Above Average Thoughts From An Average Guy
This past weekend was Cinco de Mayo, the only holiday I’m unequivocally a wet blanket about. It’s not that I’m opposed to all the food, drinks, and customs the holiday entails; it’s how it’s all flimsily tied to the celebration of Mexican “culture”—namely, margaritas, Coronas, sombreros, piñatas, and nachos—with all of the pretenses surrounding its raison d’être being embarrassingly stereotypical. It’d be like saying you did your part for Black History Month by watching a Tyler Perry marathon on TBS.
There was a fascinating article from the Associated Press last Saturday about the origins of my favorite sham holiday. A few enlightening highlights from the article by Russell Contreras:
And here’s what Cinco de Mayo is not, despite all the signs in bar windows inviting revelers to drink: It’s not Mexico’s Independence Day, and it’s barely marked in Mexico, except in the state of Puebla, where the holiday is rooted in a complicated and short-lived 1862 military victory over the French.
Often mistaken for Mexican Independence Day (that’s Sept. 16), Cinco de Mayo commemorates the 1862 Battle of Puebla between the victorious ragtag army of largely Mexican Indian soldiers against the invading French forces of Napoleon III.
So it was basically their battle of Lexington and Concord, only not involving America, and also more meaningless, and also we don’t celebrate Lexington and Concord. (That took place on April 19, for the record. Siri must’ve forgotten to remind you.) So really, for Americans, it involves the group we fucked over to build this country (Indians), the group we’re trying to fuck over now (Mexicans), and the group we reflexively thumb our noses at upon hearing their name (the French).
Over the years, the holiday has been adopted by beer companies as a way to penetrate the growing Latino market, even as the historical origins of the holiday remain largely forgotten.
I miss the days when corporations wouldn’t just shamelessly manufacture some contrived motive for you to consume their product at a given time. You know how we all go buy a McRib every fall because it’s “for a limited time only”? The McRib comes back every fucking year, and the reason it’s probably off the menu the other eleven months is because scientists determined consuming only a month’s worth of miscellaneous pork-like filler would constitute an FDA-approved sublethal dose, yet McDonald’s has made the act of going to McDonald’s an event.
Last month, I purchased a cookie called the “Birthday Cake Oreo.” How these weren’t invented sooner makes me think we failed as a society, but the occasion for their release was Oreo’s 100th birthday. Yes, I happily commemorated the birthday of a corporation that basically said at one time, “We’re gonna start using trans-fat since it’s healthier than what we’re putting in now.”
McDonald’s and Nabisco don’t need to wrap themselves in some Bastille Day tie-in for you to buy their shit; they allow it to stand on its own merits. Beer and alcohol should do the same. Heineken doesn’t need you to drink their product on a Saturday because it’s Tet; they know you’ll drink it because it’s beer and it’s Saturday and you hate life. Why co-opt this day, Tostitos and Dos Equis? You’re better than that.
Next, Contreras cites research by author David Hayes-Bautista, who recently published a history of the holiday in El Cinco de Mayo: An American Tradition:
According to Spanish-language newspapers at the time, this first group of multinational Latinos on U.S. soil identified with the Union Army’s fight against the Confederacy and often wrote pieces about the evils of slavery. Hayes-Bautista said these Latino immigrants were concerned about the Union’s lack of progress and Napoleon III’s interests in helping the South.
“It wasn’t until the news came about the Battle of Puebla that they got the good news they wanted,” said Hayes-Bautista. “Since Napoleon III was linked to the Confederacy, they saw the victory as the first sign that their side could win.”
They didn’t, of course, at least not for a few years. French forces took over Mexico after the Battle of Puebla, and installed Habsburg Archduke Maximilian as Emperor of Mexico. He was captured by Mexican forces five years later and put to death.
So after sucking down a Corona and hitting up the bowl of salsa last Saturday, you now know the true meaning of Cinco de Mayo and what you were celebrating: West Coast Mexican immigrants citing a French dictator’s tangential connections to an American war as a symbolic proxy battle for their own elongated and protracted fight for sovereignty.
