Nov 23 2006

Thanks for nothin

The First Thanksgiving, Dominant Culture Version, painted in 1932 by JLG Ferris. Native Americans in feathery headgear? Check. Native Americans depicted as half-naked savages even though it’s fucking November in Massachussets? Check. Native Americans depicted in positions of subservience to Whitey? Check Women depicted in positions of subservience to dudes? Check. Native Americans depicted as guests in their own country? Check. Whitey and Natives getting along like a couple of long-lost brothers? Check.

Every year when Thanksgiving Day approaches, I feel without fail a growing consternation inside me. I attribute this feeling to the inevitable emergence of the whitewashed historical record of this day and to the sudden attention that America directs toward the Native American Indians. — Robert Two Bulls

Dang. Thanksgiving. It’s one of those execrable Christian holidays, such as the 4th of July, Christmas, or a wedding, when all Americans suddenly become insensible of any guiding principle except an enormous cultural pressure to capitulate unquestioningly to the demands of patriarchal theo-consumerist tradition. In the case of Thanksgiving, blind adherence to custom requires the uncompromising conformist to binge on cloying, pedestrian “comfort” food cooked for 3 days by women, while men watch TV.

Then the women go shopping.*

Horribly, Thanksgiving’s repellent foodly intemperance is nearly always presented at some weird, un-dinner-like hour of the afternoon, then it’s back to the TV for the patriarchs, and back to the scullery for the womenfolk, where they scour off the carbonized substrate of the sugary sweet potato-marshmallow pie, wrap in foil the remains of the enhormoned, tortured Butterball, tuck into Tupperware the green been casserole made with Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup and French’s Fried Onions, and chuck out the untouched can-shaped cylinder of Ocean Spray “cranberry sauce” that nobody understands, eats, or can live without. Afterward, everybody either falls comatose or writhes, suffering varying degrees of physical and emotional distress, on such seating — usually a small needlepoint footstool or one of the dining room chairs — as has not been previously commandeered by the football-watching males.

This ritual gluttony, which spikes pretty high on the Blame-O-Meter owing to its particular dependence on sex-based apartheid, is observed ostensibly to commemorate the patriarchally-approved European god-myths surrounding the so-called First Thanksgiving. The event in question, I remind you, was the first-ever harvest festival for neither the colonials nor the Wampanoag natives upon whose ancestral lands the European godbags had incursed (neither could it have been a particularly delightful meal: to any rustic midwinter ‘feast’ consisting of eels and corn-pone I could only award maybe half a star). This much seems probable: that, such as they were, the god-blessed victuals were consumed in 1621 by godbag colonialists who but for the intervention of the melodrama’s principle supporting character Tisquantum (affectionately known by tragically gullible American schoolchildren** as “Squanto,” the affable, gentle savage sent by God to show the clueless honkys how to feed themselves), would have snuffed it in short order.

It is not generally known, however, by either the aforementioned schoolchildren or their grownup football-addled parents that good old Squanto had been repeatedly kidnaped and enslaved by English opportunists (referred to in schoolbooks as “explorers”), and that his tribe had been all but wiped out by smallpox originating from you-know-where, and that his motives in coming to the godbag Pilgrims’ aid, given the chappie’s unpleasant history with the honky gang he referred to as “seaborn savages” (Miles Standish’s first act upon coming ashore was to fire his musket into a group of Wampanoags), may have been somewhat less altruistic than today’s nostalgic honky might wish to believe.

But I digress.

It is icky enough that this mythical feast we are patriotically bound to celebrate is inextricably rooted in the bloody Christian ideology that would spawn the murderous European colonialist sweep through North America and decimate the remaining indigenous civilizations (not to mention a bunch of forests and bison). What is ickier still is that nobody but a hopeless idealist believes that modern Thanksgiving revelers give even a flickering thought to the horrors of colonialism. In reality Thanksgiving Day just marks the kick-off of the Annual Season of God and Guilt with a pre-consume-o-rama carbo-load. Tomorrow, if you have the misfortune to find yourself in any American city, you depart your home at your own peril, for the day after all the thanks have been given is called Black Friday, and life is cheap. Legions of shoppers, still bloated from canned pumpkin products and of a frenzied disposition owing to their mounting MasterCard debt, will blitz the streets to snap up as much cheap crap from China as their bingo-arms can carry against the foreordained approach of yet another Christioconsumer “holiday.”

