I Think It Was The Fourth Of July
It's the Fourth of July, although it is definitely not a Saturday, and you may or may not be in the park. Also, we hear some guy is trying to turn the whole thing into a party for himself today, but the heck with him. Yr Wonkette is a sucker for ritual and habit -- possibly a side effect of a Catholic upbringing -- and one of our own personal favorites is when NPR reads the Declaration of Independence every year. We're glad they don't redact the racist bit about King George stirring up the "merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions." It's good to be reminded the Founders didn't really consider everyone equal. Plus there was the slavery stuff, although Great American Bill O'Reilly set us straight on that.
Here's the sort of sentimentalist we are: We deeply appreciated that NPR kept legendary baseball announcer Red Barber in its Declaration of Independence lineup for at least fifteen years after he died.
That's part of why President Barstool's attempt to turn the national Independence Day celebration into an occasion to celebrate himself seems so disruptive -- it's just one more example of his casual disregard for norms.
And so for your Fourth of July, we present thoughts on the holiday from some people who have given the nation and its founding a good deal more thought than the doofus who'll be reading from a teleprompter on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial this evening.
We may as well start with Frederick Douglass, who is an example of somebody who's done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more. His 1852 speech, "What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?" -- delivered to an abolitionist group on July 5, if you want to amaze your friends with nitpicking -- is worth reading in full, but here's just one chunk I like. It comes just a bit before the bit that shows up everywhere.
Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?
Would to God, both for your sakes and ours, that an affirmative answer could be truthfully returned to these questions! Then would my task be light, and my burden easy and delightful [...]
But, such is not the state of the case. I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day? [...]
At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. O! had I the ability, and could I reach the nation's ear, I would, to-day, pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.
Read THAT on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, maybe!
We looked up some Mark Twain quotes on the Fourth of July, and were surprised to find America's most gloriously ambivalent patriot was mostly horrified at the routine carnage wrought by idiots with fireworks, as in this bit from remarks to the American Society in London, in 1899:
The business aspects of the Fourth of July is not perfect as it stands. See what it costs us every year with loss of life, the crippling of thousands with its fireworks, and the burning down of property. It is not only sacred to patriotism and universal freedom, but to the surgeon, the undertaker, the insurance offices -- and they are working it for all it is worth.
Twain returned to the American Society, and the same obsession, in 1907, when he contrasted the "daylight Fourth," which has the parades and the patriotic speeches and teaching children "patriotic things, and reverence for the Declaration of Independence," and the "midnight Fourth," which comes with a butcher's bill:
[There] will be noise, and noise, and noise, all night long, and there will be more than noise -- there will be people crippled, there will be people killed, there will be people who will lose their eyes, and all through that permission which we give to irresponsible boys to play with firearms and firecrackers and all sorts of dangerous things. We turn that Fourth of July alas! over to rowdies to drink and get drunk and make the night hideous, and we cripple and kill more people than you would imagine. We probably began to celebrate our Fourth of July night in that way a hundred and twenty-five years ago, and on every Fourth of July night since, these horrors have grown and grown until now, in the most of our five thousand towns of America, somebody gets killed or crippled on every Fourth of July night, besides those cases of sick persons whom we never hear of, who die afterward as the result of the noise or the shock. They cripple and kill more people on the Fourth of July, in America, than they kill and cripple in our American wars nowadays, and there are no pensions for these folk. And, too, we burn houses. We destroy more property on every Fourth of July night than the whole of the United States was worth a hundred and twenty-five years ago.
In short, we love the cantankerous old cuss. Like a certain president we won't be naming today, Sam Clemens tended to keep coming back to certain ideas again and again, noodling around on similar themes -- but unlike that other guy, always from a place of humanity. If we could replace the prepared text in the teleprompter tonight, perhaps we'd sneak in some excerpts from Twain's great anti-imperialist essay, "To the Person Sitting in Darkness," his savage excoriation of those who claimed to be spreading "the Blessings of Civilization" to the world -- through a war in which the US merely took over Spain's place as a colonizer.
Here's Laurie Anderson with the best commentary ever on the Star Spangled Banner:
Laurie Anderson PSA: "National Anthem" www.youtube.com
You know, I'd have to say my all-time favorite song is probably the US national anthem. It is hard to sing though, with all those arpeggios. I mean you're out at the ballpark and the fans are singing away and it's sort of pathetic watching them try to hang on to that melody.
The words are great, though - just a lot of questions written during a fire. Things like:
Hey? Do you see anything over there?
I dunno...there's a lot of smoke.
Say! Isn't that a flag?
Hmmmm...couldn't say really, it's pretty early in the morning.
Hey! Do you smell something burning?'
I mean, that's the whole song!
It's a big improvement over most national anthems though, which are in 4/4 time: "We're number one! This is the best place!"
Anderson also invokes the holiday in her haunting "Night in Baghdad," which takes us back to another bit of confusion during a fire; in this case, the first Gulf War:
Night in Baghdad (Remastered) www.youtube.com
And oh it's so beautiful
It's like the Fourth of July
It's lie a Christmas tree
It's like the fireflies on a summer night.
And I wish I could describe this to you better.
But I can't talk very well now
Cause I've got this damned gas mask on.
So I'm just going to stick this microphone out the window
And see if we can hear a little better.
A nice soundtrack for the flyover of warplanes, perhaps. If we can even see them. They're invisible, you know.
Fine, how about some genuinely celebratory Fourth of July-ing? Here's a bit from Molly Ivins's July 3, 1997, column -- one of her own annual traditions -- celebrating a nation that belongs to the people, however much we seem to keep forgetting that.
The thing about democracy, beloveds, is that it is not neat, orderly or quiet. It requires a certain relish for confusion. So let us repair to the purple mountain majesties, the shining shores or the back yard, there to tuck into our fried chicken, hot dogs, corn on the cob, potato salad, ice cream, fireworks and John Philip Sousa. Or, as the case may be, arugula, radicchio, confit of duck with gingered figs, shiitake mushrooms, sorrel salad, raspberry puree, fireworks and John Philip Sousa.
And as we wish our country happy birthday, endeavor to recall two things: 1) Most Americans really are much nicer people than we often give ourselves credit for being, and 2) "the pursuit of happiness" was an 18th-century locution for "the search for justice and right."
And while we're at it, beloveds, how about a little July 4 clip from the makers of that Molly Ivins documentary we're currently waiting for, and would they please hurry up and get it out to theaters/streaming? But yes, here's a clip!
HAPPY 4TH from Molly Ivins & Team RAISE HELL ! www.youtube.com
We also looked for some appropriate Kurt Vonnegut Fourth of July thoughts, but the main thing Google found for us was a link to his brilliantly don't-give-a-shit 1972 short story, "The Big Space Fuck," in which a rocketship with a payload of freeze-dried jizzum is launched, on the Fourth of July, toward the Andromeda Galaxy:
In 1989, America staged the Big Space Fuck, which was a serious effort to make sure that human life would continue to exist somewhere in the Universe, since it certainly couldn't continue much longer on Earth. Everything had turned to shit and beer cans and old automobiles and Clorox bottles. An interesting thing happened in the Hawaiian Islands, where they had been throwing trash down extinct volcanoes for years: a couple of the volcanoes all of a sudden spit it all back up. And so on.
Gee, that one seems appropriate for today's festivities in Washington, too.
Update: Oh, yeah, this is your holiday OPEN THREAD too!
Let's be careful out there.
Season 2 - 4th of July Safety Tips PSA | Red vs. Blue www.youtube.com
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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.