Initially after reading this I was more dismissive of this “holiday” than ever, but after further consideration, I had two realizations:
1. Cinco de Mayo is only gaining in popularity and not going anywhere.
2. Despite there being no logical retort to the notion that this holiday is nothing more than a corporatized contrived sham, so what?
After all, why can’t we just celebrate everything we like about the holiday and stop rationalizing that eating a flauta on May 5 is the equivalent of endorsing the DREAM Act? You don’t have to pretend you’re paying homage to our friends south of the border by co-opting a holiday they don’t celebrate and embracing all the most blatantly obvious elements associated with their culture—not to mention watering down and adapting those elements to make them more palatable to insular and culturally-deficient American tastes. Just admit the weather’s getting nice and you want to drink something different on a Saturday and have an excuse to eat refried beans. Nothing changes except we strip away the insultingly phony façade behind it. We’ll just give it some bullshit name like SaturMay, in honor of the first Saturday in May when the weather is finally getting warmer and you can eat and drink all the Mexican-inspired stuff you like. Yeah, it’s kinda weak, but it still seems more legit than college kids anticipating the anniversary of the battle that served as a five-year precursor to the overthrow of Emperor Maximilain in another country.
The Cinco de Mayo stuff got me thinking about holidays in general. If I can rebrand Cinco de Mayo without doing away with it altogether, what other holidays could we alter and improve upon? Taking it a step further, in what other aspects of American life have we just blithely accepted the lackluster status quo rather than finding ways to adjust for changing times? Thus the basis for a new monthly column, Moderately Extreme Makeover, in which I’ll tackle an issue that drastically needs addressing and suggest ways we can ameliorate it ranging from a couple carefully crafted tweaks to a complete overhaul. We’ll let Congress bicker and get nothing done on the important issues all summer; I’ve got all the answers for you on inane bullshit right here. This month, I’m taking on holidays. Let’s take a look at what can be done:
New Year’s Day: You know that thing you bemoan all the time, what are they called, days? Yeah, an aggregate of 365 of them constitutes a year. With this holiday, we’re celebrating a new one of those. La-de-freaking-da. New Year’s isn’t anything. It’s basically the government and corporate America saying, “Yeah, last year sucked. This one will too. At least we’ll let you stay home the first day to sway you into a false sense of optimism that this year will be any different.” New Year’s Eve from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. should be the holiday. The time before and after is merely buildup and recovery, respectively.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day: My only suggestion would be moving this to February 1 to coincide with the start of Black History Month. I mean, I could understand if the day were set in stone to be recognized on Dr. King’s birthday (January 15), but it rotates every year by being on the third Monday of January, so what’s the difference? America is basically saying, “We need to respect and honor the legacy of a man whose steadfast adherence to the cause of championing the oppressed and marginalized in their struggles and preaching values like equality and human dignity for all people served as a sterling example of a noble and courageous spirit. At the same time, we reeeeeeeealy want a three-day weekend every January.”
Groundhog Day: I’m not sure anyone’s based their seasonal weather forecasts on the pointless exercises of America’s ninth-favorite rodent in about 125 years, but I’m pretty sure this is single-handedly keeping the economy of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania afloat. We’ll chalk this up as a jobs program and leave it as is.
President’s Day: MAJOR work needed on this one. As a kid, I remember honoring our two greatest presidents: George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Then, with the proximity of their birthdates, they merged them together into this President’s Day bullshit and now we only get one day off. Seriously, it’d be like them having New York Yankees Day and we had to pay the same tribute to Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Jeter, and Rivera as we do Kei Igawa. Sorry, James Buchanan and Calvin Coolidge don’t need to be lumped together with the greatest figures in American history. So we’re going back to the way it was, with a twist.
