Has the Fourth of July become passé?
It seems that traditional practices and customs surrounding the event just aren’t good enough anymore. Urban Dictionary (the most accurate indicator of youth culture trends), describes the Fourth as “the day people light things on fire and blame it on loving their country.” The second most important aspect of the Fourth is the inevitable release of a film featuring Will Smith saving the world. Patriotism and historical remembrance come somewhere after that.
When I was a kid, we had a cul-de-sac block party where all the adults fetched their plastic chairs and tables, brought over the coleslaw and potato salad, and sat around watching us play with sparklers. This is probably a memory shared by most Americans my age. My mom made her (in)famous three-layer red, white, and blue Jell-o dessert. She also wore a sequined flag hat. It was all unbearably tacky, but no one took any notice.
But that style of celebration has fallen out of favor. In a larger cultural trend towards a more skeptical view of traditional pastimes, the Fourth of July and its conventions have taken a decidedly retro turn. If young people celebrate the Fourth in the manner of our parents, it’s purposefully ironic. Sequined hats and silly side-dishes don’t represent anything other than a celebration of kitsch. We might do some of the same things our parents did, but only as a harmless mockery of the past.
Like many traditional events that run into the almighty power of modern incongruity and reverence of the sarcastic, the Fourth is losing some (or all) of its original meaning. Then again, it’s arguable whether my mother celebrates the Fourth in a more meaningful way by making Jell-o.
My mother’s generation has an innocent view of Independence Day that us young folk couldn’t possibly embrace. In fact, if I do any flag-waving, it’s out of derision towards those too enthusiastic about it.
But it’s not like I hate people who wave too many flags. It’s simply laughable. Embracing tradition sincerely is like making a fashion statement with a mullet—it’s ripe for ridicule.
The traditions of the Fourth will continue to change, for whatever reason. The holiday has been evolving, slowly, from its original connotation to just another day off from work, like Labor Day. Some people blame corporations for smoothing out any meaningful aspects of our historical holidays, but I think it would have happened anyway.
With each passing generation, the next one becomes increasingly skeptical of any intrinsic values the previous one held. Flag waving and parades, oh please.