Happy Irony Day!

I think every British kid growing up is only dimly aware that Guy Fawkes is the baddie in his story. On the one hand there’s the burning in effigy thing. On the other, there’s the fact that we commemorate a failure to blow up parliament with a night whose message is EXPLOSIONS R KEWL. This seems somewhat wry – but until 1959 it was illegal in some parts of England not to celebrate Bonfire Night*, and the fires and fireworks came in from the first anniversary of the plot, so it’s an officially sanctioned wryness to say the least. Of course there was no ambiguity intended in 1606 but somewhere in the intervening 400 years Guy Fawkes became Our Favourite Terrorist, and his popularity would probably be secure even if his modern day equivalents succeeded where he failed.

Bonfire night is interesting to me because of the vestiges of historical fact that linger in the celebrations – it’s a really nice example of a tradition in the middle of its passage from concrete commemoration (cf Armistice Day, coming up next week) to baffling ritual. You see far fewer guys these days and the ones you do see wouldn’t pass muster (Mark S told a great story on ILX of being approached by urchins whose ‘guy’ consisted of a pair of empty trousers draped over a wheelbarrow). When the guys go, so does a bit more of the memory – but Bonfire Night itself is likely, I think, to endure whether people know why or not.

*this ‘fact’ courtesy of a million Internet sites, so beware.