Happy Thanksgiving 2014

My family always used to play this Stan Freberg album on Thanksgiving, so maybe you can listen to it while carving, or being carved for:

Here’s Freberg’s bio, for anybody who isn’t clear that Freberg’s irony is savage. For those who came in late, here’s a little bit about the historical context of the album, as we called them back then: It was made in a different Manhattan than the Manhattan that exists today. When Freberg was formed as a comedian, radio was still big, the Brill Building didn’t yet dominate popular music, the Little Rock Nine were big in the news, and men wore hats:


If the man in that photo were Stan Freberg, he could be carrying ad roughs in whatever the heck kind of man bag that is; a clutch? Freberg came up in the business of print advertising, just like Don Draper, though if I recall the reviews of Mad Men, there weren’t any satires of colonialism to be had in it, sadly.

All of which is a meandering way of saying that many of Freberg’s joke presume a context of pre-sixties Manhattan gemütlichkeit — granted, just following the McCarthy era and during the Cold War — that no longer exists, and so many of the jokes might not “make sense,” although they are almost always (like some of Shakespeare) still funny — I hope — because of vivid language, repartee, timing; an earworm doesn’t have to make sense, after all. It’s as if Freberg’s jokes (like those of another old school radio comedy act, Bob & Ray) were like coral: As it turns out, the “content” is the polyp that dissolves away, leaving the hard exoskeleton of “form” for future generations. For example, as Freberg the jovial real estate agent pitches Manhattan to the Peter Tischman the Dutchman on behalf of the Chief White Cloud, urged by his yenta wife):

CHIEF: Well, he could run down to Carnegie wigwam on Sunday afternoons and listen to Flying Birdstein explain the ceremonial dances.

Most readers will get Carnegie Hall[1], but readers may not get that Flying Birdstein is Leonard Bernstein, iconic symphony orchestra conductor, whose Young People’s Concerts, televised on Sundays from Carnegie Hall, were a staple of middlebrow culture of the day.

On the other hand, this:

Take an Indian to lunch this week
Show him we’re a regular bunch this week
Show him we’re as liberal as can be
Let him know he’s almost as good as we

Is timeless, isn’t it? So I don’t think it’s as if Freberg is “appropriating,” as for example “the Washington Redskins,” but more like he’s de-accessioning, empyting the museum of Western culture; kidz these days say, I think, culture jamming.

One way that Freberg’s Manhattan was different from today’s Manhattan is that everything wasn’t financialized back then; readers will correct me, but I can’t remember jokes about either banks or squillionaires in his work. That said, I can’t resist sending this one out to Janet MR SUBLIMINAL Hi Janet! [waves] Yellen:

This parody of the Lawrence Welk Show — old-fashioned when I was young, so you see — may be an extreme example of my “coral” theory about comedy, and if that theory is really too much for you, I can only appeal that you click ahead to 1:37 at “What is that noise, there?” If the “turn off the bubble machine” running gag enters the argot of financial journalism, I will be able to sit back and rest, because my work here will be done.

Oh, there’s a running gag at the beginning about “cards and letters” that’s probably culturally opaque: Freberg (and Welk) delivered their content in a pre-digital era. In 1960, Neilson had only been measuring television audiences for ten years. And advertising revenues depended on audience size, so producers developed techniques to get audience members to interact with the show directly; they would mention a piece of jewelry on the show, for example, and listeners would write in to find out how to buy the heroine’s brooch or whatever, and then they would count the letters. The constant repetition of “cards and letters” shows a similar tactic, so you can see that the running gag is about Welk trying to “pump” his show, rather like he pumps his accordion or, for that matter, like finance people inflate their bubbles.

* * *

Just in case some readers would like material a little bit less classic, and somewhat more contemporary, here’s Louis CK. Apparently it’s just before the holidays, and in fact it is full of things that (some) people may wish to be thankful for, but I think it’s relevant to Ferguson as well, and Ferguson has been on a lot of people’s minds lately:

(There really is a punchline, but you have to listen to the end.) Anyhow, when dealing with historical context “give them some time to be cranky” is a pretty good approach. It’s humane.

