In Season 1’s ‘Full House’, the Tanner family, led by the late Bob Saget as Danny Tanner, is still reeling from the recent loss of his wife and mother, Pam. By the ninth episode, Thanksgiving has arrived in San Francisco and the family is confronted with the fact that it is the first holiday meal without Pam and that they owe it to her memory to make it special for the girls.
Initially, this doesn’t seem like a big deal; Danny’s mom is on her way from Tacoma to cook for the family. But, of course, it wouldn’t be a sitcom if it weren’t for an unexpected snowstorm that crashes even the most well-placed vacation plans. When it becomes apparent that Danny’s mom Notindeed, to be able to make his flight, Joey (Dave Coulier) has a solution.
“Not a problem, we’ll make that seven-course meal ourselves,” he said. “How, you ask? The miracle… of Thanksgiving.”
I remember even as a pre-teen being a little exasperated by the claim that a multi-course Thanksgiving dinner comes together through the power of some kind of intangible holiday magic. I’d both watched enough “Food Network,” as well as my mom and grandmother cooking in the kitchen year after year, to know that this was definitely not the case. The magic of the holidays that Joey is most likely referring to is the invisible housework that tends to fall to one or two specific family members (historically and socially, often female).
And indeed, DJ (now controversial Candace Cameron Bure), her eldest daughter at ten, decides to step into her mother’s shoes and take charge of Thanksgiving dinner. Predictably, she goes off the rails a bit—there’s a blackened turkey and ruined pumpkin pie—but regardless, the episode in its entirety is a true crystallization of the concept of domesticity as a performance.
To be clear, acting out domestic life isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and I’m not the first person to compare a good, or at least memorable, dinner to theater. Michael J. Fox actually once astutely pointed out, “The oldest form of theater is the dinner table. There are five or six people, a new show every night, the same actors. A good ensemble; the people they worked a lot together.”
“The oldest form of theater is the dinner table. There are five or six people, a new show every night, the same actors. A good ensemble; people worked a lot together.”
Just as everyone in a restaurant kitchen has their roles to play, from the saucier to the sommelier, so too are roles assigned at the holiday dinner party. In the case of DJ, she has taken on the role of hostess, which has her specific expectations of her. If you’ve ever hosted Thanksgiving, you know them well: a golden brown turkey with the mythically appropriate ratio of white to dark meat so everyone can eat to their own preference; sides that are somewhat traditional and new; at least two desserts: most likely pumpkin pie and something for those who detest pumpkin pie.
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Maybe you’re gearing up to fill that role again later this week.
And maybe, you’re even dreading it.
I mean, there’s definitely enough pop culture fodder out there — from “Full House” to “Friends” to “Frasier” — about the desire to push the boundaries of holiday meal prep and execution. This is especially alluring given how so many cooking tips surrounding Thanksgiving entertainment practically position it as a matter of life and death, governed by spreadsheets, countdown clocks, and that deep existential dread that it comes as you face the expectations surrounding the creation of your own personal Platonic ideal. of the festive meal.
If this is you, can I offer some fun advice? If entertainment is a domestic show, at least let Thanksgiving dinner be camped out.
In her historic essay “Notes on ‘Camp'”, Susan Sontag defines aesthetics as such: “artifice, frivolity, naive bourgeois pretentiousness and shocking excesses”. Based on that alone, while Thanksgiving may not be the most rustic of holidays — I’m personally conflicted about what holds that distinction — it’s definitely up there.
And just like acknowledging domesticity as a performance isn’t inherently bad, neither is camp, even though many people have come to regard the term as synonymous with kitsch or bad taste. Sontag rather describes it as “a sensibility that revels in artifice, stylization, theatricalization, irony, playfulness and exaggeration rather than content”.
Just like recognizing home life as a performance isn’t inherently bad, neither is camp, even though many people have come to regard the term as synonymous with kitsch or bad taste.
Some of the most beloved films are considered classics of the field due to these attributes; think “Death Becomes Her,” “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” and “Clue.”
Speaking of “Clue,” I recently texted a friend of mine from college who’s now an actor. They generally operate somewhat in the realm of Shakespearean roles, but their first role since returning after the pandemic lockdowns was in a community theater production of “Clue.”
I messaged them asking how they liked being in a show that was so different than what they normally do, and they were quick to reply, “I mean, it’s field and field equals freedom as an actor.”
Field in Thanksgiving context could look like many different things. One could give a nod to camp icon “Auntie Mame” and serve up fabulous seafood cocktails the size of their guests’ heads accompanied by the smallest turkey finger sandwiches they’ve ever seen. One could start with the traditional Thanksgiving spread and subvert it somewhat, like another more contemporary icon, Amy Sedaris (seriously, her book “I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence” is textbook in terms of examining intersection of aesthetics and home entertainment).
That’s the beautiful thing about the field. It doesn’t have to look or function like a specific thing. It is not a set of static aesthetic principles. It is context-hardened and malleable over time; that’s why some films or actors who were considered critical flops can still achieve the status of a field classic in due time.
The point is, you don’t have to take everything so seriously. If traditional Thanksgiving dinners have left you feeling like a Shakespearean actor confined to a specific role, laden with centuries of expectations, consider switching roles—or at least how you approach yours at the holiday table. The field equals freedom as an actor. I believe it can provide the same in the kitchen.
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