That Holiday Spirit
A blow-by-blow report on the Macy’s
Thanksgiving Day Parade
Show me someone who doesn’t love a parade,
and I’ll show you someone with no joy in his heart. But show
me someone who will actually get up at eight o’clock in the
morning to watch more than two solid hours of a parade on television,
and I’ll show you someone with way too much time on his hands.
since I was a kid, I’ve been fascinated with the Macy’s
Thanksgiving Day parade. I can remember watching it on our big
wooden cabinet TV back in the early ’70s; it always made
me feel like New York was part of my childhood even though I lived
thousands of miles away in the middle of a desert. As I grew into
an adult, though, I rarely tuned in. Sure, I felt guilty about
it — I’m a sucker for the holidays, and not watching
the parade seemed like a mean-spirited betrayal of a youthful tradition.
But still, I didn’t watch the damn thing.
But the thing is, you’re not supposed
to watch parades — not on television, at least. Parades are
something you go to, not something you sit around and watch. In
person, there’s the energy of the crowd, the fun of seeing
the floats in all of their glorious enormity, the excitement of
the unexpected and the challenge of braving the weather (not to
mention the joy of showing up drunk). Fun for kids and drunken
adults alike! But on TV … it’s just dreadful. Agonizing.
Tedious. Insipid commentary by two third-tier celebrity “hosts”;
asinine cutaways to two-bit sub-stars singing crappy songs you’ll
never hear again; endless commercials; and the torturous effort
of trying to think of something to say about a Snoopy float so
you’re not stuck with 10 minutes of dead air: this is what
parades are like on television. It’s the same level of grade-z
showbiz schmaltz as Jerry Lewis’ muscular dystrophy telethon,
only it’s not even for the sake of a good cause; it’s
to sell products. A televised parade is something you have on as
background noise while you’re cooking or squeezing into your
old football jersey; it’s not something you actually watch.
So, of course, that’s just what I did.
Here follow my notes from the 77th annual Macy’s
Thanksgiving Day parade, broadcast on CBS starting at 8 a.m. Central
Standard Time. This is my Christmas gift to you, dear readers,
my burden, my sacrifice: I watched every minute of this crap, so
you don’t have to.
0:02:04. Our hosts today are Hannah Storm
and Dave Price from “The Early Show,” coincidentally
broadcast right here on CBS. Dave has one of those little bud microphones
that makes him look like he has a big wart on his neck. As for
Hannah, she would clearly rather be back doing NBA broadcasts.
They attempt rather unconvincingly to tell us it is a gorgeous
day in New York, even though they are both clearly freezing to
0:05:33. The broadcast goes to and returns
from commercial breaks with these bumpers featuring little trivia
factoids about the parade. These bumpers are called “Talkin’ Turkey.” The
first one informs me that over 50,000 clowns have “clowned
around” in the parade since its inception in 1924. I panic
at the mere thought of a hideous army of 50,000 clowns.
0:06:20. Every parade broadcast features
one “wacky guy” out in the field who mixes with the
hoi polloi and ad-libs painfully unfunny wisecracks. This year,
it is Gary Valentine from “The King of Queens.” His
first appearance features him bouncing around hyperactively in
front of a huge crowd behind a police barrier. He asks how they’re
all doing, and they are completely unresponsive. This is Gary’s
first appearance in the two-hour-long ordeal of the Macy’s
parade, and he’s already completely dying. I am pleased about
0:07:05. The fourth and final member
of the broadcast team — who’s also out among the crowd,
but actually gets to talk to receptive human beings instead of
drowning in a pool of flopsweat while trying to be a “wacky
guy” in public — is someone called Vanessa Minnillo
from MTV’s “TRL.” She interviews a family whose
daughter is clog dancing in the parade. She asks dad how daughter
gets the energy to clog dance for two and a half miles. He says, “Well,
she clogs quite a bit regionally.”
0:08:25. Ed Solczac, an inhumanly bland
J.C. Penney executive, is here to tell us about their after school
program. He does this by reading a series of cue cards located
just to the left of the camera. He also announces Penney’s
first “gift to the nation,” which will help kids get
the education they need for the future: a small stuffed dog toy
called “Afta the After School Puppy.”
0:09:54. Ed introduces a cheery young
singer — sorry, “Sony recording artist” — named
Cheyenne Kimball. Cheyenne apparently “embodies the slogan” of
the J.C. Penney after school program, which is “power your
potential.” She then powers her potential by lip-synching
an interminable novelty holiday-themed version of “Joy to
the World” while a gaggle of multi-ethnic children shaking
sleigh bells dance next to her. This goes on forever.
