Friday, September 25, 2009

Fireworks: Jingoistic or Not?

I've been very quiet on this blog for the front half of this month -- things have been busy at work, and I've been so tired/lazy at night that I've mostly been playing online games and generally wasting time instead of blogging. (Plus the kinds just went back to school, which means schedules are now both different and busier.) That means I've got a backlog of things I wanted to blog about, which may finally spur me to activity. (We'll see.)

First up is the question of fireworks. The Sunday of Labor Day weekend was Pompton Day -- most of the towns in my area have a street fair-cum-Whitmanian celebration of themselves at some point during the summer, and this was our turn. As usual in the US, a civic holiday in the summer means large explosions once darkness hits, and so there was a fireworks display over the local lake. (The town is Pompton Lakes, after all.)

The choice of music during the pyrotechnics was aggressively Amurrican -- almost entirely rah-rah patriotic, from Kate Smith to those flag-waving country songs that people who drive pick-ups love so much. And that got me to thinking.

I wondered if this is a particularly American phenomenon -- perhaps influenced by our national anthem, which is, after all, about watching "shells bursting in air" as the enemy attacks one of our forts -- or if fireworks displays are just vehicles for nationalism wherever they appear.

And I could have continued to wonder, but I decided I would, instead, ask you folks, in an utterly unscientific poll, how fireworks displays work where you live.

I'm going to try to embed a poll in the body of this blog to ask that question. I'm using an online poll service -- I expect to see a number of comments about how I've chosen the wrong one, and how this one is crashing various people's weird homebrew Linux rigs running on tree bark -- for the first time, and I expect bugs. If all goes well, it'll sit up at the top of this blog for about a week. If all goes wrong...I'll try something else; maybe a Blogger poll in the sidebar.
Listening to: we are soldiers we have guns - Songs That No One Will Hear
via FoxyTunes


Brad Holden said...

Locally, in this blue state, socialist paradise, the Fourth is a free for all. The city does no display and simply tries to keep the number of high explosives to a minimum. The city does run a display for its birthday, but that is very low key and free of any music (and jingoism).

The last place I saw fireworks was in Europe, this were also jingo free ( the Germans are sensitive about that).

Gail O'Connor said...

Blue state, smallish town, the annual fireworks display is not on July 4th, but on the weekend of the local festival. So far as I know, there is no soundtrack. I can see them from my house, so I don't bother to go to the park to watch.

Danielle Ruschena said...

I am an Australian currently living in Japan where fireworks are THE expression of Summer, and they like to throw them in for any festival that goes into the night (i.e., all of them!) In the children's playground across the road from us, during Summer, there is regularly (almost daily) a small group of kids out, much later than is safe in Australia or the States, setting off the traditional Chinese popping fireworks, without adult supervision. This is pretty amazing to an Australian brought up after they were made illegal to purchase and set off without a permit - which usually can only be gained through a company you hire to do the display for you.
In Australia we have extraordinary fireworks displays a couple of times a year (New Year and Australia Day) and for the occasional celebration/expo/festival. The big fireworks in HongKong (before the switch) were often done by the same Australian family fireworks crew, they also contributed to many Olympics over the years (as I understand it.)

I guess if your question is: are fireworks particularly American then the answer is: no, though I realize you probably hadn't forgotten that whole, you know, Chinese thing... :)

If you're question is are American fireworks displays too patriotic then I guess I have nothing to add - except, perhaps, an apology for putting my nose in :)

Andrew Wheeler said...

Danielle: I was really asking "if fireworks displays are just vehicles for nationalism wherever they appear" -- given that fireworks are ubiquitous worldwide, I wondered if an Australian event would generally feature "Waltzing Matilda" or similar Gosh-isn't-our-country-great warhorses.

But you do bring up a point I hadn't thought about -- I live in a part of the States where fireworks are highly regulated, so they're mostly the work of the local government. But that's not true everywhere, not even in this country -- there are plenty of places where regular citizens can fire off quite dangerous munitions just because they feel like it. (And those kind of personal displays wouldn't have any civic or patriotic message -- it's usually just about blowing things up.)

Brad Holden said...

I forgot to add that, where I live, fireworks are illegal to use but not to sell. (And where I live marijuana is illegal to sell but not to use.)

Ray said...

The major fireworks displays I've seen here in Ireland haven't been especially patriotic. But Ireland is in general much less flag-wavy than the US. People only put out flags for sporting events - football games, the Olympics, etc - or maybe St Patrick's day.

James Davis Nicoll said...

Well, Canada Day (Formerly Dominion Day, which I think is cooler but which has been commandeered by the wingnut set) generally has fireworks but so does New Years and Queen Victoria's Birthday. I don't think they bothered to play O Canada at the last few Canada Day's I've gone to.

I think the general rule here is that "explosions are fun".

Thomas Taylor said...

In the UK we only regularly see fireworks on Bonfire or 'Guy Fawks' Night (5th of Nov). On the surface this probably counts as patriotic, since the history behind the discovery of Guy Fawks (crouching beneath Parliament with his lighted taper and a hundred barrels of gunpowder) has a strong them-and-us element to it. However, four hundred years after the event, most people don't think about that – they are too busy waving sparklers and drinking mulled wine. Unless they live in Lewes, in which case they are also burning the pope.

There is no Guy Fawks Night music that I know of.

I live in France now, where fireworks are a big part of Bastille Day celebrations. This is a seriously patriotic event and the Marseillaise – a war song – rouses all Frenchmen's hearts as the rockets arc overhead.

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