But I digress again.

Inevitably certain male honky journalists are asked on these sentimental occasions for their lyric interpretations of beloved American rituals. They find themselves unable to resist the golden propaganda opportunities afforded by the Thomas Kincadian Thanksgiving spirit, so they throw in a shout-out to those other sterling symbols of American fortitude, the “founding fathers.”

The “founding fathers” weren’t even born when the picturesque Plymouth Pilgrims with their big square buckles and starched white bonnets were depriving the Massachusetts waterways of their tasty eels, and they were dead as dirt by the time Thanksgiving was declared by Honest Abe Lincoln a national (tacitly Christian) holiday in 1863. Nevertheless, their mythical deeds and legendary works — selectively filtered, naturally, since many of these dudes have since been revealed as mere humans, or slave-rapers, or to have embraced deism only perfunctorily and in some cases not at all — have become, like the Pilgrim narrative, a sort of liturgy for today’s White Male Christian-American Orthodoxy. Invoked interchangeably with God by politicians and other meddlers intent on stirring up patriotic obeisance on occasions of enforced national togetherness, and against the perennial threat of enlightened or independent thought, the “founding fathers,” whatever their degree of actual enlightenment might have been, have been re-branded by dudely historians as princely, one-dimensional American patriarchal deities whose commanding stentorian pronouncements echo from their marble crypts: “thou shalt have school prayer, creationism, gun-totin’, and lap dancin’.”

Newsweek’s Jon Meacham, for example, has a Thanksgiving essay devoted to “The Ultimate American Holiday” in which he namechecks all sorts of 18th century Constitution signatories. By way of apologizing to the sane for the theological roots of this supposedly secular holiday, he avers that “history teaches us that religious impulse is intrinsic” (Yeah, just like my lipstick-wearing impulse is intrinsic).

Based on the improbable premise of religious intrinsicalness, Meacham gives beloved patriarchy a little lap dance of his own: Jefferson’s fabled “separation,” he says, is “between church and state, not between religion and politics.” On this wobbly semantic tweak he hangs his argument that even atheist Americans — whom, he notes from somewhere in Dreamland, are magnanimously tolerated by the religious majority — should joyfully embrace the grotesque Thanksgiving consumerist gorge-a-thon as a show of solidarity with their delusional godly countrymen. And because no Thanksgiving essay is complete without suggestions as to what to be thankful for, he opines that we heretics and non-believers “give thanks” (to whom?) for the “freedom” that allows us the golden opportunity to be tolerant of bogus secularism and to eat its turkey, albeit as social and intellectual outcasts who are going to hell, alongside the faithful.

Yup, Thanksgiving is the ultimate American holiday, all righty: the ultimate holiday of the same White Male Christian Americanism that brings you, among other things, everlasting foreign war, the sickeningly misguided “quiverfulls”, that poor 9th-grade kid in Utah who was gang-raped by the ‘religious conviction’ of her community’s ‘prophet’, the anti-immigration wall-to-nowhere, the 46.6 million Americans without health insurance (32% of all Hispanics!), and the humanitarian crisis that is the global oppression of women.

* It is not known what becomes of the men; possibly they are abducted en masse by misogynist aliens, during which interim they are injected with mind-control tinctures made from photographs of porn stars in chains.

** These are the same schoolchildren who are taught that God created America, that Columbus discovered America (strange, isn’t it, that God didn’t simply plant the honkys in their American paradise in the first place; He must have really had it in for those heathen Native Americans), and who are called ‘faggots’ by school board presidents for starting Gay-Straight Alliance groups (which the school board presidents call ‘sex clubs’.)


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  1. meanfeminism.blogspot.com

    In fourth grade, I did a report on Squanto which included some questioning of whether or not Squanto REALLY wanted to help the colonial godbags or if he had some other motives, because even then, I could not understand why Squanto would want to help these total fuckers when he knew very well what kind of total fuckers these fuckers were.

    My teacher said she had never met a more cynical nine-year-old. She said it sadly, but I took it as a compliment. Blame.

