Every year, there is a “Presentation of a Thanksgiving Turkey to the President of the United States.” This has been an unofficial tradition since at least the Forties. Before 1989, Presidents simply accepted the bird, took a few publicity shots with members of the National Turkey Federation and it was lights out for Tom the Turkey.
Doesn’t the National Turkey Federation sound important and epic? Do they all have light sabers and uniforms? I’m curious.
But, during the ceremony in 1989, George Bush decided to formally grant the turkey a “pardon,” it has become a tradition ever since. (Whether or not this was spontaneous or a carefully thought out public relations ploy is unknown.)
So, Bush gets the credit for being Mr. Nice Guy and Savior to Poor Doomed Turkey. (Though, as a fervent Democrat, I would like to note that when in 1963, John F. Kennedy was presented with a turkey wearing a diabolically written bib that read “Good Eating Mr. President,” JFK spared him, saying, “Let’s just keep him.” That’s my Jack!)
So, when an “upcoming news story” promo came up on TV the other day -- “stay tuned for the Presidential Pardon of the National Turkey” -– I knew it was supposed to be a warm and fuzzy news story, a happy holidays bit and that I should feel -– well, warm and fuzzy about.
That was before I knew the truth about the Prudential Turkey Pardon.
It’s all bologna. That’s right: the whole thing’s a sham.
Turns out the to-be-pardoned bird is not some random turkey plucked from a bucolic farm (or even a shit-covered, anti-biotic drowned barn). No –- like a child chosen and groomed to one day be emperor, The To-Be-Pardoned Turkey is chosen at birth, trained and groomed for precisely this job (who trains this chosen turkey? Members of The Federation? Is it like a Zorro thing where he has a mentor, or Bond thing where he goes through a series of trainings and tests? Once this scandal is exposed, how will the movie version handle this?)
I suppose it makes sense. Think about it: The Turkey has to be calm (can’t have him scratching out the eyes of the leader of the free world, or biting off fingers of Girl Scouts on national TV). The Turkey has to be good with crowds and flash photography –- the Federation (cue dark, foreboding music) can’t run the risk of the animal pulling a squawk-n-run if spooked.
The White House relishes telling everyone that the recently Pardoned Turkey is going to retire to green pastures: For a while the lucky few were sent to Frying Pan Farm Park (ironic) in Fairfax, Virginia; from 2005 -2009 they were sent to Disneyworld to serve as “Grand Marshall” of the holiday parade, then retired to a ranch; during Obama’s presidency the saved birds have been sent to Mt. Vernon to live out their days in peace.
Clarification: to live out their very few days in peace. This is because commercially bred animals are mostly genetically fucked, thanks to all the alterations over the years. Plus, like veal, they are fed so much, so fast they are not healthy enough to survive longer than…well, Thanksgiving.
So, essentially, even without the pardon, the bird’s days are numbered.
Maybe I’m thinking too much like a fiction editor, trying desperately to create drama out of a cute little human-interest story. Or, maybe I want to buy into the sweetness of it all. Regardless, the pre-arranged nature of the pardon makes it all seem a bit less cool – like a screenplay that’s been worked over by a major studio, who hired and fired 10 different writers before coming up with something focus-grouped to death.
The bottom line is, in dramatic terms, nothing was really at stake for this turkey to begin with. And that takes away some of the punch.
But, the plot does thicken when I discover that THE very special, very lucky pardoned bird is not really THE very special, very lucky, pardoned bird: The Turkey himself has a political decoy. That’s right: The Turkey’s got a double. Just in case.
Now we’re onto something. Now it’s all starting to sound like a Tom Clancy or Vince Flynn book. Bestseller by next November: “The Pardon Game: A Political Thriller.”
But, let’s go back to the question, why does all of this make me feel bad? Because Thanksgiving was the one holiday that I thought hadn’t been completely commercialized and manufactured. Sure, you can buy Thanksgiving decorations, but the pressure to do so is less overwhelming than Halloween or Christmas. Unlike Christmas or Easter, there does seem to be a real focus on the meaning behind the holiday (perhaps, in part, because there is no Thanksgiving mascot besides a turkey. We kill and eat the mascot. Very different from Santa Clause or the Easter Bunny).
But, this year, with all the early Black Friday bullshit…now this? It’s too much.
And frankly, it’s kind of sick and alarming that here I am cheering on the Pardoned Bird (name: Cobbler. Second agent: Gobbler) while whetting my own appetite for Thursday’s meaty feast.
Would someone please tell me what that means on a broader scale –- sociologically, anthropologically, and psychologically? Does the Pardoned Turkey(s) act as a kind of a reverse martyr, so we can all feel good about having sliced into a nice 16 pounder yesterday? Can’t we having anything that isn’t created and manufactured to make us feel a certain way -– warm, fuzzy, American? Why do we have to construct these events and build a story around them? Isn’t it enough to be thankful…or goes Thanksgiving just not play well with audiences -– needs to be spiced up with forged and fashioned ploys?
What? I’m over thinking this?