So I've had a really large, hard to digest thought on my mind for the past two months or so that has precluded me from using this space to proselytize in article form. Therefore I have yielded to my dark side and slapped on the comedy nice and thick, like mayo on a ham on rye. I hope you've enjoyed it. It will, no doubt, continue in the future. Mainly because I like a good ham on rye but also because comedy is fun. Having opinions is hard work.
Today however, I feel the need to put the Opinionator hat back on and preach. Not about that all-consuming, mind-deadening thought mentioned above (that one still eludes me), but about another, more shall we say Â… topical Â… thought. One that I'm sure you will either agree with or not. Yes, that is the degree to which I know my audience.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have to say that It's been a while since I've exercised the article voice so please bear with me. In other words (like the rocket scientist once said), I'm not sure what this thing is gonna do, so you might want to stand back a bit.
I lived with a man once who was a huge Russell Banks fan. He had read, and owned in hard cover, all of said author's novels to date. I'd read Continental Drift had seen the movie versions of The Sweet Hereafter and Affliction, and had enjoyed them all to a certain extent, but did not feel the need to go further. Let's just say that spending a great deal of time on something that I knew would ultimately leave me feeling lost, empty and somewhat suicidal did not appeal to me (this was before I met my ex-wife).
One Banks novel in particular repulsed me even more than the rest. Mainly (I know this is wrong, shut up) because of its cover. The Rule of the Bone hardcover is a disgusting yellow with giant femur bones on it. Off-putting, to say the least. I had a feeling that the book was about some kind of pirates or something (I was partly right) and despite my love for all things piratical, knowing Banks, I felt that I'd be better off not going down that road.
One day however (Hey, you knew this was coming. What's a narrative without conflict?), I was headed to the crapper and found myself without sufficient reading material to pass the time. Thinking that the toilet was the perfect place to experiment with a femur-emblazoned hard cover novel, I grabbed Rule of the Bone and went to do my thing.
Hours passed. I eventually removed myself from the john, but not from the grip of the novel's narrative. It had hooked me, and despite its typical Banks-ian exploration of despair, it was ultimately an enjoyable read.
One bit in particular sticks in my mind and resurfaces around July 4th and December 31st of every year. It is the scene in which the hero/protagonist (an American teen) entertains a visitor from Jamaica on Independence Day. Fireworks start going off, as they are wont to do that time of year, and the Jamaican reacts to the succession of percussive explosions by freaking out and running for cover. The American teen thinks that this is funny. We later learn that there is a very good reason for the Jamaican's reaction to the sounds he hears, and realize that if we are laughing along with the American Teen we are idiots.
The Mel Gibson film, The Patriot, I think, captures the reverse of that scene in Rule of the Bone quite effectively. In one scene near the beginning of the film, Gibson and his sons, who are caught in the middle of the American War of Independence, are watching the light show of a battle happening down the hill from their farm, and trying to estimate what weapons are being used, and how close to their home the battle will come. I first heard the dialogue for this scene while shooting the audition tape of the kid who eventually got the part of Samuel. At the time, I thought the scene was crap. My apologies to Mr. Rodat.
I actually saw the film a year or so later, when I was staying in a hotel room in Las Vegas during a location shoot. I had ordered room service, and when it arrived, I muted the film to answer the door. When I returned, it was to the aforementioned scene, albeit without sound. I could not hear the dialogue, but thanks to a strange bit of show business synchronicity, I already knew the scene by heart. I knew that the characters in the film were supposed to be afraid, fearing for their lives and for the safety of their home, but their faces displayed a barely suppressed glee. An appreciation of the destructive power on display before them. It was the exact same expression I've seen on the on the face of every child at every fireworks display I've ever attended. I have no doubt that this parallel was intended by the filmmakers.
Now let's look at another comparison. Run your mental tape reel back to 1991, to the first Gulf War. Play back the CNN images of Anti-Aircraft fire over Baghdad as Coalition forces began their bombing runs over that city. Mute Bernard Shaw's voice because it's unseemly to hear such a distinguished journalist crying for his momma while hiding under the bed. Instead, focus on the images of the tracer bullets streaming over the rooftops. They look kinda fireworks-ish don't they?
Now fast forward to the same location a couple of years ago. Thanks to careful monitoring of the press by the Defense Department (no live shots of bewildered Navy SEALs landing on the beach this time around, damn it all to hell) we were not shown images of Iraqi citizens during the bombings, and therefore cannot accurately judge the level of shock and/or awe displayed on their faces as entire city blocks began crumbling into ruin around them thanks to the massive, concentrated pyrotechnics display courtesy of the United States Air Force. I can, however, attest to the majesty of that display as shown on TV. It was, pardon the parlance, awesome.
I'm not kidding. Despite the knowledge that people were dying right there in front of me, I enjoyed the show. I'm a sucker for a good explosion. I think we all are, and I think that's why so many of us attend fireworks displays, watch war movies, play action games and listen to loud rock and roll music. Nothing quite sets off a joygasm like a big-budget action flick with lots of explosions, a video game that has nicely-detailed pyrotechnics or a good, grungy guitar riff cranked way past eleven.
Likewise, I think that the annual fireworks display over the Charles River Esplanade, with music by The Boston Pops (who's members, contrary to popular opinion, are neither entirely elderly nor cereal mascots), is one of the single greatest entertainment spectacles ever produced. If you ever have the chance, I highly recommend seeing it. I just finished watching it with the GF on TV and despite my negative feelings about such things, I have to say that it was kind of romantic.
Why I love fireworks, therefore, is self explanatory. Explosions are cool. End of argument. Why I hate them is more complex.
Part of why I hate them has to do with the fact that every bubba and his dog can set them off with no more effort than a trip over the border to New Hampshire and the striking of a match. Independence Day, for me, is punctuated by a steady increase of illicit bottle rocket launches immediately prior to July 4, followed by a slow decline of such activity immediately following.
Allow me, therefore, to append my earlier statement. Scheduled, organized explosions are cool. Waking from a nap to the sound of a 200 string of Black Cats exploding in the street next to your house is a pain in the ass. And I live in America. I don't even have to decide whether or not it's gunfire. Chances are fairly good that explosions in the street occurring on or around July 4th are being caused by drunken idiots, and - despite what common sense may have to say about that " are nothing to worry about. That doesn't change the fact that I was woken from a nap. Nor does it alleviate the drudgery of picking rocket refuse from the petunia bed the next day.
Which - I think (I told you people that I had no idea where this was going) - brings me back to my point. That is, ask the people in a war zone if they'd like to go see a fireworks display, and come back and tell me what they say. I'll give you a shiny nickel if the answer is yes. Chances are that they'll tell you that they're too busy digging relatives body parts out of the rubble of what used to be the corner market, but that's just a hunch. Maybe in a hundred years or so, they'll say, they'll be down.
Picture a crowd of Iraqis hanging out on the banks of the Euphrates in the year 2105, listening to the U2 song The War of 2005, which is customarily punctuated by rocket launches at appropriate moments. What will they be celebrating, I wonder? Liberation? Survival? Or perhaps, like most of us here in America, they'll just be there to watch the explosions.