  2. As I tell my history students: Tradition is an isolated (and likely fictionalized) piece of the past, combined with whatever someone is trying to sell you.

    This year, for the first time in gods-only-know how long, my mother opted out of cooking a thanksgiving “dinner,” announcing to my father that she wanted to go out for dinner. Her reasoning:

    1. Her live-in mother had died a couple of months earlier;

    2. Two of her children had families of their own, and one (me) lived 600 miles away;

    3. Both she & dad were having weight and cholesterol issues, and she knew that neither of them could resist gorging on the high-fat leftovers.

    I talked to her on the phone yesterday, and she related the general rebellion, which sounded a lot like most of my family had confused the words “mother” and “domestic slave.” I congratulated her, and assured her that the family would get over it.

    I am going to potluck thanksgiving dinner with friends (the family we choose!), the point of which is more about having an excuse to enjoy food & friends than about celebrating a putative tradition. The gay couple is hosting and making the main dishes; I will be bringing a spinach salad with chevre, balsamic-reduction viniagrette, toasted walnuts, and pomegranite seeds. Yum.

  3. (And yes, that final paragraph looks pompous and self-congratulatory. Sue me. I’ve just finished a bad relationship with my own personal penis-bearing, for-granted-taking, control freak, so I’m feeling self-satisfied.)

  4. Wow a whole Thanksgiving Day worth of blaming, with enough for leftovers.

    But the shopping, no apparently we can’t blame that on anyone but ourselves.

  5. angryforareason.blogspot.com

    I got invited to a Yanksgiving thing with friends, but I’m probably not going to go given that the whole thing makes me sick to my stomach (for reasons you mentioned).

  6. Talk about “consumerist gorge-a-thon” my friends! Was just clicking through the channels and stopped on a frightening scene. I watched as a young expectant mother showed Martha and her audience how to craft a “costume” that looked like a turkey on a platter. Then, before my eyes, she placed her baby on the “platter” and folded the cloth turkey torso, complete with that slowly roasted golden skin look and paper drumstick frills, over her baby and began decorating the “platter” with faux berries, vegetables etc. I was gobsmacked! In whose imagination is this an acceptable way to celebrate anything? I know who I blame. The symbolism is grotesque.

  7. hedonisticpleasureseeker.wordpress.com

    “In the case of Thanksgiving, blind adherence to custom requires the uncompromising conformist to binge on cloying, pedestrian “comfort” food cooked for 3 days by women, while men watch TV. Then the women go shopping.”

    Twisty writes about my childhood . . . so I don’t have to!!! Right down to the crispy bean casserole, I swear. However, she forgot to mention the competitive nature of this cooking among the adult females. My mother used to call her sisters-in-law “The German Kitchen Tornadoes.” Sigh. Memories. Thanks for nuthin Twisty, I’d been trying to forget!


    My sister and I are enjoying a man/child-free weekend, just the two of us. We’re going to get drunk. I’m using my time off from work to experiment with a turkey with a pear-maple glaze, and a gluten-free pear/cranberry stuffing. If they work out (bear with me I’m a Thanksgiving virgin, having NEVER cooked for this holiday before, being a member of the Thanksgiving Resistance), I’ll post the recipes on my site.

    Happy holiday everyone, and may all the blamers successfully avoid (or at least transcend) the horrors of the Patriarchal Thanksgiving Tradition forever!

  8. Native woman depicted in coy come and get it stance. Even back then we just wanted it.

  9. hedonisticpleasureseeker.wordpress.com


    I used an ellipsis, I am SORRY. I also placed it inappropriately. I am so embarrassed.

  10. Hm, sexual apartheid. Easy way to avoid that — don’t invite any men over. :-) And I have to admit, in my childhood, we would have kicked any man who had invaded the kitchen where we were happily talking amongst ourselves out on his ear. “Get out of the damned kitchen,” was the nicest thing some of my older female relatives said … “Get the hell back in the living room” was a close second. I think the men were scared to come into the kitchen where we were all carving up cooked meats with large, pointy things.

  11. hattie.typepad.com/hatties_web

    Express your lack of gratitude on Friday by celebrating Buy Nothing Day.

