Men and Their Fireworks: Exploring the Joy of Explosives

Illinois communities cancel, scale-down or get creative with annual celebration.
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"Ka-boom is a bigger-than-life spectacle. To a certain degree, we're all enamored with it. Boys are just more overt about it."

This is Dick Wechsler's take on the joy of explosives and the timeless—and often ageless—allure that comes with them. Wechsler, 58, owns an ad agency in Westchester County, N.Y., and as the father of four boys, he's no stranger to the male fascination with things that go boom.

Fireworks have long been a hallmark of the Fourth of July and even though people of all genders and ages attend the displays and participate in the backyard launches, there is a uniquely male affection for blowing things up.

Conversations with men ranging from ages 16 to 60 suggest that it is an understatement, at the very least, to say that boys are more overt about their fascination.

A few of the explosive experiments attempted by these men included putting fireworks in mailboxes, filling a friend's back pocket with a bundle of lit fireworks, and strapping firecrackers to G.I. Joes and then dousing them with lighter fluid before lighting them on fire. This last activity was followed by a search for their body parts to see how much damage was done.

With tantalizing names like "whistling moon travelers," "black cats" and "Roman candles," it's not difficult to see the attraction.

"Excitement, adrenaline and a rush," explained Elias Wechsler, 16, one of Dick Wechsler's four sons. He said the danger and excitement of setting off fireworks gets his heart pumping.

But this excitement is not restricted to young men.

When Hans Hesselein, 30, answered the phone to be interviewed, sounds of explosions could be heard in the background. "That's my brother lighting off fireworks," he laughed, mid-afternoon on the Friday before the Fourth of July.

"I think it has something to do with destruction being a form of creation," Hesselein said. He has been a fan of fireworks from childhood. "We'd always shoot fireworks, but the games would rapidly devolve into shooting fireworks at each other, which was a lot of fun."

Michael Diamond is a clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA and an expert on male development. He says there are various explanation for this love of explosives.

"The biologically oriented would suggest it has something to do with testosterone that has to be expressed," Diamond said. "Boys are often encouraged to suppress their nervous energy in social settings, like school."

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