Has the White House turkey pardon jumped the shark? (+video)(Read article summary)
The annual Thanksgiving turkey pardon, dating back to JFK, is now a highly choreographed affair, involving two turkeys, their 'bios,' and a Facebook vote to decide who gets to be the official White House bird.
Has the White House turkey pardon jumped the shark?
We ask this because this yearâs traditional ceremony â in which President Obama will pardon a bird presumably otherwise bound for a Thanksgiving platter â is more, um, elaborate than ever. It involves two turkeys, and Facebook, and voting, and Carly Simon. This isnât a lighter moment in a presidentâs otherwise heavy schedule, itâs an over-produced reality show. Call it âThe Gravy Factor," or maybe âAmericaâs Got Drumsticks."
OK, weâll back up a moment and take this whole thing from the top. Since at least 1947, US presidents have participated in an annual event in which they receive a turkey from the National Turkey Federation in honor of the upcoming Thanksgiving harvest feast.
At the beginning, these birds had a date with oyster stuffing. President Truman ate his, or at least said he was going to. President Eisenhower did the same thing.
But more recently, White Houses have decided it looks less carnivorous for them to grant the on-stage bird clemency. According to a White House history of the event, John F. Kennedy was the first to send his turkey back to the farm. âWeâll just let this one grow,â he said.
President George H. W. Bush was the first to use the actual word âpardon." He sent his turkey to live out its days at Frying Pan Park in Herndon, Va., thereby indicating he had a subtler sense of humor than historians give him credit for today.
Since then the ceremony has become more and more Hollywood. Two turkeys are involved â a primary turkey and a backup in case the first bird canât carry out its duty of continuing to live.
Enter Gobbler and Cobbler. This year, some Obama aide had the bright idea of pitting these two birds against each other in a Facebook-based voting contest. The one with the most âlikesâ would be named the official White House bird.
Cobbler is a four-month-old, 40-pound male, also from Rockingham, whoâs a âstrutterâ and likes the song âYouâre So Vainâ by Carly Simon, according to his official bio.
(Sweet cornbread stuffing! Whoâs the overachieving White House official who had to make that stuff up? They clawed their way to the top of Washington and thought theyâd be running the world and instead theyâre hawking poultry.)
At last look, Cobbler was the favorite â he had about 2,400 âlikesâ to Gobblerâs 2,100. Neither will be eaten, so the title is honorific. Maybe they get a sash, or a crown.
But hereâs our point â it seems to us theyâre being ironic about the whole ceremony instead of straightforward. âCobblerâ? Carly Simon? If itâs not worth doing it without a subtext, maybe itâs not worth doing at all.
Itâs not like presidents enjoy it. Or at least, many donât seem to. Ike and Jimmy Carter made their veeps shoulder most of the turkey-related duties. Ronald Reagan laughed when his turkey made a flyabout and bolted for freedom.
In 2009, Obama approached the bird to be pardoned, named âCourage," and asked his (the birdâs) handlers if there was an âofficial gesture." Come on â this whole thing has become too grandiose, like the âHappy Daysâ episode where Fonzie literally jumped a shark while water-skiing. At that point, the showâs creators were out of ideas, and it began to go downhill.
Perhaps the turkey pardon has reached that crucial turn in the narrative road. The animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has asked Obama to end the practice, calling it âarchaic."
âThe White House turkey âpardonâ is a sorely outdated event,â PETA president Ingrid Newkirk wrote in a letter to the White House.
We might agree with that, but then again, the scalloped oysters are our own favorite part of the turkey-day meal.