Part II: Thanksgiving = Black Friday Eve?

Macy's Parade vs. HSN and QVC? No difference. Photo: AP

WASHINGTON, November 27, 2012 – We made a case in our previous article for the emergence of Black Friday as the real American autumn holiday, displacing the former contender for that spot, Thanksgiving Day. In support of this, we offer today our exhibit A, the only exhibit we really need to prove our point: the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Step aside HSN and QVC. Your efforts pale when placed against this Christmas holiday infomercial colossus

To us, at least, it’s intuitively obvious that Macy’s parade is now the finest current example of the diminishment of a major national holiday by a commercial carnie sideshow. Back in the late 1940s, Macy’s famous flagship New York department store, either by sheer luck or by inside contacts, became the beneficiary of one of the most famous Christmas movies of all time, “Miracle on 34th Street.”

You all know the central plot of this famous film. (Or should.) A genial, moderately rotund, eccentric older man with a 100% genuine white beard is hired to play Santa Claus at Macy’s. This jolly old elf violates all the rules of sales and marketing by sending customers and kids off to other department stores for Christmas purchases should his own employer—Macy’s—fail to be stocking the desired goods. His popularity soars, along with Macy’s Christmas sales, ironically. Rage and corporate jealousy ensue. Scandal and skepticism erupt. But in the end, we find out that old Kris is—ta-da—really Santa Claus, leading to a re-establishment of 1940s family values in the romantic sub-plot.

Production still from ‘Miracle on 34th Street.’ L-R: Edmund Gwenn (Kriss Kringle), Natalie Wood (Susan Walker) and Maureen O’Hara (Doris Walker). (Twentieth Century Fox.)

This delightful, nostalgic tearjerker arguably helped kick Macy’s into national prominence as the film became more widely known via the new medium of TV. This happened decades before Macy’s relentlessly acquired many of its one-time competitors to become what’s probably now the single most important department store shopping conglomerate in the U.S., as well as one of this country’s better retail investments in recent years (ticker symbol M).

Macy’s relentless expansion vastly expanded the company’s reach far beyond its original base at 34th St. and Herald Square, placing branches in retail malls across the country and creating a new luster and new synergies for the brand. Its expansion also helped attract greater and greater attention for its annual Thanksgiving Day Parade, televised now for decades and justly famous for its numerous Broadway show excerpts, high school and college marching bands, elaborate floats and—most distinctively—for its massive, signature helium balloons, initially focused on beloved cartoon characters.

Most folks couldn’t attend the parade in person of course, so it gradually became the main event for both kids and adults to watch on TV every Thanksgiving morning. The broadcast itself was a phenomenon, with three full, consecutive hours of precious video time devoted to the outrageously colorful event. The advent of nationwide color TV in the 1960s merely added to the interest, as viewers were astounded by the sheer outsized spectacle of it, not to mention the brilliant colors that flashed before them on their massive, new twelve- to nineteen-inch CRTs.

From the time of Kris Kringle onward, it was clear to everyone, of course, that at least one of the ulterior motives for televising the event was to raise consciousness as to the shopping nirvana that awaited Macy’s patrons. Shopping happiness was not only to be had by residents of New York City and environs, but also for people around the country who might be spending time in that city during the holiday shopping season.

But, as the years advanced—and as Macy’s gobbled up old department store locations and brands and spread its corporate footprint to nearly every large- and medium-sized city across the U.S.—the holiday cheer percentage of the parade was gradually eroded in favor of drumming up more and more business for the now national department store chain.

The best and most recent example of this gradual but relentless change in the spirit of the parade was on display during the broadcast of this past Thursday’s Thanksgiving parade. It was officially telecast on NBC and unofficially presented on rival CBS, giving it substantial exposure on two of the nation’s current four major TV networks.

Does Spiderman look like his hand is outstretched requesting more holiday dollars from John Q. Public? Wall Crawler—tell us it ain’t so! (AP)

But in keeping with recent tradition, less and less of the parade was shown to TV viewers, as minutes once devoted to those high school and college marching bands, floats, and giant balloons were replaced by the increasing prominence of the networks’ talking heads; lengthy appearances by special guests promoting their latest movies or shows—most egregiously by an extended and gratuitous appearance by ancient TV has-been Ed Asner on CBS; and preempted, seemingly every five minutes, by dense thickets of commercials, all pitching holiday sales and products. Meanwhile, the actual parade meandered by just over the shoulders of the talking heads, largely unseen by those who’d tuned in to see it.

Bands, Broadway show ensembles and floats all got about 30-second soundbites, max. Noticeably, corporate-sponsored floats featuring bigger logos than ever and attracted most of the attention and kudos from the scripted MSM blow-dries. And most of the massive balloons pitched, albeit sometimes indirectly, upcoming NBC holiday specials, commercial products, or Hollywood studios with new movies to promote—all of which were written into the impeccably coiffed and grossly overpaid commentators’ scripts as well.

In short, that once-beloved Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has been transformed over the years into its present incarnation as the nation’s most massive, colorful, and expensive annual infomercial. Its goal is no longer to entertain and delight. The parade now exists solely to flog listeners and kids alike into launching the traditional, annual consumer holiday overspending spree as early as possible, hopefully commencing directly after that last piece of Thanksgiving pumpkin pie is consumed.

Gone entirely are the once genuine feelings of Thanksgiving and Christmas in this increasingly sad, annoying event. And there’s no better example of this than the caboose-like appearance of Santa Claus, whose person and sleigh mark the end of the parade. These days, we’re lucky if we see much of Santa at all. He’s briefly noted, but his appearance on a gigantic, elaborate, toy-loaded sleigh now generally serves as the closing image of the parade, run beneath the rapidly scrolling production credits that nobody can read anyway.

