AT one point Patterson quotes George Plimpton, disapprovingly:
Do you remember Cary Grant and Grace Kelly in To Catch a Thief, their union symbolized by a great crash of fireworks outside their balcony overlooking the harbor of Monte Carlo? The only thing wrong with that scenario, it has always seemed to me, is that any normal couple would be out on the balcony enjoying the fireworks, and not inside tumbling around on a bed.
Now, I used to enjoy Plimpton, in suitably small doses widely spaced; he is, after all, partly responsible for Edie, the urban Wisconsin Death Trip, as well as a man who here is Just Plain Wrong, beginning with the idea that Cary Grant and Grace Kelly were, in reality or on the screen, ever anything remotely describable as "normal people". Still, one wishes they'd print the thing out and line the puppy cages at Slate with it, so that some of them might figure out how one goes about actually being contrarian.
I swear to God I clicked on this thing just to see how Slate could manage to screw up both one of my mostest cherished pet peeves and the smoking gun of "bi"-partisan political venality and sorry-assed quasi-libertoonian dedication to "freedom" in America's Third-Worst State Legislature™. And was not disappointed.
Regular readers will no doubt have already memorized the progression: until the previous decade the only legal fireworks in Indiana were sparklers. Then, suddenly, in an era of increasing concern over product safety and regular rivers of crocodile tears over "family values" and "the sake of the children", there's a bill to legalize fireworks in Indiana. Legalization has two constituencies: large-scale importers of Chinese explosives, and people who share the mentality and, generally, the self-control, of eleven-year-old males. It takes the requisite three or so sessions to build up enough graft to overcome "resistance"--I said it's the Third-Worst State Legislature, not the third stupidest--until a "law" is passed, one which had the subtlety of your average Marlboro addict and more hypocrisy than a Southern Baptist convention after lights out. It required--get this--citizens who wished to purchase fireworks to buy a license, which granted them permission to set their little bomblets off in designated fireworks areas only, to which they had to attest, or else swear they were taking the things out of state before lighting up, or that they were themselves fireworks dealers. And you thought Prohibition was ignored with impunity.
After five more years and continued graft buildup the legislature decided to "remove the hypocrisy" it had itself installed, as cover, and Let The Freedom To Terrorize Your Killjoy Tory Neighbors Just Like 1776 Ring. They removed the licensing fee, and the requirement that you be within hailing distance of a possibly responsible adult, and they upped the dynamite equivalence from 1/8 to 1/4 stick--Freedom!--this, mind you, right in the middle of the popular Everybody Piss Your Pants Over Terrorist Attacks campaign. And just to show the proper level of nostalgia for the Old Ways, they hypocritically added "permissible hours" for the detonation of these blasts in once-quiet neighborhoods throughout the state: until 11PM every day of the year except "Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, and New Year's Eve", when they add an extra hour for the sake of patriotism, somber reflection, and maintaining the proper respect for the Gregorian calendar in a changing world.
And this, mind you, from the same legislative body which regularly increases the number of hours children must attend school, and which prides itself as the champion of hard-working little people who pay taxes, and who, presumably, have to sleep occasionally between shifts, if they're lucky enough to have any. Plus, even though these restrictions do not overrule local zoning or noise ordinances, they are generally understood as doing so, and routinely reported that way by local teleprompter readers, who, of course, also serve as honorary junior retailing associates. (In Indianapolis, for example, it is illegal to play music in your own home which can be heard from fifty feet outside it at any time of day; but, somehow, 150-decibel blasts at the edge of your property are now okey-dokey if you stop soon enough after midnight that the cops can't get there first.)
This is all you need to know about the process; in fact it may be all you need to know about the United States of America, circa early 21st century. It's from a Letter to the Editor published in the Indiana Business Journal shortly after the new "law" went into effect:
The National Council on Fireworks Safety congratulates the residents and lawmakers of Indiana for the recent changes in the state's fireworks laws. The availability of legal fireworks discourages the use of illegal items.In the Grand Tradition of salmon that doesn't turn pink in the can. Of course Freedom Isn't Free, and this particular chunk came with a 5% fireworks tax, which saved the day, since somebody woke up the State Fire Marshall at the last minute and he muttered some objections until they gave him a part of the proceeds for "training purposes". Here, Chief, this is for your favorite charity; we're sure you can handle getting it there on your own.
And yet somehow--probably because of--just this sort of thing, we get this from the Merry Slatesters:
Let me be clear: I have no truck with firecrackers or bottle rockets or Roman candles or anything else that one might set off in one's cousins' backyard. Those are pretty fun, especially if you happen to be in any of the magnificent states where that particular type is banned by law at that particular moment. Doing dangerous stuff in your cousin's backyard is an important element of American folk culture. Those firecrackers are handsomely humble.
Meanwhile, the professional fireworks display is an exercise in pomposity, aggression, triumphalism, and hubris. The pyrotechnician—and, more importantly, his patron—intends to ornament the night sky beyond the powers of God himself. He means to inspire awe for little purpose other than to demonstrate his power. The first great fireworks nuts in the Western world were Peter the Great (who put on a five-hour show to celebrate the birth of his first son) and Louis XIV (who, with a specially equipped sundial, used them to tell time at Versailles). Fireworks are imperialist and, as we used to say in school, hegemonic. That they are popularly believed to be populist entertainment does not say much for the populace.
Okay, did someone reverse the meaning of "have no truck with" overnight, or did Patterson decide the first half of that sentence should go to war with the second, or is it one of those trick reverse-slide contrarian yodels only dogs can hear? At any rate, next time kindly ask someone who's been there. I lived within a mile-and-a-half of the really big fireworks display here for about a decade, and I'll tell you this: it happened once a year, on the Fourth, and it shut off exactly on time. It was a constant booming for, like, ninety minutes. It didn't begin with sporadic firing starting in May, when the shit went on sale, and there never was an impromptu 3 AM encore after the ordinance handlers had downed fifteen corn brews and some sugared 2-year-old whiskey. It didn't trail off into August, and nobody--to my knowledge--had to bribe the Fire Marshall to get him to look the other way. Never found the remains in my yard or on my roof. It's certainly never really inspired me to question the cortical function of my fellow citizens, at least not in the way three hours of sssssssss...bang....ssssssss...bang....ssssssss...bang....every night for two months does. Maybe professional pyrotechnics really suck, but, unlike Howie Mandell, they're not on five nights a week. And just stop for a minute and consider what your world would be like if the five biggest idiots on your block did Howie Mandell impressions at jet-fighter noise levels all hours of the day and night, just because the surgical glove and industrial-strength amplified kazoo industries bought off your lawmakers.