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The "Thanksgiving Story" Story

Thanksgiving really is one of the most American of holidays (if you ignore that weird Canadian version, anyway). Even more than, say, Independence Day, there's a clear disconnect between the celebration itself, the story it's commemorating, and the actual messy history. It is, in its own way, an origin myth of (white) American identity - of Europeans fleeing persecution to a new land, which welcomes them through both a bountiful harvest and the kindness of a native population willing to share it with them. It's the pilot episode for Manifest Destiny, blatantly ahistorical to even most elementary school students, and, weirdly enough, genuinely accepted as such. Most depictions of the holiday, at least prior to the rush of Cold War hagiography that presented American history as a theatrical attraction with a "NO COMMIES" sign at the entrance, was focused on the imagery of food and family. Specific foods at that, making this one of the few ritualistic meals to survive in secular society, even if the specific elements are present out of tradition than relevance to the events commemorated. Today,  of course, even this is largely circumvented in the panicked sprint to Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the inauguration of the Holiday Season's consumerist rush and demands.

Why am I talking about this now - is it simply out of a Grinch-like hatred of enjoyment rooted in historical fibbery? A broadly-aimed fusillade of vegetarian propaganda to guilt people away from their remaining leftovers? (Although I must admit to never being particularly into standard Thanksgiving fare, well before I stopped eating meat.) It's mostly that, as should be evident from my time with this blog, I am fascinated by stories, and our relationship with them - particularly when there's an assumed value in their telling, re-enactment, and passing down. Even in the most abstracted holidays, there's a need to find significance and meaning - just look at the first two Peanuts specials for some mid-century examples: Linus's Great Pumpkin ritual notwithstanding, Charlie Brown's assumptions of a communal Halloween experience made clear through it being denied him (who's giving out all those rocks, anyway?) align with his idea of Christmas Spirit as something built through familial group solidarity. And so, with Thanksgiving, we distill all the obvious American mythmaking and poultry propaganda down to a core idea of gratitude and thankfulness for their own sake - it's certainly something we've done ourselves. And, without getting too "Lisa the Iconoclast" about it, it's worth looking at the positive effect myths can have separately from their relationship to history and the people involved. But, on the other hand, the Jebediah Springfield story isn't nearly as loaded as the Thanksgiving story. And it's loaded not only because of the implications and overtones, but because it plays freely with the history of a real and marginalized people. Let's be clear: the Thanksgiving story is racist as all get-out and, for many young people, was a major element of education about Native Americans. A story that is not only comically ahistorical, but also portrays a people solely in a way that meets the needs of their oppressors. All of this needs to be borne in mind, but, to adapt a Futurama quote, we've all heard it - we can't un-hear it, no matter how deep a food coma we find ourselves in.

So where does that leave us, not only with the Thanksgiving, but with other loaded stories? The first thing is recognizing that they are stories, told by, for, and about a specific group of people, and then looking at the story's role within the larger culture, the effect that its had and continues to have, and the relationship that it has to the people within it. Not only that, but, as with any narrative, we need to examine our own relation to it. How did we feel when we first learned it as fact? How did we feel when we found out more context, even to the point of disproving the things we had been taught? And, after all of it, what can we take away from the experience of listening and of questioning? Were do we find the value in that ourselves?

These are deep and serious questions, and far beyond the scope of a silly little blog about gaming and narrative, but they're the kinds of things we need to always be asking of ourselves and of the stories we hear and tell. After all, the only difference between an unquestioned story and propaganda is the purpose to which it's currently being put. And I believe deeply, to a point where it hurts, that audiences deserve better, and that stories deserve better. So, if there's a core to the Thanksgiving story that makes people feel and want to pass it on, it's the centering of that feeling of gratefulness and thanks. And I am grateful to you, dear readers, for letting us take you on these journeys for another year. The tale is in the telling, but also in the hearing, and there's nothing more meaningful for us to be thankful for.

- B

Send questions, comments, and pilgrim fanfic to neversaydice20@gmail.com or "X" it to us at @neversaydice2.


 

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