* * *

So that unpacks my knapsack just a little, eh? This being Thanksgiving, I should say what I’m thankful for, and while I’m not thankful to have discovered racoons in the crawlspace, I’m happy to have heated living quarters, a bed, and friends to go have Thanksgiving dinner with later today. Not everybody does. I’m especially thankful that my happiness curve has not been U-shaped, but has, in spite of the vicissitudes of downward class mobility, been a straight line heading upward. I am very lucky to be doing work that I feel I have been called to do, and to be doing it here at Naked Capitalism with you, readers, and Yves, and Alice Leen, the Lemon Sisters, the Chief, and Mr. Freberg. It would be hard to ask for more.


[1] Just where does the Russian Tea Room stand? Slightly to the left of Carnegie Hall.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. proximity1

    Attention! Warning! : deviant unorthodoxy ahead! The (adult) reader who continues hereafter is notified! Small children, uncover your ears and hark you well unto these words:

    We are such saps! There’s a real class war going on. Expecting, encouraging, and, above all, commercially exploiting such a holiday wherein average Americans in general are supposed to be outwardly observed to be “thankful” for their lot is, especially in 2014, an outrage and, if people would bother to think about it for a second, properly speaking a national disgrace to any sane and self-respecting people.

    Our modern Thanksgiving Day is a direct part of the more general abominations that are the legacy of President Lincoln with his reputation now and long since sanctified so grossly out of all proportion to fact or reason or good moral judgment. The Government and its owner business-interests have no business trying to tell people when, how and for what they ought to be grateful. But we’re literally raised from childhood to imbibe this nonsense, now made supremely superficial by the amazing operation of the modern society of spectacle.

    1. OIFVet

      I agree, generally. But I try to take advantage of the opportunity by being thankful for what really matters: the good people in my life. I view it as an opportunity to sit together and appreciate the simple fact that these family and friends are present in each others’ lives. Throw in a little subversion like refusing to spend a penny after noon on wednesday and I find Thanksgiving to be a great way to go back to the basics that make one’s life meaningful. FWIW I consider people here on NC to be a part of my life.

    2. Adam Eran

      Good comment about Lincoln. Cadillac Desert reports it was his executive action that made 160 acres and a mule the homestead rule nationwide. The problem is that such farms are too small to be sustainable in dry areas like California. That meant the California plutocrats gamed the system, hiring drunkards to homestead enough plots to assemble a farm that would be sustainable (roughly 1,000 acres).

      That set up the California oligarchy that persists until today. “Small” farms are typically a front for some plutocrat looking for subsidized water.

  2. Clive

    No other country does schmaltz like you good folks in the U.S. (perhaps if the shale oil/gas boom comes to an unfortunate fortunate end, you could bottle it up; it would easily become your most successful export) so I can’t really hope to compete.

    But… I’ll give it a go… I’m thankful to all who contribute to NC (even when I don’t agree with you!) so please, enjoy your dinners and I hope that all your turkeys* are tasty and succulent.

    * vegetarian/vegan option provided on request, subject to availability.

  3. abynormal

    gobble gobble to the rest of’m…im on my own this holiday! not a simple feat surrounded by southern chrisitian neo’s…the family has about had it with me and my ‘crazy thinking’…that is until they need something from me. they will be celebrating No 1 GA TECH against UGA but not before knocking down Khols, Walmart & Brandsmart doors. i was attacked this weekend for my ungodly actions (that ive exercised for 3yrs now and they’re just now noticing) so i gave the short answer:
    “im not participating in the college circus until student debt is forgiven and im surely not watching ball players gladiate themselves while starving…yes ball players are starving while those stands are packed. plenty of interviews on tv and in print of how the boys perform without basic needs…simple reason they CAN’T AFFORD TO EAT.
    i refuse to consume what i don’t need and celebrate distinguishing my Needs from Wants!
    i relish in the choosing of Who & What i stand next to!
    …but this doesn’t mean i don’t hope you know Hunger and experience Peace of Mind & Goodwill this year!”

    Cut me off the gloom
    And I will feel the boom

    Let me play with joy
    And I will enjoy

    Let me live in peace and free
    I will not harm thee

    Let me chase my time
    And I will bring it to sublime

    Let me write my story
    And I will bring it to glory

    Let me bring the light
    To my hut to become bright
    Interdependence/Abdul Sattar

      1. PaulArt

        My Dearest Comrade in Arms,
        Thanks for that note about being in the midst of Southern Christian-Neos. Sitting here in Indiana and attending Church with the Midwestern Christian Neos, I am glad to know that there are others like you out there who suffer these fundamentalist troglodytes.

