“Tonight Show” host Jimmy Fallon, a graduate of Saint Rose College in Albany, New York (where my younger sister Cindy did graduate work in speech therapy) was perhaps the most recognizable performer this morning on a clear, cold Thanksgiving Day–a modest but steady wind making the temperature seem much colder than the reported 32 degrees.
Fallon pranced around, ubiquitously gyrating and smiling with his “Tonight Show” band “Roots,” perhaps as much interested in keeping himself warm as pleasing the privileged children who waved to him with considerable ennui from the windows and verandas along Central Park West. Fallon’s employer, NBC, ran a commercial during the parade plugging tonight’s show, which features Jerry Seinfeld.
It is perhaps not inconsequential that the parade begins on Central Park West as in the days before television the progeny of the wealthy habituating there were the primary market for Macy’s at Christmas time.
A fun event preceding the actual parade was the blowing up of the large balloons (The Inflation Celebration!) on the day before Thanksgiving on the streets surrounding the Natural History Museum—famous mostly for its ginormous fake dinosaurs. My wife, Taube, covered the event yesterday on the way to her gym, the selfsame gym where CNN’s Anderson Cooper occasionally deigns to work out. My Grandmother Bugli –admittedly less famous than Anderson Cooper, despite appearing on the television show “Candid Camera” –lived and worked in the massive apartment building directly across the street from the Natural History Museum on 82nd Street, in between her various residences in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains, around Quaker Springs.
Once a year, for about an hour and a half, New York permeates the veritable innocence of a Disney World, when dazzling floats and huge character balloons (with corporate sponsorship) glide along Central Park West, on their way to Broadway and Herald Square, the flag ship location of the sponsor of the Macy’s Day Parade, The R.H. Macy Company. Most recently the company has turned to hawking electronics goods to boost sales at Herald Square, to diversify its famous clothing offerings. The store has been struggling for years and was recently delisted from the New York Stock Exchange.
There is nothing subtle about Macy’s self-promotion. In recent years the parade has been “formally opened” by the company’s CEO front and center before the NBC cameras.
The parade was invented as a delightful public relations stunt garnering massive publicity for its sponsor, and for its television partner, NBC. NBC has habitually utilized the parade as a means to plug its own anemic television programming, particularly for new shows desperately needing exposure or for existing programs in dire need of a ratings boost. The parade is covered by the network’s “Today Show” cast. The spectacle is the perfect vehicle for the show’s “aw shucks” weatherman/color commentator Al Roker, whose soft and harmless Fozzie-Bearish humor dominates the coverage. As NBC pays the parade’s long time anchor, Matt Lauer, $28 million a year, it needs to generate all the publicity/cash it can generate. Such exposure has become ever more important for the network in an age in which cable television and the internet have deeply cut into the massiveratings the network regularly pulled in during the Golden Age of television, back when there were only three television networks.
All this corporate whoredom has diminished the former stars of the parade, various high school bands from across the United States. Although a high school band from Trumbull, Connecticut was highlighted during this year’s broadcast, it was an exception –a far cry from the days when high school band after high school band were parsed in detail by the color commentators and when marching in the Macy’s Parade was essentially the highest honor a high school band could hope to receive in the United States of America.
Taube and I typically find an elevated hill inside Central Park from which to watch the parade, and this morning we were fortunate enough to have the absolute best view we have ever enjoyed, across the street from 73rd Street, a short distance from the Dakota building and in the shadow of Yoko Ono’s Strawberry Fields. Therefore, for the first time, we were actually able to see the street level of the parade and not just the high flying balloons above Central Park West. My view of the Dakota allowed me to spot three women of an advanced age watching down from a balcony probably 15 to 20 stories up. They were, not surprisingly, wearing fur coats.
Thanksgiving Day is probably the one day of the year when New Yorkers are in an uncharacteristically charitable mood, adults generously moving aside for young children to get a better view of the floats and balloons. One child in close proximity to us knew every single balloon character and loudly and repeatedly said a salutation to all of them –with particular vocal affection for the Muppets and the Sesame Street float. (Yes, the same Muppets and Sesame Street that have become the main lobbyists for the survival of PBS.)
It is not always easy to see who is actually in the parade from the distance of perhaps 40-50 yards inside the park, but Gwen Stefani was obvious even to an old man such as myself with limited knowledge of pop singers. (She is a spectacular platinum blond and wore a dazzling, long, red coat today.)
Talk show host Steve Harvey has recently come to my attention in the last several years mainly because he, like my wife, hails from the marvelous state of West Virginia. Steve and his wife shared a float. My West Virginia cred, as always, was excellent. I spotted Harvey easily, even as the short children at my feet were batting imminent ophthalmic injury with a low hanging branch, laden with incredibly nasty thorns.
I easily recognized Smoky Robinson, Martha Stewart, and Patti Labelle, probably because I am almost as old as they are.
To be honest, I did not recognize Martha Stewart on her float, but I recall her now that she has been pointed out to me– her white hair very flamboyant and dramatic as always, a culinary media ham who successfully reinvented herself late in life. There is hope for us all.
Frankly, my political reporting background came to rushing back when I saw Miss America 2017 happily waving from her float, and happily obliterating the obese image of the Fuhrer of Fifth Avenue, the former irascible owner of the pageant, appearing in the deep reaches of what’s left of my memory.
I’m told that Harry Connick, Jr., who appeared often at a nightclub on West 57th Street back when I lived several doors down at the Hudson Hotel while in law school, was also in the parade. To admit that I did not recognize him. Neither did I recognize Whoopi Goldberg, although Taube saw her on the street near the “The View” studios at ABC near Lincoln Center earlier this year. (Sorry, New York no longer generates the famous gossip columnists of the 20th century and I’m doing the best I can.)
NBC, which also televises the (also Macy’s) fireworks displays in New York on the 4th of July, apparently has little confidence in merely televising a parade or fireworks any more, and so has transmogrified the Macy’s Parade, as they have also done with the fireworks, into a kind of homogenized, easily digestible rock concert, with stars such as Labelle and Stefani performing, perhaps for free to NBC. (Offhand, I do not know whether they are paid an appearance fee.)
The biting cold did not feel as bad when we began walking back home after the parade’s conclusion with the waving appearance of Santa Claus, often erroneously spelled Santa Clause by your faithful correspondent. Taube took some delightful autumnal photographs of the later than usual seasonal foliage–perhaps the one positive legacy of Global Warming. Security was very tight. Large sanitation trucks blocked off all roadways into and within the park.
I hope you have enjoyed your dinner.