Because anime. End of blog post.
There is slightly more to it but certainly anime is a factor. As is a little thing called the French Revolution and a class I took in college.
We’ll start with the anime reason because I think it’s more fun.
Axis Powers: Hetalia is a manga and anime started by a Japanese expat who was living in New York as a mostly racist joke between him and a few of his fellow expat friends. The series centers around personified countries and from jump, I was smitten with the series. Many of the characters are using broad cultural stereotypes but as an American with some worldly knowledge, I loved it. And immediately, I gravitated to France. Francis Bonnefoy is a snotty blonde charmer who has slept with too many people to count and has an eternal rivalry with England. He helped raise America and Canada and mostly spends his time hosting a romantic advice radio show and drinking wine in the middle of the day. Why Hetalia matters so much to me was because it was sort of my second coming as far as fandoms go. I obsessed over character songs, drama CDs, translation notes and memorized dialogue, roleplayed and more. I formed headcanons and more and I fell in love with anime and fandoms once more through the series. What did I love about France? Well, he’s a charmer. I have a type for sure and he fit that type perfectly and he was a really good foil to England who was mostly a prude and failed knight while also encouraging most of the other countries’ worst behavior like encouraging America to rebel against England which gave us the Revolutionary War.
I love his voice actor, his design…everything. And France’s birthday in the show is July, 14th.
The French Revolution was a thing that I could spend an entire other blog on just covering. But suffice to say it began when the rich kept getting richer and the poor remained poor and demanded more representation. There was an agreement in a Tennis Court and an asshat named Robbespierre ruined everything. The first part of the Revolution was mostly talking and complaining but the second phase was known as The Terror. The Terror is what most think of when it comes to the French Revolution because it involves guillotines and Marie Antoinette losing her head after saying “let them eat brioche”.
The French Revolution didn’t pivot until The Terror until a particular Day. July, 14th.
July 14, 1790 the Bastille Prison was Stormed by the people of Paris. For years the Bastille simply held prisoners but during the Revolution the prison mostly held political prisoners which meant people who didn’t agree with whatever official was in office. This dissatisfaction with not being able to express political ideas resulting in a bubbling cauldron of resentment and on July 14th, the Bastille was taken over and the prisoners were freed by a mob. The incident was bloody, liberating and turned a revolution that was mostly about talking into a revolution drenched in blood in the name of liberty.
When I was in college, I took a course called The French Revolution in Literature and that class while mostly a frivolous class that helped me avoid Technical Writing and gave me poetry and has become some of my favorite in all time. By the time I entered the course, I knew some about the French Revolution but I learned so much more about it taking that class. I learned about how awful Robbespierre was and how women-led the Revolution was. I learned all of those things taking that class and it made me appreciate the war so much more than just a bunch of French people deciding to off their nobles.
The French Revolution is often discussed just an excuse for the French to disrupt their royals but there is a reason men and women armed themselves with cannons and farming tools to storm castles and demand more. The motto of liberty, fraternity and equality are ones that we still echo to this day in these politically trying times. It also gave us excess beyond measure including Guillotine Parties where guests would wear their hair short and wear little red ribbons around their necks to mimic blood around the neck after a blade falls from a constructed device to end life. Additional fun fact, the guillotine is named after the doctor who created it and was considered to be an incredibly humane form of execution and was used in Paris for many years longer than you’d assume. But the Storming of the Bastille was not meant to cause The Terror. It just sort of happened. For years, the Revolution had been skirmishes and arguments but once the people overtook the prison, the bloodshed began. And when the Revolution ended the day that was little more than a bloody day became a source of national pride. France became what it is now because of The Terror.
Today in Paris, Bastille Day is a source of pride. It is celebrated with fireworks as the country celebrates liberty. In America if you speak incoherent French to a La Madeleine employee, you get a free pastry because of course America had to ruin it. But the French have not forgotten that the day was bloody and violent and scary. That’s why I always had an issue with it being the fictional France’s birthday in Hetalia. I can’t imagine Francis Bonnefoy of all people having a birthday attached to something so horrific. A headcanon of mine simply goes like the day was his before the Storming of the Bastille happened as he is canonically one of the oldest countries in the series and thus one of the oldest men and now he just has to deal with a birthday that’s festive but marked by darkness.
I’ve yet to answer the question posed: why do I celebrate Bastille Day? Well, much like Calvin Candie I’ve always been a francophile. I’ve always loved France and French history and culture. That tends to happen when you aren’t connected to your true homeland due to the painful legacy of slavery and white hegemony. I loved the history of a nation full of false popes and castles and of brave men and women and saints and sinners. And more importantly, as someone who has always had a Romantic (capital R Romantic) view of revolution I found strength in the French Revolution. It was violent and dark and really they just traded one king for another king but remember, a revolution means going in a circle and ending up in the same place you’ve started. But for a brief moment, things were radically different. People seized the chance to make a change, to be better, to make their home better and what they deserved and before Napoleon came along and ruined everything, France during and after the Revolution was radical, different and the most free it had ever been.
And I find that beautiful. In these trying times, the thought that, (hopefully with much less bloodshed) that those who long for justice and fairness can and will be heard and can and will make their voices known and can and will change their future for the better.
I find that inspiring and I still do.
Happy Bastille Day.