        1. ambrit

          Lest we be accused of non equal opportunistic thinking, don’t forget the Traditional Christian Neos’, like the Catholic Sothrons I do worship with when my wife drags me to the church.

  4. steviefinn

    Happy Thanksgiving Lambert – same to Yves, & to all those whose wit & concern make this virtual meeting place, somewhere very special.

  5. barrisj

    Kudos for the Stan Freberg writeup! Those of us of a certain age treasured Freberg and his soulmate Daws Butler doing witty and cutting satire on their radio shows of the 50’s, not to mention the many parody records they released. And, of course there was the legendary “Time for Beany”, running for years on local LA telly station KTLA – he (and Butler) live on via YouTube – great satire for a deadly dull age.

  6. John Zelnicker

    I will add my thanks to Yves, Lambert, and the others who make this such a great site. I think I would be lost if I didn’t have the posts and comments to read every morning with my coffee and bagel.

    And a special thank you to whomever is taking time out of their holiday to do moderation today.

  7. Kevin Hall

    Thank you Yves, Lambert, and all NC contributors / community, thanks for all the insight and enlightenment.
    Thank you for fighting the good fight.

  8. nycTerrierist

    “It’s as if Freberg’s jokes (like those of another old school radio comedy act, Bob & Ray) were like coral: As it turns out, the “content” is the polyp that dissolves away, leaving the hard exoskeleton of “form” for future generations.”

    Fine turn of phrase and insight.

    Thanks Lambert!

  9. Adam Eran

    Freberg is definitely an acquired taste (several of my parents friends didn’t get it even back when it was more in tune with the times).

    My favorite from Freberg’s musical is the song Betsy Ross sings:

    Everybody wants to be an art director
    Everybody wants to call the shots
    Everybody wants to be a flag disector
    Changing all my stars to polka dots

    Everybody wants to have the final word on
    What is strictly out and what is in….
    How’d ya like a flag that features
    Fleur de lis on ochre corrugated tin?

  10. McKillop

    ‘Coons in your crawlspace!
    I’ve had the damned things homesteading in my attic. I’ve “live-trapped” seven of the critters and deported them to wilderness a few miles outside of town. Persistent, and perhaps like the hoboes of old able to leave messages scratched on fenceposts, the racoons return or are replaced by relatives. Three nights ago my miniature schnauser(?) set to growling and barking at the latest visitor. I reset the livetrap but so far to no avail.
    Now that you’ve found yourself to be blessed by the creatures perhaps you’ll post fewer antidotes featuring the beasts. I’m no murd’rous man but when I see the havoc they’ve done to my insulation in the attic and think of the work and money to be spent on repairs (while I shiver in my upstairs rooms and forbid my family to waste heat) everytime I see the cute little bandit-masked rascals, my blood turns cold. Even the “babies” tempt me to bloodlust.
    By the bye, my friends and relatives who are Cree and Ojibway and Algonquian talk about Thanksgiving as being another part of the scam pulled by the Europeans. They claim that they were thankful -believing the “guests” were finally leaving!
    (But like racoons and mice and other critters, the Europeans prove impossible to get rid of.)

      1. McKillop

        My advice is for you to re-take the territory as quickly as possible. Make the crawl space your Crimea, if you will.
        Where I live a shotgun blast would set police sirens blaring so I had to resort to live trapping. The neighbour behind me trapped a black squirrel (invasive here in the north, and no friend to red squirrels or humans) then shot the beast with a pellet gun. A friend beat his racoon visitor (who challenged him, he being bush-bred and raised) with a shovel. Bears are also bad and once interested by a camp (a “cottage” but not fancy) will return until shot, says my buddy Frenchie.
        My wife still expresses sympathy for the creatures but she’s a died-in-the-wool liberal . I humour her but if I see any ‘coons hitch-hiking from where I dump them off, I’ll show no mercy.
        There’s a Nature of Things (C.B.C.) David Suzuki episode on racoons that is worth watching (for the stouthearted.)

      2. ambrit

        Beware what you call up from the stygian depths!
        My Mom, who lives in inland South Florida has seen pythons, and not the Spanish Inquisition kind, slithering along next to the county road a time or two. The banditos may have sprayed musk somewhere around your crawlspace entrance as a territorial marker and thus set up an olfactory roadmap for themselves and other critters. Decent information on counter measures here:

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