Monday, April 23, 2012

"I Learned Something From A Situation Comedy"

I learned this from a situation comedy. I can’t remember which one; it only lasted half a season. Which may explain why most situation comedies do not bother being educational.

Okay, here it is. And after you hear it, I promise you, you will never be able to hear “The Star Spangled Banner” the same way again. That’s worth a couple of minutes of your time, isn’t it? Come on. Take a chance.

What was it I learned from that situation comedy?


“The Star Spangled Banner” is fundamentally structured in the form of a question, and an answer.

Pretty good, huh? I’m guessing you didn’t know that. I didn’t.

How does it work? It works like this.

“The Star Spangled Banner” was written during the War of 1812. America was fighting England. And there was a battle going on. A close one. Which battle was it? I have no idea. They didn’t mention that on the situation comedy. I am grateful they mentioned this.

It’s in flowery language, but the question, an important one to ask during a close battle, was this:

“How’s our flag doing?”

Only Mr. Key, who wrote the anthem, fancied it up, so it came out like this:

“Oh, say can you see

By the dawn’s early light

What so proudly we hailed

At the twilight’s last gleaming,

Whose broad stripes and bright stars

Through the perilous fight

O’er the ramparts we watched

Were so gallantly streaming.”

“How’s the flag doing?”, right? That’s all it says.

And then comes the answer. Written like the guy was being paid by the word.

“And the rockets red glare

The bombs bursting in air

Gave proof through the night

That our flag was still there.”


“It’s doing fine.”

The last part is just a repetition of the question.

“Oh, say does that star spangled banner yet wave

O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave?”

To which the answer – not included – is:

“We already told you. It’s fine!”

I don’t know why they asked it again, other than to get the words “star spangled banner” into the song. Mr. Key must have like it, and he didn’t want it to go to waste.

They could have done the entire thing in six words:

“How’s the flag? “

“It’s still there.”

But what kind of anthem would that be?

“Please rise for our National Anthem.”

"How's the flag?"

“It’s still there.”

“Thank you.”

Not too pompy, is it?

So they did it the fancy way.

Still, the heart of the matter?

A question, and an answer.

There’s not a lot you can learn from a situation comedy anymore. Except that sex jokes will keep you on the air. Which, if you want to write for television, is probably more valuable than that stuff about the anthem.

Though you never know. The educational sitcom could be the next Big Thing.

You’re right.




ollete beract said...

The battle was at Ft. McHenry in Baltimore. British ships shelled the fort in an attempt to reach Baltimore harbor. They didn't make it.

That's good stuff, thanks for teaching me something even tho it's pretty early on a Monday morning!

Lyle said...

Hi, Earl! I enjoyed your anthem story so much I shared it with a good friend of mine, Kent Ballard, of near Brazil, Indiana. His answer, while not amusing, is, I think, interesting:

On 4/23/2012 8:40 AM, Lyle Davis wrote:
> “The Star Spangled Banner” is fundamentally structured in the form of a question, and an answer.
> Pretty good, huh? I’m guessing you didn’t know that. I didn’t.

Hey, *I* did, but I pay attention to words. And I'd argue one small thing with Mr. Pomerantz.

Key, the author of the poem, was being held prisoner aboard a British warship while it and half the Royal Navy were bombarding Fort McHenry with everything they had. And in those days, the Royal Navy had just about everything you would not want shot at you. "The rocket's red glare" were the fiery trails left by Congreve rockets, ship-to-shore missiles that were particularly nasty to be on the receiving end of. Plus good old-fashioned cannons, scores of them, all pounding away at once. It was a dicey battle. It could have gone either way. Had the fort fallen, the Brits could have cut the Continental Army in two and made short work of us. But it held, somehow, through the night.

The only way they could tell was when an explosion or rocket would scream by, illuminating that Star Spangled Banner. It was never lowered and the Yanks fought on.

It is the ONLY national anthem on earth that opens with a question. "Are we holding? Have the patriots given in yet? How long can they take this horrible pounding?"

Great poem, really, because once you read through the flowery prose of it, you can see Key's desperation and fear. The country might die tonight. We may fail before we even begin. And where in the hell DID the British get all these cannons and rockets and ships?

But read it yourself and you will also see that it ENDS with a question too. Is the flag still there? How long can it--or will it--fly?

Key wasn't aware of it at the time, but that line pertains to generations yet unborn in his life. It pertains to us. Can we take a similar pounding and bombardment from nearly every side and keep Old Glory aloft? Will we yet make it through our darkest nights?

Question: Is our flag okay?

Answer: Yeah, so far, anyway...

We could still lose it. It could still be ripped asunder, and our Republic might yet fail. Key may or may not have had future generations of Americans in mind, but either way that question--and that threat--still remains. Even in this day, hundreds of years later, that question is still unanswered in any permanent sense. We're holding still, and we hope our grandkids will too. But things will never be peachy-keen or worry free. That banner will need to be defended as long as it flies. The same question Francis Scott Key ended his poem with will be asked again and again, and Americans yet to come will still have to answer it.


Zaraya said...

Dear Mr Pomerantz; I doubt you learned anything of Canada's national anthem from a sitcom, but care to give us a rundown on it, both versions?