Sunday, December 03, 2006

It'll take more than a posturing governor to kill Festivus in its 40th anniversary year

Looking ahead to this year's Festivus, there's a grievance I would like to air -- about our governor's using the traditions of this great holiday to score political points.

A year ago, no doubt looking to gain some Seinfeld fan votes in his reelection campaign this year, Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle -- photographed by Henry A. Koshollek of the The Capital Times -- set up a Festivus Pole (made by a firm in Milwaukee) among the holiday decorations in the governor's mansion.

But this year, he's boycotting the holiday on account of the racist outburst by Michael Richards in a comedy club.
Festivus just isn't the same this year for self-professed "Seinfeld" fanatic Gov. Jim Doyle.

In fact, Doyle said he won't be recognizing the made-up holiday after Michael Richards, aka Kramer, unleashed a string of racial slurs at black patrons during a recent comedy club appearance.
Thanks, Gov. Doyle, for one more symbolic gesture by a politican that completely misses its mark. I hate Michael Richards's outburst as much as you do, but he really doesn't have anything to do with Festivus. After all, it wasn't Kramer's father who invented the holiday. It wasn't even George's father, Frank Constanza, played by Jerry Stiller, who invented the holiday that figured in that famous December 1997 episode of "Seinfeld."

No, as Allen Salkin reported in the NYT Dec. 19, 2004 (Times Select Archive Link), the holiday was a family tradition dating back to 1966 in the family of "Seinfeld" writer Daniel O'Keefe.
Those two rituals -- accusing others of being a disappointment and wrestling -- are traditions of Festivus as explained on the show by the character Frank Costanza. On that episode he tells Kramer that he invented the holiday when his children were young and he found himself in a department store tug of war with another Christmas shopper over a doll. "I realized there had to be a better way," Frank says.

So he coined the slogan "A Festivus for the rest of us" and formulated the other rules: the holiday occurs on Dec. 23, features a bare aluminum pole instead of a tree and does not end until the head of the family is wrestled to the floor and pinned.

The actual inventor of Festivus is Dan O'Keefe, 76, whose son Daniel, a writer on "Seinfeld," appropriated a family tradition for the episode. The elder Mr. O'Keefe was stunned to hear that the holiday, which he minted in 1966, is catching on. ''Have we accidentally invented a cult?'' he wondered.
The cult has taken on a life of its own. And we cultists do nurse our grievances (in order to air them once a year). So, go ahead, boycott Kramer. But leave Festivus alone.

UPDATE: The Wagner Companies, Milwaukee, makers of both the 6-foot floor model aluminum Festivus Pole ($38) as well as the 2-foot-8-inch tabletop model ($30), apparently hasn't heard of Gov. Doyle's change of heart about Festivus. They're still using his name and photo to proudly promote their product. Maybe that's a sign Doyle might yet consider using his pardon power to give the holiday a well-deserved reprieve.


Grant Miller said...

The Wagner Comapnies? The WAGNER Companies? As in Richard? No surprise they support Michael Richards.

Anonymous said...

What a joke... boycotting Festivus because of what Michael Richards said. It was celebrated by George's family and not Kramers. Kramer thought Festivus was out there. What is Festiuvs? Its for the rest of us.

Happy Festivus!

Anonymous said...

How can gov Doyle watch every epsiposde of Seinfled 8 times, as he claims? that's 720 hours of the show! Does he have any Governoring to do? More at