Festivus, For The Rest Of Us, December 23rd

The holiday drew national consideration thanks to Seinfeld. In a 1997 episode titled “The Strike”, which aired during the ninth season, George Costanza’s father, Frank (Jerry Stiller), decided he was performing a solitary war on Christmas. Instead of celebrating a tacky commercialized holiday, Frank was going to start his own occasion—Festivus. “Many Christmases ago, I went to buy a doll for my son,” explained Frank in the show. “I reached for the last one they had, but so did another man. As I rained blows upon him, I realized there had to be another way.” With that, Festivus was born.

The holiday is celebrated on December 23rd, because Frank wanted “to get a leg up on Christmas.” To mark the occasion, an aluminum pole is set up in the living room or backyard—the Festivus pole, which “requires no decoration,” according to Frank. After a Festivus meal, celebrants must air their grievances with each other and engage in feats of strength, like wrestling.

Mark Twain and the Jumping Frog (1865 November 18th)

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Mark Twain’s “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” was first published in the November 18,1865, edition of The New York Saturday Press, under the title “Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog.” The story is set in a gold-mining camp in Calaveras County, California, and has its roots in the legends of the Gold Rush era. It was one of Twain’s initial writings, and helped launch his reputation as a humorist. He eventually included it as the title story in his first collection of tales.

What is The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County About and Is It Really True or Fake?

How can we not care about a frog that jumps really high except when he is force-fed lead shot? But really, this tale proves to us the power of storytelling, and that just about anything can be fascinating, if it is told well (and with an accent).

When Mark Twain headed out to Nevada in 1861, hoping to strike it rich in the silver boom, he began writing for a newspaper called the Territorial Enterprise. There, he and his fellow “journalists” would create news sometimes (for kicks) and would try to make the most ludicrous circumstances seem like the “real” news to readers. They would have contests to see who could create the most absurd yet credible stories (source). Basically, they were pioneers in the “fake news media.”

The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County Is It A Tale of Deceit or Cleverness?

Though Jim Smiley seems to be extremely lucky, it is partly through his wily and cunning ways that he is able to win bets. He is finally outsmarted by a stranger, who beats him through dishonest. Nonetheless, the story poses a moral distinction between honest and fraudulent cleverness. It also shows that you don’t necessarily have to be educated and well spoken to be clever, nor is a good education a defense against getting fooled.

Although this story is full of messages about the differences between the West and the East, and about education, the main lesson is about the rules of fair play.

Though Jim Smiley “deceives” people by betting on his animals that don’t look like they can ever win, his dishonesty is innocent in contrast to the stranger’s. All gambling is an attempt to deceive, so Smiley’s opponents should know what they are getting into.  As the saying goes…all fair in love and war, and apparently frog jumping too.

Contrast Of Regions, ie He’s From Over There:

Though the eastern and western United States aren’t exactly contrasted in this short story, we do see a difference between the educated, refined narrator from the East (who also happens to be “green”) and the uneducated but slick characters who populate Angel’s mining camp in the West. The characters in the West love a good tall tale, while the narrator appears to find it pointless and tedious, but maybe that’s because he doesn’t get it

The Melting Pot Before There was a Melting Pot and The Merits of Foreigners.

Twain was exploring the idea of America’s strength resulting from its status as melting pot of various culture, histories and ideologies even before it was known as “pluralism.”. The story was published in 1865 and while immigrants had always been a vital constituent of American growth, the long lines at Ellis Island was still a very long way off. In revealing that the prejudices of both the East and West may be unjustified and in showing that the frontier Americans could be trusted with spreading the literal concept and the symbolic weight of America as a grand experiment in democracy, Twain’s story can be read as an allegory of the American melting pot. It takes all kinds and all kinds are going to be necessary to make this idea work across such an enormous expanse of geography, the story says. At a time when much of the East’s negative perception of those settling the frontier was informed by the very real possibility that much of that land might be lost to Mexicans, Indians or some foreign power, one can only assume that the optimistic name of the westerner who gets the better of the easterner was not chosen randomly.

The Satirist Tale of Swift in Gulliver’s Travels published 1726 October 28th

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Gulliver’s Travels is Swift’s most famous work published on October 28, 1726.  The full title of Swift’s work was “Gulliver’s Travels or Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, in Four Parts, by Lemuel Gulliver, first a surgeon, and then a captain of several ships”.

The original version is surely NOT a children’s book

Most readers will lovingly remember Gulliver as a children’s book, but the unexpurgated version is full of brutality. The unfeelingly logical Houyhnhnms – highly intelligent horse-like creatures – plan to wipe out the bestial humanoid Yahoos by castrating them all. This plan is stimulated by Gulliver’s description of how horses are treated in England.

There is a particularly disagreeable scene in the Lilliput voyage where Gulliver urinates on the queen’s home to quench a overwhelming fire. This is routinely included in the children’s edition, albeit in sanitised form. And then there’s the scene in one of Gulliver’s final adventures where our hero has to fend off a highly libidinous female Yahoo who appears intent on raping him.

Making up new words

Gulliver’s Travels has given the English language a number of prominent words, not least Houyhnhnm (move your lips like a horse when saying it). There’s also Yahoo, an uneducated ruffian; brobdingnagian, meaning huge, after the giants in the second voyage; and lilliputian, meaning small, after the miniature humans of the first voyage.

A  man of many puns

Swift also loved puns. Lindalino, a most unusual place, is another name for Dublin (double “lin”). The flying city of Laputa is a harsh allegory of England and its colonial dominion over Ireland – the name means “the whore” in Spanish (la puta). As for the kingdom of Tribnia, it is an anagram of Britain. Its residents call it Langden, an anagram of England.

A novel in which real persons or events figure under disguise

Like any effective satirist, Swift had many enemies. Britain’s first prime minister, Robert Walpole, is recreated as Flimnap, who as the pompous Lord High Treasurer of Lilliput has an equivalent role in their society. Either the Duke of Marlborough or Earl of Nottingham is the inspiration for his war-hungry governmental counterpart Skyresh Bolgolam, the Lord High Admiral of Lilliput.

Other authority figures are roundly mocked throughout the book. The pettiness of politicians – Whigs and Tories alike – is compellingly conveyed by rendering them small. That moment where Gulliver urinates on the palace is sometimes interpreted as a reference to the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713, which ceded Gibraltar to the UK – and by which the Tories put out the fire of the War of Spanish Succession with some very ungentlemanly conduct.

Gulliver goes to Mars and Shift gets a moon

The book jokingly mentions the presence of moons around Mars. After Phobos and Deimos were discovered by astronomers in 1872, Swift crater on Deimos was named in the Irishman’s honour.

MISC Conflict and Themes

On the surface, Gulliver strives to understand the various societies with which he comes into contact and to have these societies understand his native England. Below the surface, Swift is engaged in a conflict with the English society he is satirizing. Might versus right; the individual versus society; the limits of human understanding.