form.

Now here’s where things get a little contentious. Neither of these paths of exploration is more valid than the other. I love to read 1,000-word critiques of old television shows just as much as I like looking at pictures of old cars or street scenes with absolutely no context provided. But to listen to many, the latter is somehow cheaper than the former. This sort of opinion is usually spewed forth from the self-righteous, self-appointed Guardians of Worthy Internet Remembrance, and it’s a load of shit.

1957 Oldsmobile

Sometimes a picture is enough.

Now when it comes to the way I do things on the internet, I follow but one ironclad rule: I only share things that I find interesting or appealing in some way. Maybe there’s an interesting history behind an old retail chain like Crazy Eddie, maybe I want to share a great old jazz tune that deserves more recognition, or maybe it’s just a bunch of funny old album covers featuring dorky white people. Either way, I was moved enough to take the time and prepare a post for the world to see. If I have the time and resources to write 500 words to accompany some cool pictures, great, but sometimes looking at a picture of Marilyn Monroe or a ’57 Chevy is enough — know what I mean?

Several years ago I commented on the ridiculous term “guilty pleasure,” and how there should really should be no such thing. Well there’s a corollary for nostalgia as well, and it basically goes like this — however you want to think about or enjoy the past, as least as it pertains to pop culture, is up to you and anyone that says otherwise is a snob. If you want to obsess over old cars, actresses, or songs, then go for it. If you love reading deep examinations of days gone by, great. If you prefer reading bite-size lists — and lots of people do — or just taking five seconds out of your day to remember something trivial, that’s great too.

And hey, even if you want to spend all your free time living in the past at the total exclusion of present pop culture, that’s fine too. I don’t personally do that, despite what you may see here, but to each their own. Life is way too short to worry about whether or not other people find any of it acceptable.

I come not to bury jazz, but to praise it

Jazz!I might as well offer my two cents on Terry Teachout’s recent editorial for the Wall Street Journal, “Can Jazz Be Saved?”, since so many others already have.  In it, Teachout beats the same funeral drum that countless other jazz pundits have for decades – namely that the already small audience for jazz is shrinking alarmingly fast.  He even offers as evidence some results from a recent survey by the National Endowment for the Arts.

The survey results Teachout extracts present a gloomy picture for jazz lovers indeed- not only is attendance down, but the median age for jazz fans is fast approaching AARP territory (from 29 in 1982 to 46 in 2008).  He makes the case that jazz, in terms of its audience, is becoming the next version of classical music.

This reminds me of the old joke about the two genres – classical is music by a bunch of dead white guys and jazz is music by a bunch of dead black guys.  And of course there’s the oft-quoted Zappa lyric, “Jazz is not dead, it just smells funny.”  But I digress.

Even with all his scary facts and figures, a few things about Teachout’s piece didn’t sit right with me.  First off, he’s being a little selective with how he presents those facts.  As the NEA’s summary points out, attendance for all forms of the arts (jazz, classical, opera, ballet, plays, etc.) is down since the last survey.   To me that says more about the audience for these things than the art forms themselves.

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Now accepting donations for a DirecTV subscription

I’m not sure how things work outside the New York City television market, but we have this annoyingly restrictive setup when it comes to NFL broadcasts.  Whether or not you like the Jets or Giants, they’re almost always the only games you get to watch on Sunday afternoon.  And it usually works out that the Jets game is on at 1, then the Giants at 4.  There are no other games broadcast opposite them, and the networks pretty much never cut away to another game even if it’s a blowout.

What this means is that if you don’t feel like a) going to a bar or b) coughing up some big bucks for DirecTV and the NFL Sunday Ticket package, you’re pretty much screwed.  The situation got a little better for me when I moved to central Jersey about 4 years ago, as I’m now also in the Philly market and get the option of watching Eagles games.  But not much better, as I’m a lifelong Raiders fan.

My worst nightmare, come to life

My worst nightmare, come to life

I’ve come to accept my lot in life, and the fact that any football talk I’m exposed to around here is logically focused on the Jets and Giants.  But I fear that this situation will quickly become untenable, with the recent announcement that the NFL’s premiere drama queen, Brett Favre, was traded to the Jets.

This is not good, not good at all.  To no one’s surprise, the usual legion of Favre worshipers in the media are already working themselves into a nice lather over this momentous occasion.  Witness Sports Illustrated‘s Peter King – always good for at least one worthless/ignorant/insanely hyperbolic statement per article – declaring that, “One of the biggest stories in recent sports history just got a lot bigger: Brett Favre is a New York Jet.”

No Peter you giant tool, it’s not one of the biggest sports stories in recent history.  It’s an irritating display of aggrandizement on Favre’s part, and you clowns in the media have been all too happy to help.  It got so bad that ESPN, which fell on the wrong side of the credibility threshold a long time ago, introduced a separate “Favre” ticker item at the bottom of the screen.