0:13:29. The Macy’s parade does
not have sponsors; heavens, no. Nothing so crass for this festival
of cheer. No, it has people who provide “production assistance.” For
instance, at this particular moment, “production assistance
(is) provided by Tylenol.” I’m not sure, but I think “production
assistance” is a technical term for “writing a big
0:14:18. A Penney’s commercial
comes on and I have to hear Cheyenne Kimball sing “Joy to
the World” again. Did you know that suicide rates often peak
around the holidays? This is why.
0:16:15. The Pulaski High School Red
Raiders Marching Band from Pulaski, Wisc., plays that undying holiday
classic, “Axel F.” At rests in the song, they shout “I
love New York!”
0:17:23. The first big balloon of the
day hovers into view: it is Jake the Turkey, sponsored by Macy’s
itself. It is a replica of a balloon first seen in the 1959 parade
and is preceded by a Macy’s banner carried by a bunch of
kids from the Special Olympics. The Special Olympians, presumably,
were not seen in the 1959 parade.
0:18:01. Dave mentions that a particular
float was last seen in 1943. “To give you some perspective,” he
adds, “that’s when the first crossword book was published.” Exactly
what perspective this is supposed to impart is unclear.
0:23:44. A combination float/balloon
(which is called a “falloon,” as the ever-helpful Dave
Price informs us) of something called Greendog shows up. I have
never heard of Greendog. The ever-informative Dave fills me in: “Greendog
is the star, of course” — of course? — “of ‘The
World of Greendog,’ as the name would have you guess.” Way
to ad-lib, Dave.
0:24:45. The Bloomington North High School
Cougars Marching Band from the deeply distressing town of Bloomington,
Ind., is here. Dave tells us that they were going to perform Michael
Jackson’s “Thriller,” but chose not to, for reasons
he does not disclose. Instead we are told they are performing a
John Cougar Mellencamp song, although it is impossible to tell
which one it is.
0:25:39. Here comes a balloon of Nickelodeon’s
Arthur character. For the benefit of blind viewers who cannot see
the 40-foot-long inflatable character, the ever-helpful Dave describes
his outfit in monotonous detail: “And there you see his sweater
and jeans and backpack full of books.”
0:26:50. “Talkin’ Turkey” informs
me that helium was first discovered in 1868 by a scientist who
no doubt did not foresee its use in animating a hideous gasbag
in the shape of Garfield.
0:29:15. It’s the Pikachu float!
Uncharacteristically, it is not incredibly noisy and annoying and
does not constantly harangue children to buy more booster packs.
Hannah says Pikachu is “impossible just to peek at.” The
lowest depths of television writer hell must be writing the scripts
0:31:35. Hannah takes a gander at the
Lego “Carousel of Imagination” float and says “That’s
a lot of Legos.” I have to admit, that’s a pretty accurate
comment. Riding on the “Carousel of Imagination” is
an unimaginative-looking teen pop singer named Peter Cincotti,
who looks exactly like his name would indicate. He does not sing
anything, for which I am profoundly grateful.
0:32:23. Back to Gary Valentine, who
is talking to two women holding up a British flag.
“Where are you from?”
“Oh, yeah? What part?”
Gary has a real rapport with the crowds, I tell
you what. He closes his segment by saying “It’s a good
day. We’re all out here. Again.”
0:36:52. The Big Bird float is sponsored
by something called “The Sesame Workshop.” Dave seems
a bit flustered: “It’s Big Bird! The Big Bird, some
0:38:51. Another retro set: giant inflatable
heads of the Marx Brothers. Dave identifies one of their “classic
comedies” as A Day in the Races, and says that “a
lot of our youngest viewers might not remember the Marx Brothers.” Gee,
do you think, Dave? Given that their last movie was made 57 years
ago, that maybe the 6-year-olds in the audience might not remember
0:39:10. Nickelodeon’s “Little
Bill,” which conjures images of the Geto Boys’ Bushwick
Bill but is in fact a cartoon version of a young Bill Cosby, makes
an appearance as the first African-American balloon in the history
of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. Yes, that’s
right! It’s 2003.
0:41:20. Yet another retro float: Happy
the Hippo. Happy is pink, and, I think, was the mascot of the DTs
back in the 1950s. In some context that I don’t catch, Hannah
says “I miss Julie Chen!” which I believe is the first
time anyone has ever said this.
0:46:32. A balloon featuring the “classic” character
who I have never heard of named Angelina Ballerina makes Hannah
get a bit weepy. “Angelina inspires kids to work hard and
follow their dreams,” she says. She certainly inspires me
to follow my dream of drinking a beer before 10 a.m.
0:48:53. “Strike Up the Band Barney” is
accompanied by a marching band playing that famous children’s
song, “Axel F.”
