At least The Washington Post proudly admits it’s a buzzkill.
Atop Caitlin Gibson’s July 1 Post piece about Independence Day fireworks was a sentence in italicized text that announced it was “[p]art of a series of stories calling into question the supposed joys of summer.” All right, fair enough.
Above that text was the less-all-right, less-fair-enough headline: “Fireworks are America’s favorite face exploding, dog torturing, bird murdering way to celebrate its birthday.”
I don’t get invited to many Post barbecues on the Fourth; I’m assuming it’s because my invitation got caught in the spam filter or something. I will say this, though: After reading through Gibson’s piece, I’m pretty sure I’m not missing out on much.
Gibson’s piece is obviously more Op-Ed than editorial, but tell me that this doesn’t sound like something any Post writer might churn out in the run-up to the most patriotic date on the calendar:
“It’s almost the Fourth of July, the quintessential American holiday, and because nothing says America! quite like exploding things, it is the holiday of fireworks: glittering bursts over the town square, sparklers in the backyard, roman candles by the lake,” she writes.
“It’s all fine, patriotic fun — unless you’re an emergency room doctor, or the parent of an easily awakened child, or the owner of an anxious dog, or a firefighter, or a bird, or the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which gathers a bunch of government officials, fireworks safety experts and volunteers on the Mall every year for what is surely the most morbid event to ever feature exploding watermelons.”
Wait, I think I know this reference — it’s one of those old Fire Marshall Bill sketches on “In Living Color,” right?
Oh, no, apparently it’s a real event: “’Our next firework demonstration will illustrate how catastrophic it can be to ignite a shell within a mortar off the top of one’s head,’ a spokeswoman droned into a microphone on a recent June morning, while a small crowd gawked at a mannequin bro in a red shirt, posed with its hands clamped around a reloadable tube aerial shell firework balanced against its plastic skull.
“BAM! went the firework, as flaming embers and mannequin cornmeal-brains spiraled dramatically through the air, a poof of smoke dissipating to reveal a freshly decapitated dummy,” Gibson continued.
“’Whoa,’ murmured a couple of onlookers.”
Gibson then notes that fireworks can be “kind of fun” and may be useful to celebrate a sports victory or as a backdrop for an elaborate marriage proposal.
“That being said, fireworks are actually kind of terrible,” she writes.
Her argument can be broadly divided into three categories. First, using fireworks on your own is bad. Second, a professional fireworks display is less bad, but still bad. Third, Orange Man bad.
In the first category begins by noting the 9,100 people who end up in emergency rooms because of fireworks every year and the accompanying carnage. She notes that “fireworks gone wrong” generates 37 million Google results and that 18,500 fires are started by fireworks every year.
“But fireworks are still kind of terrible when they go right,” she wrote. This includes being so irritating to pets that one owner she talked to had to medicate her dog with cannabis-derived products.
“Rawley, a chow mix in Oakland, Calif., can no longer handle it unmedicated. His owners have recently been administering regular doses of CBD oil, which is stocked right by the checkout register at the local pet shop in the weeks leading up to July 4,” Gibson notes.
“Otherwise, ‘he just loses his mind,’ says Simone Aponte, Rawley’s owner. Independence Day has bred dependency, and the trauma isn’t confined to the holiday, either. “There have been so many fireworks this summer,” Aponte says, ‘we’ve been giving him CBD every night.’”
By the way, consumer-level CBD oil has never been proven to be particularly effective in humans, much less in dogs, so perhaps Rawley is the first canine to ever experience the placebo effect. (Chows are notoriously dim, after all.)
Gibson also recounts stories, both documented and anecdotal, about baby eagles falling out of nests, birds dying en masse after New Year’s Eve fireworks and woodland creatures being freaked out. Are you not entertained, America?
If you want to see a professionally done show, she wrote, those “are definitely less terrible.”
“Experts agree that they’re the safest, the masses agree that they’re the most impressive,” Gibson was willing to concede.
However, she said there was still “plenty of fireworks-adjacent terribleness to contend with.” This includes crying babies, warm drinks, mosquitoes, Sousa marches being too catchy, the traffic and “the tacky patina of melted Popsicle goo and Dorito dust caked to your fingers, because no one ever remembers to pack napkins.”
I’m halfway surprised that she didn’t end the piece by saying she feels like too much of a homebody if she just stays home and watches the fireworks on TV. I mean, why not at this point? There are Woody Allen characters that don’t complain this much. But, no, her final argument is that fireworks are worse than usual because, at least year, they’re associated with … that man.
“On Thursday, America’s 243rd birthday, the skies above the Mall will light up with a historic spectacle planned by a historically unpopular president, who announced that he would deliver a speech at the traditionally nonpartisan event, followed by a lavish ‘Salute to America‘ with fireworks made in China,” Gibson wrote.
“Before the big day, local newspapers will run stories reminding the masses that some Americans struggle with the unexpected pops and deafening blasts of neighborhood firecrackers because they are veterans of America’s wars or survivors of America’s mass shootings. The number of people who say they feel ‘extremely proud to be an American‘ — fewer than half, according to Gallup’s annual poll — sits at a record low.”
She ends her piece with a quote from the wildlife caretaker who she talked to about the baby eagles: “You can’t win,” the caretaker said. “In America, we like to blow stuff up.”
One can pretty much put Gibson’s piece out there for summary judgment and be done with it. But, since it’s close to Independence Day, let me share with you why I love fireworks.
Fireworks are dazzling and percussive. They’re a symbol of celebration, particularly on July 4. A fireworks display taken in with friends is a convivial way to spend this most patriotic of days — yes, crying babies and Dorito dust and all.
Enjoyed on your own at a small gathering, they’re a symbol of two other very American concepts: freedom and personal responsibility. And yes, I enjoy them because I occasionally like blowing stuff up.
That this would all seem unfathomable to someone writing in The Washington Post surprises me not in the least.
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