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Seeing the Light

Seeing the Light

The 2010 Disney movie Tangled didn’t quite have the stickiness factor that the studio’s 2013 blockbuster Frozen did, but it made a cultural impact in at least one way: the popularization of Japanese flying lanterns.

In fact, given that many Americans had never seen an aerial luminary before the film and now they’re a Fourth of July mainstay, it’s safe to say that Disney gave the flying lantern business a PR boost that no money could buy.

It’s a great, if unintentional, example of how telling a story can win hearts for a product. In addition to setting them off for the Fourth, people snapped up the flaming zeppelins for their engagement parties and wedding receptions. Lantern festivals, a longtime tradition in Southeast Asia, were organized in cities and towns across America and to them the crowds flocked. Tweens wrote personal messages on lanterns and waited to hear if and where they
turned up.

The problem is: flying lanterns are the devil. Following the law of what goes up, must come down, these flaming balls of trash fall to the earth as litter and are sometimes ingested by animals, causing injury or death. What’s more, they have caused untold damage to structures they have ignited and in wildfires. They are unpredictable, dangerous and irresponsible, and no amount of romantic association is going to change that.

The Omaha Fire Department and Mayor Jean Stothert are working together to disabuse Omahans of the belief that these fireworks are benign and beautiful balls of light. The fire department recently issued a press release saying it believes flying lanterns create an unnecessary risk to the lives, businesses, infrastructure, and wildlife in the community, and Mayor Stothert says she will support an ordinance to ban them, proposed by Fire Chief Bernie Kanger, which is set to go before the city council next week. They have both spoken out about the topic to the
Omaha World-Herald on several occasions.

It may surprise some that an issue that was mainly the domain of fun-haters and internet cranks until recently is getting so much attention from these busy city officials, but I applaud the fire department and Mayor Stothert for spending time to educate the public on this issue. The only PR strategy that’s more effective than a good story is a hearty dose of facts, and it is worth the time they are taking to make sure the public is getting the point.