Buried in my pillow, seeing flashes of red, white and blue and slowly giving in to drowsiness, my first Independence Day drew to an early, Sangria-induced close. I rather enjoyed the festivities. From GQ’s self-congratulatory list of “50 Things You Can Do In America But Not Socialist Europe” (number one: shoot your entreé) to the flag-waving, fist-pumping fireworks displays that erupted over the bay and the accidental explosion of all of San Diego’s civic fireworks display in a cool 15 seconds.
Perhaps you spent your day in front of a television, reacquainting yourself with cinema’s lionization of America’s Birthday. I noticed clips from the ultimate Fourth of July movie, 1996’s imaginatively titled “Independence Day,” made the rounds on Facebook last Wednesday. Everyone’s favorite moment being President Bill Pullman (sorry, President Thomas J. Whitmore) all but declaring that Independence Day will be a holiday for all mankind if we defeat the aliens. Lucky us.
If however, seeing your country reduced to a smouldering heap doesn’t take your fancy, there are a couple of alternatives that I think are worth mentioning. 2004’s “National Treasure” is of particular importance. Taking after Dan Brown’s scholarly “research” that revealed to the world that Christianity is hogwash, Nicolas Cage in “National Treasure” discovered that the Declaration of Independence was in fact a treasure map created by the Founding Fathers — just add head and lemon juice! Of course, Cage’s irrelevance pales to the irrelevance of 1972’s “1776,” in which an all singing, all dancing Congress under the direction of John Adams cooks up a jazzy little declaration in between gratuitous musical numbers.
Of course, this being an election year, you might want to whet your palate with a couple of my favorite election movies. Robin Williams’ “Man of the Year” is one in which an electronic voting glitch results in comedian Tom Dobbs being elected president. Hilarity ensues — or at least it’s supposed to. Indeed, this film might just serve to prove there are worse things than a President Mitt Romney. Chris Rock’s “Head of State” is much better. It harks back to that innocent time — 2004 — when the idea of a black president could be considered the premise for a farcical comedy. I’m still holding out for the sequel about the campaign a schizophrenic ice-hockey player, Sarah and her Mormon attack dog, Mitt. In the ever pertinent words of Matt Damon, “It’s like a bad Disney Movie.
Now, a few people might see this list of fist-bumping, rabble-rousing movies and roll their eyes at a day that seems designed to foster displays of jingoistic celebration, but not this humble columnist.
My own national day celebrates the signing of a controversial treaty between Queen Victoria and the chiefs of the New Zealand’s indigenous inhabitants, the Maori, at Waitangi; hence its name, Waitangi Day. In return for certain rights and freedoms and protection from the marauding French colonists, Maori gave the country lock, stock and barrel to the Queen. Perhaps learning from experiences in the United States and Australia, the British were chuffed with themselves for taking the entire country without firing a single shot!
Sadly, things on the Maori side weren’t so rosy. Unfortunately, though perhaps not surprisingly, some British weren’t so good at respecting those rights and freedoms (though they managed to keep the French away) and took much more of the country than the Maori had bargained for. So, to injudiciously cut a long story short, instead of celebrating Waitangi Day, every February 6th, European New Zealanders mope about feeling guilty for having such devious ancestors and Maori feel miserable for being cheated out of their own country. Everyone stays inside and feels terrible … or moves to Australia. Indeed, the only Waitangi Day celebration that seems to draw any number of normal people is the Circle Line Pub Crawl, which takes place in London, the imperial capital.
New Zealand isn’t unique in having a traumatic colonial history. We are however, unique in celebrating it with a national holiday. It takes a certain amount of self-loathing to dedicate your single national day to the country’s single most traumatic event — I don’t see a “Custer Day” replacing Independence Day any time soon. Although, having just returned from Disneyland, I’m keen to petition for a Kocoum Day. Perhaps it reflects our oft-observed habit for malaise and self-loathing that we submit ourselves to this annual self-flagellation. It’s like peeling the bandage off each year, just as it seems the wound is finally healed, it gets reinfected.
So, if like Ted Anthony of the AP, you think that “the summer’s day on which we celebrate our hard-won independence from England is merely a pause to blow up some colorful explosives, cook some meat over an open flame and get some good deals on major appliances,” I would think again. I mean, it certainly might have elements of those things and I’m never one to turn down a good appliance bargain, but it’s also a jolly good time to get a little tight and celebrate this country for all its bumps, bruises and scars. Sometimes it’s best — for just one day of the year — to just enjoy 20 minutes of fireworks. God (and San Diego) knows it’ll all be over soon enough.