This Independence Day, we will all likely enjoy time with family, the outdoors, fireworks, and some good grilling. Typically – for me at least (and this is certainly up for debate) – I like to keep the grilling menu simple for the 4th. Hamburgers and hot dogs. And if I had to pick one, it’s hot dogs all the way. They’re simple, super quick, and cheap – all good qualities when you’re grilling for extended family. While I could go on about grilling and other food choices for the holiday, let me get to my point: hot dogs are the quintessential American food for the 4th of July. So why wouldn’t we all be interested in dozens of men and women shoveling them into their mouths at ungodly rates, just to be able to stake claim to the title of “Nathan’s Coney Island Hot Dog Eating Champion of the World”? I wasn’t being facetious – the fact of the matter is we are fascinated. How can you NOT be???!!!
I started tuning in to “Nathan’s” sometime around the early 2000s. It was a joke, like a bad movie, that confuses you, and you wonder why upwards of 50,000 spectators are on hand to watch the event in person. You wonder why the announcer (the satirical George Shea) is doing play-by-play of the event and talking as if the fate of the world rested on the outcome of this hot dog eating competition (he may or may not have actually uttered those words before on the air – probably has, if I had to guess).
You wonder why some of these grown men are wearing face paint, why they strut out to the stage like they are wrestlers at a WWE pay-per-view card, or why they’re all dunking hot dogs in buckets of water before scarfing them down like ravenous animals. Yes, you’re wondering all those things when you are first introduced to “Nathan’s”. But before you know it, as you sit staring with your mouth left a little agape, you can’t change the channel – with all the questions running through your mind, you haven’t even gotten to the one that asks “Why is this even on TV???”. So you sit, in a sort of wonderment at this gluttonous marvel.
Then by the time it’s over (the competition lasts a measly 10 minutes, but the event – spectacle, rather is a more appropriate description – lasts an hour), you find yourself smirking, maybe even laughing aloud, at what your senses have just experienced. Be careful though – if you’re watching with people who just don’t get it, you might feel silly. They don’t understand that it’s a show, a production, a way to satirically take seriously something we all should have no interest in watching or caring about. George Shea’s commentary is exquisite, boisterous, and completely over-the-top. His voice is synonymous with the 4th of July, just like John Madden’s was with NFL football, Vin Scully’s is with baseball, and Keith Jackson’s was with college football.
I’ll be watching this July 4th and can’t wait to sit back and smile, as George Shea convinces me that what I’m watching is “the greatest achievement in the history of man”.
Happy Fourth, everyone!