  12. simplywondered.blogspot.com

    we gave them syphilis and still they aren’t grateful.
    still it was a cool move to unload our rather tedious fundies on some place far away that would never amount to anything…we must be feeling pretty bloody silly now.
    hedonistic – score another one for the ellipsis protection front
    edith – you are (and obviously were) very cool – don’t appear to have an emoticon for envious sighing…
    ooh another one…ellipsis i mean

  13. Well Twisty thank you for a very well written essay on Celebrate White American Patrirachy Day. I sent my son to St. Louis (yeah go ahead and snicker and say what you will) to see the old Grand Patriarch of my family and my uber patriarchical brothers. Seems I’ve done something right by staying away all these years as he calls and reports in silent tones over his girlfriend’s cell phone, “Mom, they are racist, sexist assholes!” Yup, my child made the pilgramage and with his young idealist eyes, can see the truth behind the veneer.

    Explaining that he sees that my brothers have had the best opportunity afforded them by three generations of white male wealth and priviledge, they apparently exhibit more cultural and moral blindness than he’s seen in his life. He is horrified. Of course, my son, the offspring finds that he must tolerate the scandal associated with my name. Scandel because years ago at seventeen I left, I opted out and choose not to play the game. Somewhere deep within me I could no longer tolerate the hypocrisy coming from a family who claimed Ivy League certified enlightenment while profiting from and demanding allegience to a system they know is fouled. Someone once told me that the oppressed are the only ones who know the extent of oppression. I don’t believe this at all. I know ones like my family know full well, they know in fact so well, that they will exercise every effort to quell anyone who dares even whisper the truth they will not acknowledge; that their wealth and priviledge depends on the denigration and slavery of millions.

    It seems all so analogous to your picture there and accompanying essay. Its all in how we choose to interpret the picture we’re presented. We can play along with those in power hoping they’ll throw us a crumb here and there for our allegience and support. Or we can stand up independent from them and unified in our own effort to speak and live the truth.

    White boys and their assorted lackeys will play along and write their cute little essays about founding fathers, about gallant pilgrims and happy natives. We can toil in the kitchen, bite our lip and smile while we pass the gravy, while we wash the dishes, while we chuckle at dumb jokes, accept the kitchen table and accept our role.

    Or we can chuck it all and take what comes. Its a hard road sometimes, but damn, days like this I’m glad I did the latter.

  14. “I could not understand why Squanto would want to help these total fuckers when he knew very well what kind of total fuckers these fuckers were.” Edith

    How much total
    Could a total fucker fuck
    If a total fucker
    Could fuck total?

    OK. No more extra special holidy herb for me.

  15. redneckmother.blogspot.com

    Excellent summary of the tired old sex-segregated Tgiving I’ve left behind, except you left out the drunks, the firearms, and the inevitable fight. (I mean in modern times, although I’m sure it was true in colonial times, too.) And some people wonder why I order out for Thanksgiving and go hiking.

    Pony, that article is revolting!

    According to Lichterman, some days it’s better to hit the mall and some days it’s better to shop online, hormonally speaking, that is.

    I could write something truly foul about that, but I’m savoring a dessert I didn’t make and don’t have to clean up after and I don’t want to kill that buzz.

    I will admit to being thankful for the after-Thanksgiving sales. With everyone bloated and drooling over retail crap, I have the grocery aisles to myself.

  16. I used to get roaring drunk on the night before Thanksgiving, once I learned that my heritage included both Mayflower lineage and Native American ancestry.

    My own blood on my own hands, washed away with wine.

    At least now I understand this isn’t uncommon for those whose families have been here a long time on one side, a whole lot longer on the other.

  17. CaffeinatedGeekGirl.typepad.com

    I have a fondness for Thanksgiving, probably because no one in my family watched football and my Grandfather cooked the turkey. Coming from a family that was decidedly non-religious it was nice to have a Holiday that didn’t require a religious affiliation of any kind. I’ll take Thanksgiving over Christmas any day.

    Thanksgiving feasts in North America go back before the so-called pilgrims even invaded, and the myth associated with the holiday is a twentieth century association. While I dislike the mythology associated with modern American Thanksgiving, I do enjoy taking time to give thanks by sharing a meal with friends and family.

