Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Evacuation Day: An Alternative to Thanksgiving from the Daily Show

In the legacy of French academic superstar Roland Barthes, one of the overarching projects of practicing media literacy is to “restore history” to “naturalized myth.” This process involves both disrupting the feeling that meanings are fixed or inevitable by analysis of their construction, and entertaining alternative notions and possibilities of meaning from different points of view. When we study holidays in school, rather than opening possibilities of meaning and revealing competing points of view, we most often simply learn a “better,” or more “correct,” “official” version of history to take for granted. Learning multi-cultural perspectives on and versions of holidays is a step towards the sort of thinking involved in media literacy practice. Learning about how a holiday came to be and considering alternative ideas for what we might celebrate is another way to activate media literate thinking. To this end, here’s a crass alternative holiday to Thanksgiving from the Daily Show’s Sarah Vowell, Evacuation Day:
Jon Stewart turns to an alternative view of Thanksgiving history from Sarah Vowell.

To add media literacy to multi-cultural study of holidays, we must simply take a small step to ask: How is the holiday represented using various production values in different media?; Who created the traditions and representations and how have they changed over time?; What purposes do the representations serve?; How do different audiences understand the holiday representations differently?; and How do historical realities compare to the representations in the holiday tradition?

Asking and discussing answers to such questions is an ongoing process of making truth, which we should not confuse with an endgame of “arriving” at Truth with a capital T once we “know” the REAL, big H History. No one wins when a kid goes home to declare, “Hey mom, Thanksgiving is BS—they didn’t even eat turkey at the first one!” However, the kid who comes home and sees all the possibilities for meaning in the holiday, takes into account how others feel, understands how we have arrived at particular historical meanings, and considers who benefits and who suffers in how we celebrate—that kid is prepared to choose, remake or refuse the holiday. With a little practice in creating or remixing representations for use in holiday tradition, that kid is as empowered as media literacy can offer.

So, it’s a fun clip to discuss, especially to examine how the humor works. Stewart takes up the character of the average American, clueless about the facts of the history lesson from the haughty Vowell. There are several current events themes worth discussing including the political barbs about “celebrating how we used to be good at ending wars” and the idea of honoring the sacrifices of veterans. Showing how Evacuation Day was and could be celebrated, followed by the Peanuts Great Pumpkin remix, the final sections of the clip suggest the coolest possibilities for media literacy work: making historically informed or alternative point of view parodies of our current representations of Thanksgiving (parades especially); and remixing Linus’s lecture from the Peanuts Great Pumpkin with a new voiceover about Thanksgiving or an alternative holiday that students make up.

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