I don’t begrudge Favre for wanting to play another season.  Pro sports is not like most jobs – once the window has closed on your useful playing life (which for the majority of players is in their 20s), it’s closed forever.  But this insane amount of press coverage does nothing but reinforce what has to be his belief that the sporting world revolves around him, and that people outside Wisconsin and Bristol, Connecticut actually give a shit what he does.

And so now he comes to the Jets, and the most intense media market in the country.  I will be helpless to escape the gravitational pull of his ego and the obnoxiousness of Jets fans.  And now I have to suffer through the usual game time pabulum like “he’s a real gunslinger” and “look at him, he’s just having fun out there!”.

And just wait until John Madden rolls into town.  I think he may actually spontaneously combust now.  And I may just light myself on fire.  I guess I could always watch the Giants or Eagles instead.

Man, now I’m really depressed.

Sharon Stone

Sharon Stone: Idiot of the week

Sharon StoneI know it’s only Thursday, but I feel pretty confident about this selection. You see, it seems Ms. Stone caused a bit of a brouhaha with her comments about the recent earthquake in China. She displayed her tact and political acumen when she uttered the following pearl of wisdom:

“I’m not happy about the way the Chinese are treating the Tibetans because I don’t think anyone should be unkind to anyone else…And then all this earthquake and all this stuff happened, and I thought, is that karma – when you’re not nice that the bad things happen to you?”

No dipshit, the earthquake (and resulting deaths of almost 70,000 Chinese so far) is not karma. It’s a tragic geological event that has impacted a whole lot of people who have absolutely nothing to do with the treatment of Tibet by the Chinese government.

I’m not one of those people who thinks that celebrities should keep silent on important matters, but I think in this case Stone would be most helpful by just keeping her mouth shut and maybe slapping a “Free Tibet” bumper sticker on her car. It beats making idiotic statements that essentially translate to “I totally wish people would stop being mean to each other. Also, cultural subjugation is icky.”

In response to Stone’s comments, many Chinese cinemas have pledged to boycott her films. Hell, Americans have already been doing that for years.

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More mysteries of the universe

  • Would it unconstitutional to introduce capital punishment for anyone who posts a variation of “First!” to start a comment thread?
  • How about for people who use the words “preggo” or “preggers”?
  • Is there a bigger oxymoron than Ticketmaster’s “convenience charge”? For whom is it convenient to spend 8-10 bucks to get a piece of paper printed?
  • Why is it that most reality shows are more obviously scripted than non-reality shows? As far as I can remember, the only true “reality” show I have ever seen is COPS.
  • How did drivers ever find their way around before the advent of portable GPS devices?
  • What did people say instead of “drinking the Kool-Aid” before Jonestown?
  • WTF is wrong with Carrot Top? At what point does a human being look at himself in the mirror and decide this is a good look?

Carrot Top is scary

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Mixed (message) martial arts

CBS recently announced that they will begin airing cage fighting (aka mixed martial arts or MMA) this spring. In reading the article, I was reminded of something I see quite often whenever advocates of the sport defend it – they try to play up the strategy aspect of MMA and how it does actually prohibit a lot of nastiness such as gouging eyes or striking groins. Then they actually try to pass MMA off as some kind of beautiful ritual – in the case of this article, the CEO of an MMA promotion company said,

“This is a sport of highly trained, highly talented … world-class athletes,” he said. “It is a chess match when these guys get in there and fight, when you understand exactly what they’re doing. It’s like a beautiful dance.”

OK, I’ll grant that most of the MMA participants are actually highly trained athletes. But the “beautiful dance” part kills me. Why, just last week I took some tango lessons, and I finished up every session by punching my partner in the face. 1-2-3 WHAP! It was real beautiful, man.

I also see a lot of comparisons made between MMA and other violent sports like football and hockey, in an attempt to lump them all together. True, there are some very violent aspects to other sports as well, but they are tangential to the objectives of the game. The goal of football is to score points, and to stop your opponent from doing the same – hard hits are usually necessary to achieve that goal, but you can beat the snot out of your opponents and if you don’t score enough you still lose.

As you can probably tell, I am not an MMA fan. But I really do have no problem with people who are into it. I just wish the sport’s defenders would be honest about why they love it, and stop with the lame rationalizations. It’s not for the strategy, and it’s not to admire high-class athletes in action. They simply get a charge out of watching two men pound the shit out of each other. That’s it. Would it be so hard to just admit that?