  18. CGG, that makes sense — the fact that it goes farther back than a bunch of Europeans showing up here. It’s just a harvest festival; everyone’s got one. Sort of like how every religion manages to have a holiday associated with light near Dec 21.

  19. “there’s no turning back, Even while we sleep. We will find you acting on your best behavior, turn your back on mother nature, everybody want to rule the world. It’s my own desire, it’s my own remorse, help my to decide, help me make the most of freedom and of pleaure, nothing ever lasts forever, everybody wants to rule the world. There’s a rule where the light won’t find you, holding hands when the walls come tumbling down. When they do, then I’ll be right behind you, so glad we’ve almost made it, so sad they’ve had to fade it. Everybody wants to rule the world.”

    tis’ so no?

    you want to rule the world? even the best music is going to patronize you.

  20. blog.3bulls.net

    Everything so true.

    However, I did not ruin the turkey this year and somehow the walls of my apt. smell like they are now papered in butter. We also set the dessert/guest ratio record.

    The story of Tisquantum.

    Eff the pilgrims and certainly place blame on the entire mass of bullshit that is the history of our sad planet.

    I just view Thanksgiving as genre cooking night with friends. This is not to ignore its deplorable connotations, it is just to redefine it.

    The counter argument to that would be: “but, Pinko, do you basically embrace terrible thing X, thinking you are redefining it to Y, when all you are doing is making excuses for X?” Yeah, someone could say that, but that goes for pretty much every single item of behavior that can be described as selfish in the vast repertoire of naked ape BS that we do everyday, so I guess I’m not having it today.

    As always, stunning and forceful piece, TF.

  21. Hey, say what you want about the “tradition” of gorging yourself, but don’t knock the green bean casserole! It’s the only dish I know how to make. Of course, thanks to the retail panic this time of year, I don’t get to actually eat a meal with anyone because my boyfriend had to work Thanksgiving day. Some retailers are so obsessed with not losing a dime on profits that they’ve decided that their employees don’t deserve a day with their families! Because, heaven forbid John Q. Consumer go a day without being able to buy cheap crap from China. I wouldn’t be suprised if next year places decide to stay open on Christmas day too, to squeeze those last few pennies from the pockets of entitled jerks and go the extra mile to treat their workers like serfs.

    As much as they creep me out, and inconvenience me, I’m beginning to have a certian admiration for those places that close on Sundays. Maybe it’s just done to keep labor costs down or deny employees a shot at full time, but at least they have one day a week to see their families.

  22. Pony, that article you linked to is dreadful, so many levels of dreadful.

    Misogynistic pseudoscience peddled as “empowering” (actual quote!) by a former Playgirl magazine managing editor. More or less every sentence in that article could be taken to bits for the ill-informed claptrap that it is.

    Scary that far too many people will actually take it seriously.

  23. Ah, Friggas own, but they keep their employees chained to the cash registers on supposed National holidays to support traditional ‘family values’. Of course, there is no greater family outing than getting out before dawn with children in tow to camp outside a store on a cold November morning to try to get a limited number of big screen TVs at bargain prices. This will be followed by the morning of setting up the TV to the sound of arguments about placement, cable layout and other details. Finally, with the cooks firmly entrenched in the kitchen, the gallant hunters can ogle the fruits of their labours to the sound of football, only to be drawn away when the feast is presented. Too tired to help clean-up, the hunters fall asleep early, ready to do the whole thing again the next day because now they really need that new sofa.

  24. “Talk about “consumerist gorge-a-thon” my friends! Was just clicking through the channels and stopped on a frightening scene. I watched as a young expectant mother showed Martha and her audience how to craft a “costume” that looked like a turkey on a platter. Then, before my eyes, she placed her baby on the “platter” and folded the cloth turkey torso, complete with that slowly roasted golden skin look and paper drumstick frills, over her baby and began decorating the “platter” with faux berries, vegetables etc. I was gobsmacked! In whose imagination is this an acceptable way to celebrate anything? I know who I blame. The symbolism is grotesque. ”

    Yuk. Reminds of those creep Anne Gedes photos. They make me shudder.

  25. i would love to see this delivered as a dramatic monologue at the table, while traditionalist family members look on in horror. just the mental picture i got while reading it.