0:49:59. It’s Gary Valentine! He
improvises an unfunny song about Columbus Circle which he claims
is from his starring role in an imaginary musical called “Transportation.” If
you look hard, you can actually see the stink lines rising off
of Gary’s body.
0:50:54. Finally, a float featuring a
children’s character I am actually familiar with comes into
view: it’s Bob the Builder & Wendy! Dave, reading off
the cards like a good boy, says Bob “not only builds things,
but also builds character in kids.” Plainly visible on camera
for about 15 seconds, directly over Bob’s head, is a very
pornographic Jockey underwear billboard.
0:55:19. The Monopoly balloon. Apparently,
at some point, Parker Brothers changed the Monopoly mascot’s
name from the humorous and creative “Rich Uncle Pennybags” to
the utterly dull “Mr. Monopoly.” This is depressing.
0:55:59. A float called “Celebration
of New Arrivals” celebrating the 50th anniversary of Marshmallow
Peeps goes past. Hannah calls them “those little marshmallow
0:58:42. The United States Scholastic
Band Association All-Star Color Guard is “color-guarding
up a storm,” says Dave.
0:59:35. We’re taken to a taped
segment for the first time all parade, a little bit I like to call
Kids Say the Lamest Things. A gaggle of multi-racial cherubs are
encouraged to tell us what they are thankful for; one girl, who
looks like an alcoholic, dissipated dead ringer for Violet Beauregard
from the Willie Wonka movie, says “I’m thankful for
all the stuff I have.” Halfway home!
1:05:28. The Clifford the Big Red Dog
balloon prompts Hannah to make her second leash-law joke of the
day, and the always-helpful Dave, who seems to think that at least
half the audience is both blind and stupid, to comment that “he
really is red at this point.”
1:06:56. Frieda the Dachsund, whoever
that is. Hannah asks in an ominous tone, “All right … are
you gonna do it?” This intrigues me because it sounds like
the first unscripted comment she’s made all day. In response,
Dave very reluctantly sings “Who Let the Dogs Out?” There
is an undercurrent of menace going on here, or maybe I’m
1:07:52. It’s Gary Valentine time
again! This time around, Gary pretends to ride a unicycle even
though he is not riding a unicycle. He also calls a black man “bro.”
1:08:58. Dave puts viewers on notice
that we shouldn’t eat at his house: “Don’t forget,
check on the turkey. Keep it moist. Add water.”
1:13:46. The New York Daily News Big
Apple float, featuring Bernie Williams and Suzie Castillo (Miss
USA 2003), features a papier-mâché skyline of NYC.
The float is many years old and I can’t help wondering what
they did with the old papier-mâché Twin Towers.
1:14:51. Reminding us that “kids
are part of the heart of New York City,” Vanessa engages
in this riveting back-and-forth with a 10-year-old girl along the
“So, what do you wanna see in the parade?”
(long, long pause)
“Uh … I dunno.”
Back to you, Hannah and Dave!
1:15:50. Another studio bit, this one
the history of Times Square, “a world of unlimited imagination.” Oddly,
no mention is made of hookers.
1:20:40. More retro-balloon action: it’s
Harold the Fireman, formerly Harold the Clown, formerly Harold
the Policeman, formerly Harold the Baseball Player. I’m not
sure, but I think this one is titled “A Tribute to Unemployment.”
1:21:21. Dave is a bachelor and probably
doesn’t get a lot of sleep. This may explain why he describes
the SuperGrover balloon as both “a brand new float” and “an
oldie but a goodie.”
1:23:50. Gary Valentine, who makes my
heart hurt every time he comes on screen, walks and talks with
someone in a giant banana suit and then pretends to slip and fall.
This is so funny he does it twice. Hannah courts disaster by saying “It’s
always dangerous marching with fruits.”
1:28:53. In yet another microdocumentary
studio bit, we’re shown the journey of the Jones High School
Tigers marching band from Orlando, Fla., to New York. The cheerleaders
are dressed in cameltoe-inducing tiger-striped bodysuits. Dave
describes the “beautiful greens and oranges and yellows” in
the garish sequined outfits of the band. There is no yellow in
1:31:40. Dave gives mad props to Lee
Iacocca for “rejigging the Statue of Liberty.”
1:37:55. A retro balloon from 1951 called
Happy Halibut the Flying Fish inspires Dave to say “just
to give you some perspective …” for the eight
thousandth time today.
1:38:24. Gary “Flopsweat” Valentine,
standing beneath a large metallic globe, claims that it’s
a “map of all the places in the world that have aluminum
foil.” I am trying to imagine a circumstance under which
anyone anywhere would think this was funny.
