Illustrator Skewers the Washington Team, Thanksgiving With Cover Art

Why The New Yorker's Thanksgiving Cover Wins on So Many Levels
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And there it was, in my inbox, an image of The New Yorker’s December cover – an illustration of pompous, jubilant R-word fans at the first Thanksgiving in 1621; three Native Americans stand at the hatch of a log cabin – each taken aback by the buffoonery on display; a woman in a quintessential pilgrims’ bonnet serves flagons of drink to the fat merry men in R-word jerseys; turkey and pie and more booze riddle the table in the foreground, and of course, near the team logo, which hangs high on the wall like a crucifix, just above the massive flat screen TV, is a banner with the words, “GO REDSKINS!” The foul thing sits prominently displayed near a scroll-parchment reading, “Welcome to ‘Redskins Nation!’”

I immediately read the write up by The New Yorker’s Mina Kaneko and Francoise Mouly about the illustrator, Bruce McCall, and his painting titled, “First Thanksgiving.”

“This is 2014, and it seems a little late to be dealing with that stuff,” McCall told Kaneko and Mouly. McCall was speaking to team owner Dan Snyder’s statement when he declared the name and logo is a “badge of honor.”

“It should have been quashed a long time ago. We did everything to the Indians that we could, and it’s still going on,” McCall said. “It seems crude and callous. Names like the Atlanta Braves come from another time. So, in my cover, I’ve brought the cultural arrogance of one side back to the sixteen-hundreds and the first Thanksgiving dinner, just to see what would happen.”

What happened was Native Americans took to social media and retweeted the image and celebrated its message, while some R-word fans merely celebrated the fact that their team made the cover of The New Yorker, apparently missing the satirical nature of the illustration.

McCall told Michael Cavna of The Washington Post he was not attempting to be profound when he created the image, but that he wanted to take a stab at the spurious holiday.

“I see the world in a sarcastic and skeptical way, and [as fodder], I like the phoniness of the holiday — the business of the holiday,” McCall said to Cavna.

Yet what makes McCall’s illustration profound, even if he wasn’t attempting to make it so, can be summed up in two words: omit and mythologized.

Much of the events surrounding the several historical Thanksgivings in U.S. history have either been omitted from the American conversation or they have been significantly mythologized. One such Thanksgiving celebration omitted in American textbooks occurred in Connecticut in 1676 in which the townspeople there declared a ‘day of Publique Thankesgiving’ to rejoice in ‘the subdueing of our enemies' - the enemies here meaning Native Americans. The myth, then, is that Thanksgiving is not a celebration of settler colonialism and conquest.

Likewise, the truth behind the dictionary-defined slur – the R-word – has oft been omitted from today's debates or mythologized with stories of grandeur and celebration of the team’s legacy. One such historical fact is how the R-word was used in the buying, selling and trade of Native American scalps between European settlers. The myth is that the pejorative honors rather than offends, and that intent matters more than impact.

All this to say, bravo McCall.