Sweaty feet = profits

Just when I thought I had seen all the ways unscrupulous advertisers could come up with to separate idiots from their money, along come detoxifying foot pads. If you haven’t yet seen any of the commercials for these things, they are a hoot. Here’s a typical ad for this miracle product:

All the ads pretty much employ the same selling tactics and points, which are summarized thusly:

  • Scare the customer. Inform the target that the world is an icky place, full of dangerous chemicals and substances. Once you’ve frightened them a little bit you’ve created in their minds a need for a solution. “What’s that you say? The level of cancer-causing Monstronium particles has increased 400% in the last decade? Help me!”
  • Once you’ve convinced the target of the dangers of these known (and unknown) problems – and convinced them that they suffer from ill health and low energy not because of their slothful and unhealthy lifestyle, but from things they have no control over – show them the easy solution. Make sure to pipe in cheerier music and graphics for extra effect.
  • Cloud the waters. What makes the foot pads work? Why, “natural tree and bamboo extracts” of course! What do they do exactly, and how do they do it?  They somehow “restore balance,” just like plants do.  Wait, what?
  • Play up the mysterious (read: Asian) nature of the products. Many people are skeptical of Western medicine’s ability to promote good health, and will ingest/rub/inhale just about any remedy with an Asian-sounding name or logo.
  • Testify! Nothing makes the target feel better than to see actual suck…er, people who have benefited from the foot pads already. Because the best evidence is paid anecdotal evidence!
  • Warn against cheap imitations. By letting the target know that other companies making these foot pads are not up to snuff, you instantly plant the idea that your product is the real deal and not a scam.
  • Back up your claims with scientific “proof.” Those same scientists who can’t help us detoxify on our own? Well they’re apparently good enough to certify that the pads work.
  • And the biggest selling point is the overwhelming visual evidence. The pads turn brown! That must mean they’ve removed toxins from the body, right? Or it could just mean that certain ingredients in the pads (like powdered wood vinegar) turn brown when exposed to moisture.

I think you get the point. Look – I’ve got nothing against natural medicines and remedies. I’m certainly not arrogant enough to think that only pills put out by major pharmaceutical companies can cure ills and promote good health.  But I see these cleansing foot pads and my bullshit meter is in the red.  Wouldn’t it stand to reason that whatever chemicals your feet are sweating out would do so without the aid of these things?  Or are there some magical leeching qualities in vinegar that I’m not aware of?

Come to think of it, there are.  They magically leech money from your wallet.

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Golf and race

To absolutely no one’s surprise, Dave Seanor (the editor of Golfweek magazine who approved a recent cover featuring a noose) was canned. The firing made sense for a very basic reason that had nothing to do with racism – Seanor made a ham-fisted effort at generating buzz for his magazine, and any person with an ounce of common sense could have predicted the shitstorm that would follow its publication. Pissing off readers (and by association your advertisers) is career suicide in the newspaper/magazine world.

But beyond the colossal bad taste exhibited by Seanor, there was a real missed opportunity here. While the actual story accompanying the noose image focused almost exclusively on a single comment made by Golf Channel announcer Kelly Tilghman, it missed the bigger picture. And that is what appears to be a not altogether minor undercurrent of racism in the American golf world. I’m not saying that Seanor or Tilghman are racists (but at a very minimum they are incredibly stupid), but they are not the first people in golf to be targeted for what certainly appear to be racist words or deeds.

Remember Fuzzy Zoeller? Speaking about Tiger Woods – who had just won the 1997 Masters tournament – Zoeller said, “That little boy is driving well and he’s putting well. He’s doing everything it takes to win. So, you know what you guys do when he gets in here? You pat him on the back and say congratulations and enjoy it and tell him not to serve fried chicken next year. Got it. Or collard greens or whatever the hell they serve.” His defense was that he was just joking, but that’s a lame excuse. That joke came from somewhere. And I don’t believe for a second that he is an aberration in the game.

And speaking of the Masters, it wasn’t until 1990 that home course Augusta National admitted their first black member (they still won’t allow women to join, but that’s another matter). That’s 43 years after Jackie Robinson’s Major League Baseball debut, 44 years after the L.A. Rams became the first modern NFL team to integrate, and 32 years after Willie O’Ree became the first black player in the NHL (yes, hockey!).

I certainly don’t want to paint all golfers with a broad brush, but I don’t think I’m totally off-base by postulating that there is a much higher percentage of golfers who are at least somewhat racist than, say, basketball players. If I had to play armchair psychologist, I’d guess that this stems in large part from the insular nature of golf. Due to the game’s rather prohibitive costs, you simply won’t find many of its players who aren’t white and financially well-off. And as soon as any group becomes homogenized and isolated, they tend to take a negative view of “outsiders.”

So maybe when you get down to it, it’s less about being racist than it is being against anyone who is not like them. In any case, I certainly don’t have the answers. But Golfweek could’ve used this latest controversy as an opportunity to start looking for them, and they blew it big time.