Thanksgiving is such a weird holiday.
(It’s beyond absurd, if you think about it.)
Can you imagine if someone dreamed up Thanksgiving, from scratch, in 2022?
Ted: I’ve had an idea-gumbo cooking in my mental kitchen for a few weeks now, let me tell you.
Brad: Really, Ted?
Ted: Yes, Brad, really.
Brad: Are you just going to tease me? If I want to get teased, Ted, I can walk down to Janet’s cubicle, and she’ll do it gladly.
Ted: Wait, what? Janet’s been flirting with you? Damn, boy! Look at you!
Yes, Ted, I even bought a cheap generic Viagra just in case she flirts with me again.
Brad: (Pause.) Listen, Ted, I’m busy. Don’t you have a great idea? Isn’t that why you came over here?
Ted: Yeah, sorry, Brad. Totally. So, I’ve been thinking. Hallmark is not happy with their quarterlies, and we have to give them something good to keep the account.
What if we create a new holiday around gratitude? You know, giving thanks? I mean, what demo could possibly object to giving thanks?
Brad: Giving thanks? Ok, Ted. I’m curious. Keep going.
Ted: So then I thought, why not make it historical? How about we combine the giving-thanks part with honoring the founding of America?
Brad: I’m still listening.
Ted: OK, Brad. So who do we have to thank for the founding of America?
Brad: The crazy English fucks who sailed out into an empty, cold Ocean, and an unknown world, just to get away from England?
Ted: No, silly. We don’t thank THEM. Anyone can honor the Pilgrims. I mean, sure, we’ll mention them a little. But we’re going to thank the Native Americans who gave us the Continent, so we could found our new nation.
Let’s thank the them!
Brad: (Silence.) (Stares daggers at Ted.) Say what now, Ted? Say what?
You want us to make a holiday around thanking the people upon whom our American ancestors committed Genocide?
Do you hear yourself, Ted?
Ted: Yeah, yeah, sorry, Brad. You’re right. What was I thinking? I gotta stop eating that last edible right before bed.
It’s not doing me any favors.
Sure, Thanksgiving is batshit, but giving thanks IS a great idea.
I’m grateful for you, the audience of people who have read my musings here for the last 11 years.
And I’m beyond thankful for my lovely, amazing, supportive, incredible family. (As I’ve said, this column is older than my daughter, and she’s jealous.)
I’m also thankful to all the great artists who’ve made work that’s inspired me these many years.
Just the other day, for example, my son, (who’s 15,) wanted to show my daughter (10) his favorite childhood film: “Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.”
Such a brilliant movie!
(If you haven’t seen it, please do. I swear, it’s not just for kids. )
We all remembered every line, and Amelie was smitten, as it’s a perfect film.
Plus, the claymation is sooooooo laborious, the technical mastery is evident, without taking you out of the narrative.
There’s an old expression: They don’t make them like this anymore.
And in this case they actually can’t.
Peter Sallis, the voice actor who played Wallace, passed away in 2017 at the age of 96.
Whether you’re an artist/critic like me, or just a “normie,” the biggest artistic touchstones will always represent a certain phase of your life.
Or an inflection point?
That’s what great art does for culture, and for our lives.
11 years ago, (in a story I shared too recently to re-tell,) I discovered a pure writing style for this column.
It was Thanksgiving, and after the night-time-drama, I woke up the next day and reviewed a massive Taryn Simon book, published by a start-up in London called MACK.
The book was titled “A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters.”
Let me tell you, the book is massive!
It’s easily the biggest, thickest book I own, and I’m not sure I reopened it again before this morning.
Which means it’s time for a re-review, as this book, (like Wallace and Gromit,) is proper genius.
And just like W&G, they don’t make them like this anymore.
In an age of rampant inflation, I can’t imagine a publisher making a book this expensive to create.
(Unless it was a super-small-batch, limited edition.)
Not only that, I don’t think an artist working with these ideas and scope would do this project as “fine art photography” in 2022.
Let that sink in for a moment.
The book is amazing because the idea is amazing, and thoroughly executed.
But it’s also so bleak I had to stop at Chapter 12.
Ms. Simon has basically put human nature on display, by telling disturbing stories via human family networks.
Each tale is a thread in a metaphor-tapestry that depicts a cynical, nihilistic view of PEOPLE.
Off the top of my head, (though I did just look at the book,) we’ve got a litany of family horror stories:
A South Asian Indian family that declared some members dead to steal inheritance.
Zionists who successfully colonized Israel.
Filipino tribal people paraded as zoo animals at a World’s Fair 1O0+ years ago.
Saddam Hussein’s sadistic son’s tortured body double, Hitler’s legal advisor, Scottish thalidomide sufferers, a fisherman kidnapped by North Korean secret agents, Brazilian blood feud murderers, and Bosnian massacre victims.
Ms. Simon photographed teeth and bone fragments to represent some of the people, (killed in Srebrenica) as each family member in the book sits for a straight, typological portrait, unless they were unavailable for a host of difficult reasons. (Like fear of kidnapping.)
But worst of all, more horrifying than all the humans, is the chapter about lab rabbits in Australia, who are raised to be testing victims of viral warfare, as the government in Oz tries to wipe out rabbits, (which are non-native,) and were intentionally introduced by humans.
There is a photo of rabbits shot dead in a mass grave, and if you HAVE ever seen “The Curse of the Were-Rabbit,” you’ll know why my brain melted at the connection.
(Like I said, 12 Chapters was enough for one sitting.)
That the book exists is a miracle, given its scope.
But how did she even get the project done?
In 2022, I can’t fathom how much money was spent to travel the globe like this.
The research, the time making the pictures.
The film costs, the hotel rooms, the global fixers.
The printing, the editing.
All of it.
Coming in the late aughts, on the heels of Gursky, Struth, Simon and Demand making SERIOUS money selling their over-sized prints, I can just about understand the level of collector-support necessary to raise the MILLIONS of dollars.
As art, in culture? No way.
Done now, this would definitely be financed by Netflix or Amazon Prime.
The story would be told with photos, sure. But also video, podcasts, Patreon private parties, what have you.
“Photography” has seen too much of a decline in resources and attention, as a sub-species of culture, and too big a leap in importance in mass culture.
Magazines are gone, or minimized. Blogs folded. Newspapers are a fraction the size. Many galleries have contracted or shut. And NFT’s were not the magic-golden-bullet some promised.
While the “photography” industry was shrinking over the last 11 years, the impact of Photography has never been greater.
EVERY HUMAN WITH A PHONE takes pictures now.
We have succeeded to the point of irrelevance.
(Like I said, it’s a big idea.)
And a brilliant book.
See you next time.