This past Thursday, I, like many Americans, did little but eat and watch football for most of the day. At some point during the third football game I had watched in a row, I realized that, more than any other American holiday, Thanksgiving is about television. Now, I know that Thanksgiving is traditionally about pilgrims, family, and being thankful, and these values are all still present in modern celebrations, and there are football games every week in the fall, so that is not a unique occasion. However, because the National Football League is willing to bend to accommodate television’s demands as a medium, it has been able to create a space in our nation’s traditions for this very old holiday.
American football was not created until the mid-nineteenth century, and was not popular around the country for longer after that, while celebrating Thanksgiving predates the United States. Yet, somehow, football watching has become so engrained that even households that are ambivalent towards football or dislike it incorporate it into their day on Thanksgiving. I have a number of friends who are only able to talk to me about football when it is the Super Bowl or the games they watched with their families on Thanksgiving. It is also one of the few occasions that I will take the time to watch a game I have no personal stake in.
In a way, it baffles me that an entire sport was able to attach itself to a holiday and come to be seen as an integral tradition for that holiday. The NBA shows basketball games on Christmas, and the MLB shows baseball on the 4th of July, and they may even have increased viewership or ticket sales on those days, but I doubt there are many people who would say that something was missing if these sports instead took the day off. I do not believe that the same would be true for football and Thanksgiving.
I also found the ways that the NFL was actively working to promote this association to be interesting. There were three games on Thanksgiving: one at approximately 11 am, 3 pm, and 7 pm. All three games were on different broadcasting networks and in different locations, with no intended overlap in playing time. However, the first game ended up going into overtime and over its allotted time slot. Most weekends, nothing would stop the network with the rights to the middle game from showing the game on time. In fact, we might expect this because they want to draw the audience from the first game. However, the NFL delayed the beginning of the second game by about half an hour so that the first game could finish. There were thousands of people in Dallas, who had paid hundreds of dollars to be at the game, who were delayed in experiencing the event live due to an unrelated game in a different state. The prioritization of television over the live experience in this instance was striking to me.
Additional concerns about “liveness” and the televisual experience in relation to football have been addressed extensively in class discussion and other blog posts, so I will not discuss them at length in this post. All of these features were present in the presentation, though. There were pre-recorded scenes, scripted dialogue for the commentators, television timeouts, and multiple angles shown for a single play, as well as the fact that I was watching in the comfort of my home, rather than in the stadium in Dallas.
I am curious to know other people’s opinions about how a holiday about being thankful for what you have has turned into, as John Madden put it in a pre-recorded scene before the Patriots-Jets game, “the three F’s of Thanksgiving: family, food, football.”