I feel like the liberals preemptively capitulated on establishing a nonspecific, general “President’s Day” just to prevent Fox News from starting up every telecast with “Why isn’t there a Reagan’s Birthday holiday?” But I think we can all agree that the guy who was there at the inception of the republic and the guy whose steadfast and resolute leadership saved the republic are the only two who deserve a holiday. What we can do is take our next favorite presidents and just give them a “featuring” tag: Washington’s Birthday featuring Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, and FDR and then Lincoln’s Birthday featuring Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Reagan. Now everyone’s honored. As a bonus, the GOP’s boner for anything Reagan is immense enough that the Democrats could probably get them to agree to universal health care, subsidized union dues, and mandatory reductions in all private industry CO2 emissions just for giving Reagan one-fourth of a meaningless day in February.
Super Bowl: I’ve been asked many times whether the Monday after the Super Bowl should be a holiday. (I’ve also heard the suggestion the game be moved to Saturday. It stays on Sunday. I don’t even think this deserves an argument.) Your immediate response would be, “Of course. Let Sunday night be a long, elaborate celebration with no worries about work or school the next day.” But upon further reflection, the Super Bowl doesn’t need to be a holiday. I was home on that Monday the year I quit college (the first time); it’s incredibly overrated. You just lie around, get sick of watching the same SportsCenter highlights and coach interviews, and by about noon you start missing your work or school social peers whom you’d normally break down the game with. By Tuesday, unless you live in the region of the winning team and the parade is that day, it’s old news. Let’s just keep it the way it is: We all go in Monday but accomplish absolutely nothing, rendering it more pointless than if we had just stayed home, and bosses sign off on looking the other way on your indolence—even to the point where a termination on that Monday could be challenged in appeals court. Agreed? Good.
Valentine’s Day: I was never more cynical about any holiday than Valentine’s Day, even up until recently. (The Simpsons did a brilliant segment in one episode where a bunch of corporate suits half-heartedly invented a new holiday called “Love Day” that everyone ate up. It didn’t seem that much more ridiculous than Valentine’s Day, and that was satire.) It needs to go away, but it seems to actually be gaining strength over the years, so we’re taking a new approach: We’re ending this day via reverse psychology. To use an example: Do you remember the old tales of a young kid caught smoking by their parents being forced to smoke the entire carton in one sitting until they got sick? Seems apocryphal and horribly dated even if true, but the logic applies here: This Valentine’s Day, for your special someone, go to the utmost extreme on every level to be the most doting and obsequious husband/boyfriend you can. Some ideas:
-Buy an obnoxiously oversized teddy bear that you have no place to store.
-Find the card with the corniest message, preferably a talking one.
-Cram so much Bryan Adams down her throat she’ll subconsciously internalize a hatred of Canada and not know why.
-Ignore your kids if they try to even acknowledge you, claiming it would distract you from providing undivided attention toward their mom.
-Literally destroy your cell phone (we need some major sacrifices here to make this work), claiming you don’t want to receive calls from anyone else that day, even as she’s wondering how she’ll get through to you after you’re not by her side all day and night from February 15 on.
-Miss work and put your job in jeopardy to show her love that morning and afternoon.
-Hold your bladder and don’t shower because even a bathroom break would take you away from time with her.
You’ll technically be doing everything Hallmark and Whitman’s say you should, only without a trace of moderation. It’ll seem creepy and borderline psychotic, but that just means you’ll be showing her how ridiculous this day is when taken 100 percent seriously and not simply reduced to swapping diamonds for blow jobs like everyone else. Instead of playing February 14 against you every year, she’ll be abjectly terrified of it.
Or you could also just be single. It’s actually pretty fucking great.
St. Patrick’s Day: I don’t drink, but both my grandmothers are Irish and I have a weakness for Irish soda bread, so I’m perfectly fine with everything about this holiday. My one minor adjustment: Make it a mandatory Saturday every year. Does March 17 actually mean anything to anybody? No. St. Patrick’s Day means something to everybody. Would anyone honestly complain if this was on a weekend every year with Sunday to recover?