Santa and his sleigh have become just another visual meme to remind people of why they’re heading for Macy’s et. al., which, of course, also secularizes Christmas. We are encouraged to forget about the real Reason for the Season to follow the exploits of the fellow once known as benevolent Saint Nick. He’s now the Jolly Old Elf, the crassly commercialized reanimation of the portly fellow who initially showed up in the still beloved poem, “The Night Before Christmas. Mr. S. Claus 2012 is now the Pied Piper of holiday retail, goading kids who visit him to goad their parental units to head off annually to the local mega-mall and at incur least six months of time payments at high interest rates, all of which most Americans are increasingly unable to afford.

Black Friday crowds at Macy’s flagship store last week. Thanksgiving Parade: mission accomplished! (AP)

You think the Prudent Man is vexed at what this televised TV parade has become. Check out a few (unedited) comments from folks who joined us here in Communities’ TV Den column for a live chat during last Thursday’s event:

“We really would like to see the parade and not a talk show, go get on a talk show, if you need to interview all these celebrities because it is not about them but the many different high schools and colleges that got invited to march in the parade this is a big day for them and the parents that sent their children would like to see them. This is parade coverage was a disappointment.” 

“Really disappointed…..commercials, interviews and entertianers…….where are the floats, balloons and marching bands! I switched channels and watched cartoons.”

“I am very disappointed in CBS’s coverage of the parade, its all talk and artist performances - the only balloons I am seeing are the few inches above the hosts. Hopefully NBC will be better.”  

“Nope, just as bad” 

Commenters were also irritated—as were we—that NBC’s vaguely promised Internet stream of the parade turned out to be nonexistent. (Although a few intrepid live-chat participants were able to find obscure and intermittent streams via third-party sites.)

No doubt you’ve gotten our point here as well as the point made by those who participated in our live Parade chat.. This is actually a bigger story than it might initially appear to be, symbolizing the increasing moral and economic stupidity of a retail sector that depends on roughly the final 60 days of the year for nearly the entirety of its annual profits; the endgame of a political sector that seems bent on crushing the spirit, the morality, and the religiosity out of traditional holidays; and, alas, the gullible public which, via succumbing to guilt-induced family budget busting, continues to overspend and overuse credit on meaningless gestures meant to replace family love.

Sadly, most of the merchandise purchased during the season, particularly the latest expensive toys, will be broken or neglected and tossed into the trash sometime between New Year’s Day and the chocolate-buying frenzy once known as Easter.

This is Obamanation 2013. What was once a great country is now a vast wasteland, a desert of the mind and spirit. With religion and American pride being systematically exterminated by the left, and with economic sense being thrown to the winds by rapacious commercial interests who know no checks and balances, the average American citizen has been truly transformed from an independent individual into a “consumer” in the fullest sense of the word: a consumer of unpaid-for and endlessly increasing government “benefits” on one hand, and a consumer of useless products on the other. What the government doesn’t take away from the average American, the retail and commercial sectors will.

The result is that the average citizen ends up with little or no savings or investments with which to better either himself or his family. Upward mobility, once a universal dream and a frequent reality in this country, is rapidly being replaced by the kind of societal bifurcation common in Central and Latin America but once thought impossible here: a clean, obvious split between the elite haves and the hapless, handout needy have-nots with no middle-class in between.

The Prudent Man is increasingly concerned that such a system can’t last much longer before it collapses under its own oppressive weight. Aspiration is a powerful thing, particularly when there’s a very real chance that those who genuinely aspire and work hard can actually succeed. This laddering effect, once the crown jewel of American-style capitalism, is being rapidly destroyed before our very eyes.

The best an individual can do today is resist both government and commercial inducements to follow this path to its dismal end. In so doing, each citizen need to clean up his or her own family balance sheet in advance to avoid being pulled down into the abyss when the current social façade finally collapses into a disastrous and still largely unexpected endgame that probably won’t end very well.

In the meantime, let’s vow in 2013 to try to retrieve Thanksgiving—and its genuinely American Spirit—by rescuing it from its second-class status by boycotting that new pretender, Black Friday, next autumn and ever after. There are some things worth saving, and this once-distinctive holiday is one of them.

Disclaimer: The author of this column maintains several active trading and investment portfolios and owns residential and investment real estate.

Any positions mentioned above describe this author’s own investment decisions and should not be construed as either buy or sell recommendations. The current market is highly treacherous and all investors travel at their own risk, so caution should be exercised at all times.

Illustrations, charts, commentary, and analysis are only the author’s view of current or historical market activity and don’t constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any security or contract. Views, indications, and analysis aren’t necessarily predictive of any future market or government action. Rather they indicate the author’s opinion as to a range of possibilities that may occur going forward.

References to other reporters, analysts, pundits, or commentators are illustrative only and do not necessarily represent an endorsement of such individuals’ points of view. If specific investment vehicles are mentioned in any article under this column heading, the author will always fully disclose any active or contemplated investments in said vehicles.


Read more of Terry’s news and reviews at Curtain Up! in the Entertain Us neighborhood of the Washington Times Communities. For Terry’s investing and political insights, visit his Communities columns, The Prudent Man and Morning Market Maven, in Business.

Follow Terry on Twitter @terryp17


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Terry Ponick

Now writing on investing, politics, music, movies and theater for the Washington Times Communities, Terry was formerly the longtime music and culture critic for the Washington Times print edition (1994-2009) before moving online with Communities in 2010.  



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