The Consumer Product Safety Commission demonstrated the dangers fireworks can pose by blowing up mannequins on the Mall. (U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission)

One of the few truly excellent jobs in government is being the guy at the Consumer Product Safety Commission who, every year, gets to blow up mannequins on the Mall in the interest of showing America why you should not launch professional fireworks from the top of your head.


Three years ago, we celebrated the 1996 version of this annual demonstration, replete with jean shorts, guys with beards and crummy VHS time codes. For example:


But I did not realize that they do this every single year, until I stumbled onto the 2016 iteration on YouTube. What this means, of course, is that modern technology now allows us to see the various idiotic ways in which mannequins self-immolate in full high definition.

Instead of walking through each warning and deciphering what point we’re meant to draw from the demonstrations, we have decided this year to present the video in a truly all-American manner: a listicle. Here, from least to most amusing, the deaths of six mannequins and one watermelon, ranked.

7. The sparkler

The CPSC’s warning: “Sparklers burn at 2,000 degrees — as hot as a blowtorch. This setup demonstrates how quickly an average child’s dress can be ignited by a sparkler.”


Our analysis: Obviously the sparkler, the least interesting “firework,” yields the least interesting demonstration. Credit to the CPSC’s mannequin-murder guru, since this demonstration was first in the lineup, working up to the grand finale.

Nonetheless, I have some issues with this. First of all, the guy with an actual blowtorch who lights the sparkler appears to be lighting a big bundle of sparklers to get a big flame? There’s a little sparkler at the end, sparkling, and then the giant flame in the middle. It’s this giant flame that does the most damage to the dress. That is cheating.

But also it doesn’t seem like the dress caught on fire all that fast, particularly on the side where the one little sparkler was burning. I feel as though I could intervene pretty quickly here, were this my child.

I do however appreciate that the child setting the other one on fire is wearing cool shades. This gets at an important lesson: It’s the cool kids who do dangerous things with fireworks. (Note: It is actually not at all “cool” to set other people on fire.)

6. The quick-match fuse

The CPSC’s warning: “This fuse is intended for professionals. Consumers can underestimate the rate of speed for professional fuses. This demonstration will show how quickly 25 feet burns and detonates the M-1000 (under the watermelon) fireworks.”


Our analysis: Come on. The fuse burns quickly, certainly. But it’s the giant explosive that blows up the watermelon. It’s like warning people about the water pressure in a shower by putting a block of sodium in the bathtub.

(This is what sodium does in water, in case you never had to do this experiment in high school.)

(It’s a science joke. It’s very smart.)

5. The M-80

The CPSC’s warning: “Frequently called cherry bombs, quarter sticks or large firecrackers, this demonstration of a mannequin holding the device, will show the power of these illegal fireworks.” (Comma placement in the original.)


Our analysis: They phoned this in, to be honest. If you ask 100 people to identify the danger of a “large firecracker,” 99 will say that it can blow your fingers off. They should have gotten creative with this. Put it in the dude’s pocket. Show him playing a game of catch with one. Something interesting.

4. The aerial device

The CPSC’s warning: “This display firework, used by professionals, is very dangerous when used illegally by consumers. This demonstration simulates a common mistake inexperienced consumers have made when the device did not function as intended.”


Let’s see that from another angle, shall we?


Our analysis: I guess the preceding complaint about how, obviously, one shouldn’t hold an M-80 in one’s hand would apply here, too: Obviously you shouldn’t stare down into a professional firework, any more than you should try to tickle an alligator’s tonsils.

But this demonstration is saved by the sheer grisly violence of it. In the second shot, you can see pieces of the mannequin’s skull flipping back down to the ground, just after his American flag hat blows off. And yet! This American hero isn’t even knocked off his feet by the force of the blast.

Startled, sure. Headless, yes. But, like our nation, still standing.

3. The home device

The CPSC’s warning: “This demonstration will show how deadly it can be to manufacture illegal fireworks.”


Another innovation in the 2016 demonstration is the GoPro camera. In the animation above, you can see it in the upper left corner of the “room.” (You can also see a bird fly past just before the explosion, which was probably startling to the bird.)

Here’s the view from the GoPro.


Our analysis: It’s the details that make this work: Placing the bunting on the end of the kitchen table, as one does on the Fourth. The three potholders tacked to the wall for some reason. It makes me wonder how this unfortunate soul in the yellow top would have fared had he or she been wise enough to use potholders while creating illegal fireworks in his or her kitchen, instead of sitting there mutely, accepting his or her fate.

2. The aerial device launched from a dude’s head.

The CPSC’s warning: “This display firework, used by professionals, is very dangerous when used illegally by consumers. This demonstration simulates a deadly mistake inexperienced consumers have made when attempting to fire the device while holding it above their head.”


Our analysis: We saw the results of this demonstration up at the top of this article, yielding a wonderful metaphor for those first coming into contact with the machinations at our nation’s Capitol.

But I just cannot fathom why you would somehow acquire a professional-grade firework and think, “I will launch this from the top of my head.” I realize that there are some idiots out there in the world. I recognize that. But this is a whole other level.

Also why is he firing it from a bong?

1. The bottle rocket

The CPSC’s warning: “Always ensure a clear flight path for fireworks devices. This setup demonstrates the danger of a bottle rocket when fired in the direction of another person.”


Our analysis: I find this animation indescribably funny.

  1. My man doesn’t even flinch. Just a bottle rocket to the eye. Doesn’t even knock his hat off.
  2. Please notice that this is the second bottle rocket that struck this young man, the first hitting his right shoulder. Dude does not care.

The real lesson of this whole video is not that fireworks are dangerous. It is that Americans are tough enough to suffer catastrophic injuries without blinking.

Thanks for the reminder, U.S. government.