IT WAS understandable that four NBC-TV affiliates decided not to air a pro-vegan commercial during the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade because, as one station manager put it, the ad wasn't in the spirit of the parade.
Their decision also was wrong.
The last thing people want as they are about to tuck in to America's annual tribute to its bounteous food supply is to be reminded of what makes that abundance possible. No one wants to know that the turkey on their table may have been raised in overcrowded conditions and killed inhumanely, nor that it might contain contaminants such as chemicals, dirt, and feces. That's not what Thanksgiving Day, and especially the Macy's parade, are all about.
But if having our eyes wide open about everything we are giving thanks for is not the correct spirit, what is?
The first Macy's parade in 1924 was largely an employee-driven affair featuring zoo animals, but the department store decided to make it an annual event. It's not too cynical to suggest that the store's top brass recognized the advantage of having the name attached to a popular event.
Balloons soon replaced live animals and in 1934, Macy's collaborated with Walt Disney Studios to create the first Mickey Mouse balloon. Since then, commercial characters - from Popeye, Snoopy, and the Pillsbury Doughboy to Spider-Man, SpongeBob SquarePants, and Ronald McDonald - have assumed an increasingly prominent place among parade balloons.
This isn't bad. We love the balloons and floats as much as anyone. But the parade is what it is, and isn't what it is not, which is a celebration of the real meaning of Thanksgiving.
It seems, therefore, that commercialism is the spirit that was being protected by NBC affiliates in Raleigh, Little Rock, Columbia, S.C., and Savannah, Ga. That conclusion is reinforced by the barrage of ads accompanying NBC's parade coverage in which viewers were urged to shop early and often, beginning before dawn on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.
It's easy to condemn PETA's ad as just another liberal attempt to spoil things for everyone else, but there is a more important principle at stake. Televisions stations should no more be allowed to ban vegan ads on Thanksgiving than to refuse to air Republican ads during the Democratic National Convention.
How turkeys are treated before they get to the table may be an inconvenient truth, but as hunters say to people who think killing animals is barbaric, "Where do you think you meat comes from?"