Last year when I decided to go to DC to see the July 4 fireworks and the parade, mostly in absence of other workable plans. I also wanted to use the opportunity to see American patriotism/nationalism at it purest form, and the event did not disappoint. In post WWII Europe and especially Serbia, we were taught about the dangers of nationalism and many are extremely cautious with showing patriotic pride, so it was funny to see an event like this, in the commonly agreed “centre of the free world”.
On the morning of 4 July I wandered around the Mall seeing various parade acts practicing. There were contortionists, there were children twerking and, then, of course, there were high school marching bands from all over the US given a special honour to parade in the Capital. Seeing them practice, over and over again, I thought of the celebrations of the Youth day in Yugoslavia, and similar highly choreographed events across the world, which are commonly used as proof of totalitarianism and state control.
Although the US, especially back in the Obama days, was far from authoritarianism and rule of fear of North Korea, I assume the anxious young performers, from Portland to Pyongyang, go through same fears, praying that they don’t down their family, school and the nation. Needless to say, unfortunately the consequences of failing in Pyongyang are probably much much more severe. More than the performers or organisers, what was most similar was the public, or rather our hunger for choreography, colour, pomp and hunger to get meaning, even for a few seconds, by shouting the name of our nation in unison with several thousand people.
Thinking aside, watching them make shapes with the US flag, batons and toy guns was mesmerising. Like it happens so often in the US, uniformed marching bands practicing on that humid hot day looked like they came out of a TV show or a film, which added an extra layer of fascination.
Later it the day it rained heavily, so I did not see the parade, the braved the rain for watching fireworks over the Lincoln memorial. The soil on the Mall turned to mud and many families who intended to have a picnic at the Washington monument, scrambled to save their stuff and stay dry. The heavy rain damped the enthusiasm. Colours limply ran ran from blue-red-white memorabilia which many bandied around. Kids nagged and wailed, Cartman-like “Moooooooom”. Still, once the fireworks started the mood exploded.
As the low, heavy clouds, absorbed the shiny colours, while Katy Perry and Justin Timberlake were blasting from the speakers, you could see genuine outpouring of emotion, as everybody, entranced, yelled “USA! USA! USA!”.