Thanksgiving…let’s be thankful we’re the best country in the world

It is commonly taught and widely believed that Thanksgiving is the anniversary of a feast between the Pilgrims, who landed at Plymouth Rock in 1621, and the native population. Yet many of us know by now that the first such feast didn’t take place in 1621, let alone on the last Thursday of November. In fact, there are multiple instances of great celebrations held by groups of wearied settlers in different parts of the country.

The Thanksgiving feast is constructed as a peaceful alliance among people of different races celebrating their wealth and common blessings. Yet the Pilgrim settlers, along with all other groups of settlers, have a complicated history with the Native Americans. The Wampanoag suffered a population drop after contracting leptospirosis from earlier settlers, and in an attempted alliance with the Pilgrims, signed over significant lands to them. Their alliance proved fruitful in the Wampanoag’s struggles with the Narragansett. Thus one could say that Thanksgiving, if attributed to the feast in 1621, is in a sense a celebration of alliance, but certainly not of peace. Which begs the question: how many holidays, rituals, and artifacts meant to bring or celebrate peace and understanding really promote cultural dominance or ethnocentrism, or honor instances of genocide or conquest? Do we equate pacifism with the absence of violence, or compassion with the absence of criticism or missionary activity?

Like most incidents in American history, the first Thanksgiving has taken on new meaning in the repetition that established it as an American tradition. It doesn’t specifically emphasize America or the dominant culture, if there is one, and doesn’t relate to a specific incident in which America or Americans won or otherwise reigned supreme. However, that it is contextualized in this alliance between Pilgrims and Wampanoag, certainly informs our meanings system that is activated upon Thanksgiving. Dysfunctional families force themselves to eat together in the name of ¬†togetherness, good neighbors open their tables to the weak and hungry, and speeches are made about cultural acceptance and working together to improve the world. Why this is so, I cannot say without further research, but I suspect that, over generations, this incident of peace between settlers and natives has been heightened to downplay the subsequent offenses by settlers against natives. Yet that the alliance was temporary and allowed the Pilgrims to easily take over native lands upon declining Wampanoag population, is neither compassionate nor violent, but certainly not an act of cultural acceptance.

Fountains Are Silly

n. fountain: a soothing or exciting spray of water upward from a body of water for aesthetic and relaxation reasons

Fountains are so ubiquitous that they have become part of our landscape schema…we might not notice that they’re there, but we would notice if they’re gone, from malls, universities, hospitals, doctor’s offices, hotels, government buildings, and conference centers. We would notice if they were placed somewhere like a daycare center, a Wal-Mart, or a public park. And why are they not there?

Fountains were a common decorative feature in ancient Rome, and have continued to be so. However, they have taken on an added dimension of promoting relaxation and contemplation. And yet fountains are expensive. Why do we need an expensive spray of water to relax? According to structuration theory, the practices of installing fountains, upon repetition, creates a structure, which could be social or mental, through which fountains become expected or required. My guess is that the rules for when and where fountains “should be” stem from the common function of the places they tend to be…places where a lot of money is spent. Fountains are, appropriately, a sign of decadence and wealth. Wouldn’t you rather cut an important business deal at a conference center with a fountain that costs the same amount of money the deal is for? Or go to a hospital that can afford the best staff and equipment because clearly they have enough to blow on a fountain?