Men and Their Fireworks: Exploring the Joy of Explosives

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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."

Instant Gratification, and the Freudian Angle

Diamond suggests that the explosions are ways of releasing this pent-up energy in a way that provides instant gratification.

He also presented a more Freudian view that the fireworks represent "a repressed sexual dimension," with rockets as very phallic symbols.

"The explosion kind of represents that discharge," Diamond said. "There are a lot of sensory aspects to these explosions, a lot of discharge for things that aren't socially acceptable."

In young boys especially, Diamond said, the activity can provide a release for anger and a desire to break free from a dependence on others, especially mothers. He said that it is easier for girls to be comfortable with the type of close relationship they have with mothers, but, for boys, there can be a conflict between that same closeness and a societal pressure for separation.

The fireworks are a "temporary resolution of conflict," according to Diamond. "With time, this diminishes with healthy development and becomes diverted into more socially acceptable ways, like films or various kinds of technologies."

The manifestation of these socially acceptable outlets are everywhere, from explosive summer action blockbusters like "X-Men" and "The Green Hornet" to the Discovery Channel's popular "Mythbusters," a show that uses science and often-explosive experiments to answer questions like "Can combining Diet Coke and Mentos make your stomach explode?" or "Can plugging your finger in a gun barrel cause it to backfire?"

"I have no idea why we love it," said Greg McCutcheon, 30, a middle school band director from Fort Worth, Tex. "It's the fascination with explosives and the rush. I remember shoving fireworks into anything that would explode—apples, G.I. Joes, whatever."

Whatever the reason, it's easy to guess what these men will be doing on the 4th.

Additional reporting by's Susan James and Nancy Ramsey