Monday, September 12, 2022

A New Labor Day Tradition


 I had a mighty fine Labor Day. Rahnee and I took the dogs to the park and we also took along some snacks. The weather was overcast and a bit cool but still mostly summery.

And another mighty fine thing happened that day. I’ve developed a new Labor Day tradition. I try to make it a point every Labor Day weekend to ask someone under age 30 if they’ve ever heard of the Jerry Lewis Telethon.

I’m fortunate that most of the people I’ve hired to come into my home and get me out of bed and such are under age 30. So, I’m surrounded by people from that demographic more than most old farts like me.

And I’m delighted to report that lately they’ve all said that they’ve never heard of either Jerry Lewis or the telethon.

And I feel great satisfaction when I hear that because there was a time not long ago when the Jerry Lewis Telethon was synonymous with Labor Day weekend. 

(Warning: I’m about to briefly explain who Jerry Lewis and the telethon were. If you don’t know who they were it’s better that you never do. So, skip down a few paragraphs.) Jerry Lewis was a comedian from the 1940s whose signature schtick was doing an impression of the lamest stereotype of a spaz.

Somewhere along the line, Lewis got the idea that he wanted his legacy to be as a great humanitarian who raised millions of dollars for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Thus, he engaged in shameless pandering by hosting a 21-hour show every Labor Day weekend called the Jerry Lewis Telethon. In between cheesy, Vegasy acts, Lewis would plead for viewers to please call the number on the screen and pledge a donation to the MDA.

You’d think that would make people with muscular dystrophy, like me, very happy. But a lot of us were pissed off by it all. There were tons of reasons why the telethon reeked but suffice it to say that a big reason was that Lewis’ depiction of life as a cripple was as insultingly shallow as his spaz schtick. The telethon took the laziest approach of trying to make its audience believe that the typical cripple is as sad but extraordinarily brave perpetual child who hates being crippled and wants nothing else in life except to be cured. And we all worship Lewis and the MDA because they are our hope for being cured. But they can’t do it without the generous donations of people like you.

The telethon referred to people with muscular dystrophy as Jerry’s Kids. So, some of us formed a group called Jerry’s Orphans and on Labor Day weekends we protested around the country against the telethon. We got a lot of media attention and Lewis reacted with bitter hostility. I’m proud to say that MDA threatened to sue me if I didn’t shut up. I didn’t and they didn’t.

The Jerry Lewis Telethon is so long gone that younger generations don’t even know it ever existed. So, I guess Jerry’s Orphans won.

As we sat in the park with the dogs eating snacks, I said to Rahnee, “This sure beats protesting.”

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