  26. Tanya, I read James Loewen’s “Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your High School History Textbook Got Wrong” several years ago. It should be required reading in every public school in this country, along with Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History Of The United States: 1492-Present.”

    The history we are taught in school is little more than White Boy Affirmation Class.

  27. faultline.org/place/toad

    …she placed her baby on the “platter” …

    Did she pluck it first? Am I the only perv here who got a laugh out of that um costume? Mmmmm, longpiggie.

    We dined with a couple of good friends, continuing their tradition of Anything But Turkey. This year it was roast guineafowl, and that was very good and I am thankful. I’m even more thankful for the good company. The one constant for those of us who don’t work in retail or hospitals or those other show-must-go-on fields is that everyone gets the same day off and we can go hang out. Also, in our crowd the guys cook. And they clean up. And I’m always glad to lend a dainty hand for a few minutes, just a few.

    Today I am going to Costco because I’m out of potassium supplement. Hell, I’m old and fearless, except about the ferocious crowds around the free-sample tables. Now where’d I put my shinguards?

  28. redneckmother: not everyone skipped the firearms this year. Today’s San Francisco Chronicle reports an Oakland Thanksgiving dinner that ended with three people dead by gunshot and a fourth seriously injured after he jumped from a third-story window to dodge the bullets.

  29. When I was a kid I thought the woman talk in the kitchen was boring, so I’d be out with the men watching football. I have been known to set up a table in the living room in front of the TV and do food prep while watching the game. My husband finds that extremely amusing.

    Does this mean I have to turn in my woman card now?

  30. guerillawomentn.blogspot.com

    Well, all I knwo is, I’m thankful for Twisty.

  31. guerillawomentn.blogspot.com

    Oh good god. And I haven’t even started my traditional post-family-gathering drinking yet.

    All I KNOW is.

  32. norbizness.com

    And that rum cake was badass as well!

  33. I, too, get roaring drunk on the night before Thanksgiving, and during the meal, and the day after. So does my entire family. Ever since all the young’uns passed the legal drinking age (which, over the years, has shifted to 16 at my house), Thanksgiving has been far less about food and football than it has been about having a grand ole time getting drunk with my family (biological and otherwise). And believe you me, it has been a better holiday for it.

    Back to Twisty’s original point, however, the violently racist-sexist-imperialist ‘tradition’ that spawned this opportunity for wine indulgence? Beyond disgusting. That’s really what the day-after drinking is all about: guilt. Some glorious time in the near future I will mandate an untainted day in the middle of spring for the family “fun” (after the ‘what is fun’ post, it is perenially in quotes for me) and be rid this hoax altogether.

  34. I give thanks for Twisty’s kick-ass deconstruction of white male dude day.

    Pony, that article you linked to is just too horrifying for words. How do people come up with crap like that???

    I’d also like to use this forum to register my own personal beef with thanksgiving: compulsory prayer. Never mind that no one prays or goes to church the rest of the damn year, or that the get together is populated by atheist-Americans, no no, some treacly-ass prayer that just makes my skin crawl must be said.

  35. Interestingly, the historians have finally gotten it right.

    Apparently, the first “thanksgiving” was really a result of Pilgrims poaching birds. When the natives came to talk turkey (hah!) about said poaching. Realizing the mistake, the Pilgrims, caught with their pants down and the cooked birds on the table. Did the only polite thing. Invited the natives, at the last minute, to eat something they had stolen. It was a tense dinner.

  36. Who turned all my commas into periods? Did I do that?

  37. MauraHennessey

    Loved it! A rant in the best sense of the word and thoroughly enjouyble! My partner and I are having steak, friens and brocolli in a mushroom sauce.

  38. Shiloruh

    Each year at this time as my family gathers together, there is a moment when we each are asked to shared our thoughts on this holiday. For seven years now I have read and shared this blog post. It encapsulates my feelings precisely about the day and its traditions. I have seen many reactions, from hostile and grumpy to pleasant and enthusiastic agreement. But it always provokes awesome conversation and insight in the group. I will share it again this year and at my vegetarian egalitarian home and hearth event tomorrow. Thank you, sincerely.

  39. Shiloruh

    I am back again to link the link. I wish you another merry trip around the sun. Thank you, once more, sincerely.

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