Your birthday: Do what I do: Never mention it to anyone (obviously some people will know, but don’t make a big fuss around coworkers or casual acquaintances), then casually bring it up over the subsequent weeks so everyone will feel bad they forgot. Then again, maybe only my warped sense of humor gets a kick out of that. (This isn’t my idea, but I’ve also heard of people changing their Facebook birthday to the wrong date just so they can sit back and watch all of their “friends” send well wishes to them months in advance.)
April Fools’ Day: What killjoy doesn’t love a day for practical jokes? That being said, I usually am made to look like an ass at least once, so I suggest we legalize kicking people in the scrotum on April 1. You can punk me all you want, just no going crying to an authority figure when I try to send your testicle shooting out your mouth in knee-jerk retaliation.
Easter: I can’t tell if we’ve over-commercialized Easter or underdone it. I mean, it’s the holiest day on the calendar for Catholics. Should corporate America just be satisfied they were somehow able to connect chocolate bunnies and colored eggs to the crucifixion and resurrection of the Lord and Savior of an entire ecumenical body? Or should I be wondering why Hammacher Schlemmer hasn’t been selling me a little levitating Jesus by now? I’m scared to touch this one. We definitely could trim a few days off Lent though. The whole “40 days” thing is kinda played out.
Mother’s Day/Father’s Day: I’ve always been conflicted about these. Mind you, I’m of the mind-set that, like spontaneous expressions of love not just being confined to Valentine’s Day, you should undertake acts that show love and support for your mother and father every day. If you don’t do that, then why should you get this one-shot makeup to wipe the neglect slate clean? But I also know that a lengthy treatise opposing the bin Laden raid wouldn’t be as controversial as taking on Mother’s Day. A two-week national dialogue on the virtues of motherhood stemmed from some generic Democratic pundit’s argument that a millionaire’s wife never worked. Needless to say, moms are a force no one wants to reckon with.
Now as we all learned from Ann Romney, being a stay-at-home mom and making sure your kids don’t drink Drano or play with the box of expired prescription medication bottles in the garage is the toughest job in the world, but nevertheless, Mother’s Day is starting to come across as kind of sexist. This isn’t the ‘50s. Women are balancing career ambitions with motherhood and don’t want to be solely identified through either outlet. This holiday still focuses on stereotypical elements that feel catered to some committee-drawn homogenized mom-like archetype; it’s 2012 and we’re still going with the “flowers, breakfast in bed, day off from your duties” horribly outdated June Cleaver-approach that seems to stop one step short of telling Mom, “Maybe Daddy will even let you drive the car up the block like a real person today!”
Yeah, debating this just makes me sound lazy, but I could also flip the script and argue that motherhood is a gift in itself that needs no additional perks. We really should just admit that this is an entirely guilt-based holiday and end it at that, but that wouldn’t satisfy the role of this column. So I’ll say this: The ideas associated with motherhood have changed in the last 50 years has but this holiday hasn’t. With that in mind, you can really support your mom by assuming more responsibility around the house and in your own life from childhood through adulthood each and every day, allowing her to pursue her own interests and dreams, whatever they may be and in whatever form they may come. Let’s not pretend an overpriced buffet somehow justifies confining her to the home so she can iron your shirts the other 364 days. And if your mom is working and still assuming the entirety of household responsibilities and going over the top in her efforts to prop you up as a functioning human being? Well you’re just an asshole. Get your ass to Zales and the florist, now!
Oh, and Father’s Day. Dads don’t care. They’re lying if they say they do. The sales campaign is combined with “grads” just to further deemphasize it. Father’s Day’s origins feel like the result of a dickhead Fox News-type move after Mother’s Day was established when a turn-of-the-century version of Steve Doocy came out and asked, “But what about the dads? I feel this is a liberal conspiracy to pander to women.” And now we’re stuck with Father’s Day.