1:39:58. While describing the Wiggles’ Jolly
Polly Pirate Ship float, Hannah unexpectedly uses the word “bailiwick.”
1:46:47. Gary Valentine is shown kick-dancing
with some rainbow-wigged clowns. He looks utterly defeated. By
the end of the segment, he is yelling at the clowns. I know how
1:48:12. Here comes Ronald McDonald in
his “big red shoe car.” This whole float inspires some
scary totalitarian rhetoric from Hannah and Dave: “The crowd
loves him. Everybody loves him,” says Hannah. “McDonald’s
Corporation is part of so many good things,” adds Dave, “like
this McDonald’s float.” Ronald is described, sinisterly,
as the McDonalds C.H.O. — “Chief Happiness Officer.”
1:54:53. Yet another exciting Broadway
show tune: this one is from something called Nine: the Musical (no,
really) starring John Stamos and Mary Stuart Masterson (no, really).
Dave calls the song “Only for You,” although it’s
actually called “Only with You.” The number consists
of Stamos, playing a character named Guido, making out with three
hot chicks while singing dopey lyrics (“monkey see, monkey
dieu”) in an indecipherable Eurotrash accent. This song is
1:57:58. And now, for the controversial
segment of the parade! Noted homosexual Harvey Feirstein rides
on the Percy the Poor Little Penguin Float dressed as Edna Turnblad
(his character in the Broadway version of Hairspray) dressed
as Mrs. Santa Claus. Harvey looks pretty happy; Percy the Poor
Little Penguin’s expression is harder to read. Dave pronounces
Harvey’s name incorrectly.
2:02:11. The Broadway-the-hick-way demonstration
continues: the cast of Mamma Mia! (which is described as
a “play” rather than “a bunch of people singing
ABBA songs”) lip-synchs “Dancing Queen.” “Dancing
Queen” is a good song, but these folks are bad singers and
they all look old enough to have been big fans of ABBA the first
2:08:01. You say you can’t get
enough crappy Broadway tunes? Well, you’re in luck! Here’s
the title song from “Fame.” I don’t remember
the TV show having this many flaming batons or tits, but it was
a different era. Also, the TV show theme didn’t have a migraine-inducing
techno beat; it had Debbie Allen instead.
2:09:27. “Talkin’ Turkey” tells
me that Truman was the first president to pardon a turkey for Thanksgiving.
It doesn’t mention that Reagan was the first to tell the
same stupid turkey story every Thanksgiving, or that George W.
Bush was the first to execute a retarded person on Thanksgiving,
but I already knew that stuff.
2:10:02. We cut to the NFL Today studio
for a very, very long time. One might think that this is less a
part of the parade than it is an interminable commercial for CBS’ football
coverage and one might be right.
2:21:55. Hannah says that the NFL Today
crew are “definitely in the holiday spirit,” which
I guess means loaded.
2:30:57. When the Kermit the Frog balloon
comes by, Dave says “It’s hard to think of anything
more suitable for Thanksgiving than Kermit the Frog.”
2:31:39. Famed American Idol nonwinner
Clay Aiken wafts past, riding the Candy Town Factory float and,
gratifyingly, not singing.
2:32:09. Dave is so busy telling us about
the Garfield balloon (he calls Garfield “Mr. Obnoxious”)
and how much lasagna it would take to fill it up that he almost
forgets to take notice of Santa Claus.
2:32:58. Santa Claus’ sleigh, at
long last. The appearance of Santa in the Macy’s Thanksgiving
Day parade is a bellwether of the whole holiday season, the point
at which Christmas really begins, and is the entire point of the
parade. Not only does Dave botch his introduction, but he is on
screen for all of 20 seconds after two and a half hours of parade
coverage. If I was a kid, I’d be pretty pissed. Also, I think
that Dave identifies one of the reindeer as being named Cancer,
but the odds are equally good that I’m just hallucinating
at this point.
Just when I think the whole nightmare is over and I can get on
with my cooking, Hannah fills me with dread by informing me that “We’re
not saying goodbye yet … if you like numbers, we’ve
got one more Broadway performance coming up, starring Dave and
I!” It is at this point that I consider sticking my head
in the oven.
2:40:23. Thankfully, Hannah was just
bluffing. They’re really just going to say goodbye and thank
us for watching, and not in song. Hannah thanks her family, Dave
thanks Hannah’s family, Vanessa thanks CBS and MTV, and Gary
Valentine kicks a wino in the head. At long last, the parade is
over, and all that’s left is to relax, enjoy and note that
in the credits, someone was actually responsible for writing this
entire show. I’m thankful that I’m not him.