This July 4, Huddle Indoors Like Your Dog

In which a Very Confused American contemplates his country’s national holiday.

In 24-ish hours, America will celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence, in the traditional way — barbecues, quasi-legal fireworks displays, publicly-funded fireworks displays (for all of my libertarian friends who don’t like being asked, “Who will build the roads,” I’d ask, “Who will fund the municipal fireworks display?”). And, of course, a massively communicable disease will spread like fires caused by aforementioned quasi-legal fireworks without Ye Olde Fire Dept.

Obviously, I’ll be celebrating the same way I’ve celebrated since 2008: By staying indoors and watching Britcoms. In 2008, I moved to Miami, Florida (“The Most Interesting Place in the World”), and, because I had grad school classes and it was blisteringly hot; staying in and studying was definitely a far better choice than getting the car, fighting weekend traffic, being devoured by the rapacious insects, and paying exorbitant parking fees to see massive explosions (which are a fairly common occurrence in South Florida, anyway)(and pretty much de rigueur there for most holidays, including but not limited to, Independence Day, Cinco de Mayo, Bastille Day, Mother’s Day, Kwanzaa, Halloween, VE Day, etc.) — as opposed to just staying inside and enjoying air conditioning. Once you make that leap to, “I dunno, it seems like an awful lot of effort, for relatively little enjoyment” there’s no going back, even if your state allows you to buy napalm for celebrations. I know everyone in America has this dream of going out in the hottest month and sweating more in order to… uh, honor liberty? Or something? I don’t know; as someone well-versed in history, this holiday always struck me as the national equivalent of what Easter is to Christianity (most of my Christian friends are aware of that holiday’s very pagan origins, and just kind of shrug and go along with it because, hey, it’s tradition and the kids love it; but most would also admit it’s a bizarre hodgepodge of a holiday). Overlooking the fact that many of our Founding Fathers were, at best, controversial figures within their own lives, and history has been less-than-kind to them (Sally Hemings was under 16 when she “met” T. Jefferson, which paints their relationship in a deeply unsettling light, but I digress); it seems like a bizarre way to honor the founding of nation built upon tax issues (it was) by eating spare ribs and lighting bottle rockets. Don’t get me wrong, that’s all well and good (sort of; my poor dog is terrified of fireworks, so I spend most of Independence Day trying to calm him down), but I’m not exactly certain of the dubious connection to our nation’s founding. Much like chocolate eggs and Jesus (I’m going to keep at the Easter and Christianity metaphor until someone explains to me the linkage between M80s, outdoor dining, and nearly-starving at Valley Forge; they’re all completely incongruous). You could argue that we’re celebrating the War of 1812, but the dates don’t really line up, and that then leads to questions about whether press-ganging Americans into the British Navy is a big deal, especially in the 21st century when we only occasionally go looking for military personnel who go missing in Afghanistan.

I get the inclusion of the outdoor cook-off; that’s such an ingrained part of the national identity that it’s more or less the default celebration method for everything (that and sales at the mall). Father’s Day? Barbecue. Mother’s Day? Champaign brunch, followed by barbecue. Memorial Day? Barbecue. We have barbecues in this country in the same manner that the Catholic Church has obscure holidays for saints. The barbecue part I totally get; and I sort of understand that, even if it is the hottest, most-miserable part of the year throughout the country, we’re going to have an outdoor barbecue, because only Godless Communists or the French would celebrate a major event with indoor cooking (CITATION NEEDED). Where my comprehension dissipates is the connection between M80s and the Declaration of Independence. I could be very wrong here, but I don’t recall many contemporary writers discussing shelling at the either the signing of the Declaration of Independence or the Constitutional Convention. One could make the argument that the needless explosions are there to commemorate the Revolutionary War, and, we all love explosions, but, again, that seems like a specific historical revision to minimize the greater issues American troops faced during that war — such as disease, deprivation, frostbite, and starvation — and make the whole thing a much more interesting, sexier-sounding affair than it actually was. But, y’know; Gods forbid that we celebrate someone else’s sacrifices with sacrifice and/or fasting.

If you’ll all forgive me for going completely QAnon-style conspiracy theorist in an attempt to rationalize the holiday, is there some bizarre, unholy alliance between the fireworks industry, Big Municipal Parking, and the American Pork Council (I have no idea if that’s a thing, but I’d be surprised if it wasn’t). Sheeple, wake up! You’re being forced to leave your homes and go to uncomfortable, crowded block parties with your neighbors in the name of Big Fire and Big BBQ! On a more-sane conspiracy level, if I were a shareholder in Gilead Sciences, I’d be clapping my hands in joy. People of all ages and geographic locations congregating during an outbreak has to be good news for any pharmaceutical company with COVID treatments in the pipeline.

Speaking of COVID; Beloved Leader has decided to treat this holiday as another chance to get coverage, by organizing yet another outdoor rally and fireworks display at Mount Rushmore (Source: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/trump-july-4-mt-rushmore_n_5eff493cc5b612083c5b946e). Ignoring for the moment that the existence of Mt Rushmore, itself, is an enormously controversial issue (it’s on Lakota Land that was never ceded to the US government; so, carving US presidents on it would be like me breaking onto an historic plantation house/estate and erecting statues of W.T. Sherman everywhere)(so, y’know, just furthering racial hostilities during a time of national crisis over racial relations, which seems like a great idea), there is the fact that fireworks in the area are, shall we put it, frowned upon, because big explosions over a forested area that’s ecologically built for a massive fire every so often is not one the brainier ideas I’ve seen. And there’s also the fact that the Trump Campaign expects 7500 people to attend (which is bad, because the data coming back from the Tulsa Rally indicates a huge infection rate), who will then go about spreading a disease that kills small children, Mom, and, one presumes, apple pie and baseball. Which, seems somehow a little more appropriate to traditional methods of honoring beloved, dead deities — y’know, ̶O̶d̶i̶n̶,̶ ̶T̶h̶o̶r̶,̶ ̶F̶r̶e̶y̶a̶,̶ ̶a̶n̶d̶ ̶H̶u̶i̶t̶z̶i̶l̶o̶p̶o̶c̶h̶t̶l̶i̶— Er, Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison; please accept this blood sacrifice of human life! It’s cool; they’re middle-class, no one really cares about them.

So, you could do the very standard, traditional ‘Merican thing of having a loud, expensive meal with stangers you have mixed feelings about (call it an early Thanksgiving), piling everyone into a car afterward, and fighting traffic and crowds for a good spot in the fireworks-viewing area, and then driving home again more exhausted and stressed than when the festivities began, with a not-insignificant risk that you’ve exposed yourself to a virus for which we currently don’t have effective, affordable, safe treatment (and can cause life-long chronic conditions). Or — and I know this might be a hard realization, because it’s drummed into us since age 7 that WE MUST CELEBRATE OUR FREEDOM — you could stay indoors with your family or loved ones, make a steak, and just quietly watch Netflix’s latest crime drama. I realize that one option is almost violently ‘Merican and the other is actually calming and soothing, but I thought I’d offer a potential alternative for everyone who doesn’t view sweating and $40 parking bills as a patriotic duty.

Written by

Science journalist, cancer survivor, biomedical consultant, the “Wednesday Addams of travel writers.”

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