Fun fact: Father’s Day is so second-class that the rumor of it being the number one day for collect calls is one of the few Snopes articles that is actually true.
Memorial Day: I love Memorial Day but always feel disrespectful about how I celebrate it. All I want to do is grill and go swimming for the first time all year even as the holiday’s ostensible purpose is to honor and pay solemn remembrance to the thousands of brave men and women who have lost their lives in the name of our country. Maybe we should make the last Monday of May some random American Revolution-themed Fourth of July sequel and push Memorial Day back to February to give it the proper observance it deserves.
Fourth of July: I love everything about the Fourth of July. It’s far enough from Memorial Day on the summer spectrum, it’s a truly great day to be outdoors, and I even like the midweek day off during the years when it lands there (like this current year). But the biggest change is so incredibly obvious that I’m ashamed if you don’t know what it is before the word after the colon reveals the answer: FIREWORKS.
Sometimes, I don’t get America. People are constantly screaming at the government about their God-given, inalienable, fundamental rights to own as many guns as they want, smoke wherever they want, and apparently not be forced to have access to health care; an Internet hoax e-mail about any one of those things is enough to get jackasses in tri-cornered hats out into the streets. But fireworks are banned and everyone is perfectly cool with the Nanny State going to great lengths to protect the kid stupid enough to shoot a Roman candle into his eye.
To give another example: Michelle Obama takes up a noble effort to combat obesity and make sure that maybe only 85 percent of our children’s blood is composed of a mixture of high fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, and somehow that means we’re trying to ban dessert. Yet fireworks, the things that annoy your neighbor’s dog 30 seconds at a time one night a year, had to be cracked down on and regulated. If we federally remove all restrictions, the Fourth of July is flawless. So what if they’re dangerous? It’s a Darwinian form of population control: If you actually manage to blow yourself up with fireworks, you probably aren’t a properly functioning human being and would be repeatedly siphoning off the public dime anyway.
Labor Day: This is an easy fix. If it’s a bonus day set aside for the American worker, why do we schedule it at the very end of summer when kids are going back to school and every other asshole you know will have the day off along with you? You should be able to pick your Labor Day. It can be a no questions asked, mandatory day off at your discretion. You feel like saying, “Fuck it, today’s my Labor Day” on February 27? Go for it. You want to bail on the office on a nice summer day in mid-July? Knock yourself out. As an added bonus, you can keep it a surprise until the morning of the day you decide to use it. It gives the worker the added satisfaction of fucking over their boss at least one time per year rather than allowing the boss to arrange everything around the day in advance.
Jewish holidays (Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah, Passover, and Hanukkah): I’m not Jewish, so I can’t really judge the Jewish holidays, but they seem like they’re pretty solid, with the proper solemn, reverential tone and a non-excessive amount of celebration. Mazel tov!
I will demand Hanukkah be absorbed into Christmas/Stimulus Day (more on that later). Hanukkah sounds like the outside-the-box thinking of some ambitious, wayward ad pitchman in the ‘70s: “OK, the Jews have nothing to compete with Christmas. So we rebrand that thing where the oil didn’t run out into an all-out, in-your-face, no-holds-barred, eight-day holidaysplosion that sends Christmas cowering into oblivion. We’re Hanukkah bitches! We don’t play by anybody’s rules!” Picture the Miracle Whip ad campaign, only with dreidels and gelt, and you’ll get the idea.
Columbus Day: The Irish have a day, so I’m perfectly fine with the Italians getting one too. But unlike St. Patrick’s Day really being connected to St. Patrick in name only, this day is entirely devoted to Columbus and his historical contributions. I’m not here to sully or exalt his legacy. He was one of the most important explorers in history and he was also a glorified missionary who led a group of marauders as they pillaged land and destroyed indigenous populations, all after going the wrong way on a royalty-bankrolled voyage. So with that nuanced view, we don’t have to get rid of Columbus outright, but can we at least rotate which Italian we honor? Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Galileo, Dante, Roberto Benigni, John Gotti, Silvio Berlusconi, Chef Boyardee, Snooki, Super Mario Brothers, they’re all fair game each year. See, I’m not Italian, so my knowledge of their cultural contributors is thin. Thus, reforming this holiday would be a positive learning tool to help me write paragraphs a lot less offensive than this one.
