Friday, July 4, 2014

Yankee Doodle Day

Holidays in general bring out the contrarian grouch in me. I seem to have a resistance to prescribed behavior. No better example than July 4th.  Am I allowed to say that fireworks are a bore and parades are the sort of hoopla and um-pa-pa that test my threshold of endurance?

The bombast of the day extends into bloviations from politicians which are even worse. John Adams had the good sense to shun July 4th celebrations. He reminded folks that the Declaration of Independence was signed and approved two days earlier. But God got him at the end by snatching him away from the living on the fourth of July along with T.J. fifty years after the 1776 document.

Most speechifying on the occasion is self-congratulatory with ample references to Jefferson’s lofty ideals which he himself violated as a plantation owner. Nowhere in American history is the gap wider between words and acts. I’ll give it “A” for aspirational and “F” for fatuous. The disenfranchised Blacks, Native Americans, un-propertied and woman at the time must have thought it ludicrous. We were loudly unequal and our current Supremes seem bent on returning us to those days.

However if backyard BBQs and picnics are the signifiers count me in. Any excuse for eating and drinking with friends will do just fine. It’s the next best thing to Thanksgiving.

And then there are the film re-runs to suit the occasion. I notice the TV movie listings today has Jimmy Cagney back from the dead as George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy, (1942). Hollywood transformed Cagney from America’s number one gangster to a lovable hoofer with Irish chutzpah. He could no more dance like Fred Astaire than could the suave tuxedoed Astaire push a grapefruit into his girlfriend’s face as Cagney did in Public Enemy,(1931).

Cagney danced the way Groucho Marx walked. He strut with a ramrod stiff back, sang in a kind of patter and won an Oscar for his effort. The narrative is told as a flashback to President Roosevelt who calls Cohan to the White House to receive a Congressional Gold Medal. All we see of FDR is his back and cigarette holder. Cohan’s story is a mix of myth and reality…as befits Independence Day. In fact Cohan was actually born on the fourth of July as the title song says. I was nine years old when I first saw this film. It was perfect for the time, dripping with patriotism….a word no longer prominent in my vocabulary.

Since then I must have watched it again since some scenes are so vivid in my mind. Cagney’s exuberance carries the movie, as if he were on steroids. The net effect is  pleasurable schmaltz. You know the story has been sanitized but you don’t mind one bit. Cohan did write some standards that have endured such as Over There, Mary, Harrigan, You’re a Grand Old Flag, Forty-Five Minutes from Broadway, You’re a Yankee Doodle Boy and Give My Regards to Broadway.

The film captures the flag-waving day as well as any other; the lies and the glory, the pride and the folly.


1 comment:

  1. I think a lot of holidays are really about family traditions built around them and without that, typically, strong female influence to force family gatherings on such holidays you’re left to play with others or ignore it as a regular day off. For me, the 4th is a little blah unless I get a specific invitation to socialize. Then again, I’m always looking for reasons though I don’t always take advantage of built in ones.

    One of our traditions is to buy those silly little sparkles that light up for a minute as you swirl them around in the darkness writing your name in the sky. For whatever reason sharing that particular tradition then returning to the TV makes me feel as complete any shared special occasion.

    Diana

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