Halloween: Possibly my favorite holiday because it’s the one that keeps evolving, allowing you to appreciate it as a child, adolescent, and adult on entirely different levels. It definitely shouldn’t be a day off; going to school/the office with everyone dressed up on Halloween is one of the most enjoyable experiences of the year. My issue isn’t with Halloween but the week before, as we need to emphasize that period a lot more than we do. Halloween is the one holiday that reaaaaaaaly feels over when it’s over. The morning of November 1, it feels like Thanksgiving is in 24 hours, and with every store going from a little Christmas foreplay to a full on Clausgasm as soon as the calendar turns, the zombie apocalypse on your front lawn looks as out of place as a “Romney 2012” yard sign in the Projects. Let’s all agree to acknowledge the week of October 24-30 as acceptable for any Halloween-related activities or behavior. If you’ve got anything you want to do for Halloween in a given year that’s not scheduled for the night of, do it during those designated days, because if you wait any longer you’ll look ridiculous.
Veterans Day: Veterans Day is like Memorial Day done right. But I do ask we actually make a bigger deal about this one and treat it like a more significant holiday. Not only do we need to insure proper gratitude is paid to those who have served our country, but also because it sneaks up out of nowhere on a random weekday in mid-November, every year I’m always pulling into the bank and sitting there for five minutes wondering why it’s closed.
Thanksgiving: Thanksgiving’s close to perfect, so it gets not so much a change but a minor tweak: Move dinnertime back! It’s like some family had the “brilliant” idea that we all need to gorge ourselves on turkey, yams, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and cranberry sauce before the Lions are at halftime and everyone started copying them. This day involves indulging in a gluttonous feast that can knock us into a tryptophan-induced haze at any moment, and we make sure the day is completely shot by 2 p.m. What’s wrong with a 6 or 7 p.m. start? The only way this fucks you up is by pushing back dessert and family time, but a Thanksgiving all-nighter preceding a four-day weekend only affects the dozen or so Black Friday early birds who have yet to learn Amazon.com exists.
Christmas: Christmas was fine, but then the people recognizing the holiday for its religious connotations (imagine that) started getting all territorial, unleashing their “Keep Christ in Christmas” campaign. Which is why last year, I found an easy compromise to placate all parties: Christmas stays as is, and we add Stimulus Day. Hear me out.
We’re all aware of the true meaning of Christmas and the concerns that it’s become too commercialized, but at the same time, retailers depend on the holiday shopping season to generate anywhere from 20 to as much as 40 percent of their yearly sales. Hence, for those uncomfortable with the religious affiliation, on December 25, you celebrate Stimulus Day. Since Congress can’t get anything passed, this gives our retail outlets the jolt of consumer spending they desperately need. Plus, by appealing to non-Christians as well, it gives our economy an even greater guaranteed kick-start every year, we make China happy by increasing our demand for plastic shit and overpriced electronic gadgets, and we all get shit we don’t want or need but still like to have for the sole purpose of using it as a conversation starter through mid-January. Most importantly, who doesn’t like to feel like they’re doing some civic, patriotic duty just by spending money? Stimulus Day will be a totally different event that just happens to take place on December 25 and encompasses the exact same traditions as Christmas minus the old-fashioned Waltons-style faith and family circle jerk.
If you believe in the “Keep Christ in Christmas” movement, you’re entitled to keep adhering to that cause. You have total carte blanche to recognize the holiday in any way you and your family see fit. And you’ll no longer have to worry about other people not keeping Christ in Christmas. Now those people will just be celebrating their own holiday, in the same way they always saw Christmas anyway: Chri$tma$.