As is our customary start to the New Year, we give you coverage of the Tournament of Roses Parade.
We start this year’s report with sadness and regret. It seems the Mummer’s Parade, a Philadelphia institution celebrated since the mid 1600s and the oldest folk festival in the United States has fallen on hard times.
So what has happened to this tradition, honored by our first President George Washington himself during his 7 year tenure at President’s House (or did you forget that Philadelphia was our second capital under the Constitution after New York City, starting in 1790 and lasting until 1800 when somewhat prematurely John Adams occupied the District of Columbia in the hopes of winning enough Southern electoral votes to defeat Thomas Jefferson?)?
Well, it’s a phenomena I know all too thoroughly from my years as a community organizer. Participation has become excessively expensive and potential new members are less interested in participating.
Being a Mummer is a commitment of both time and money. The routines take all year to practice, at least once a week for about 5 or 6 hours for the casual groups that don’t care about winning prizes (yes, until recently there were cash prizes for each division, Comics, Fancies, String Bands, and Fancy Brigades) and more for the elite “New Years Associations”.
And they are expensive with members being responsible for their own costumes which can weigh 100 pounds and cost 5 to 6 figures in addition to annual dues of the same magnitude.
It was not that long ago that the parade involved tens of thousands of participants and lasted 11 hours, making it the longest parade (in terms of time) in the United States. In 2010 the City of Philadelphia (because of austerity) withdrew their annual $1 Million contribution ($750,000 of which was Police and Sanitation overtime pay) which parade organizers have been scrambling to replace. Participants have become older and the parade route has been shortened from 3 miles to 1 with drill judging moved from the the end to the beginning. Except for certain die hard units the parade will totally miss “Two Street” where most of the Associations are based.
Higher costs, fewer Mummers force parade changes
Sunday, December 28, 2014, 4:24 pm
Declining membership, soaring costs and more elaborate productions have forced big changes in the Mummers Parade, a colorful New Year’s celebration often called Philadelphia’s Mardi Gras.
Many clubs are having fundraising issues, leading some to become nonprofits and pursue grant money since the city stopped offering cash prizes at the parade. And the younger generation isn’t pursuing Mummery the way their older relatives did.
Overall, participation has declined from 12,000 performers in 2001 to about 8,000 this year, said Mummers Association president Bob Shannon.
Under the gaiety, Mummers are in grim fight to survive
By Maria Panaritis The Philadelphia Inquirer
Sunday, December 28, 2014, 10:08 pm
The Original Trilby String Band, a troupe that has strummed and strutted annually on New Year’s Day since 1898, will not march in this year’s Mummers Parade because of a shortage of cash, members and miracles.
“I don’t even have words,” said Kaminski, 48, who as club captain told members this month he was pulling the plug. There was no chance, he concluded, of mounting a show with unfinished music, no costumes, too few musicians, and but a few props.
“It was,” said Kaminski, his voice cracking, “the worst decision of my life.”
Trilby may be down on its luck, but the club is no outlier in Mummersland. The same pressures kicking Trilby to the curb are behind a much-shortened parade route this year that eliminates a 2-mile stretch through South Philadelphia, where the working-class parade was born.
Declining membership and soaring costs are building a story line of stress within Mummery that goes something like this: If only Dem Golden Slippers could be melted down and sold for cash, the feathered folk tradition might feel more secure.
“They are the oldest name in string bands,” Tom Loomis, president of the Philadelphia String Band Association, said of Trilby, whose disappearance on South Broad Street is, for now, only temporary.
“That name will not disappear,” Loomis vowed. “We will find a way to get them back onto the street next year.”
“We’ve gone from six fancy clubs down to one,” Shannon said. “We’ve gone from four or five big comic clubs to three. We went from  string bands, now we’re down to 16.”
In the words of 70-year-old comic division President Rick Porco, whose Good Timers, Murray and Landi comic clubs account for about a third of this year’s parade participants: “It’s challenging, trying to raise money to participate in this parade.”
In recent years, many neighborhoods long dominated by Mummery have gentrified as older families have moved to the suburbs. Membership is no sure thing.
Those who still march shell out more money than ever as costumes have become more expensive, musical arrangements are outsourced, and a pot of prize money historically given out by City Hall is no longer on the table.
“There’s some bands spending $80,000 to $100,000 on costumes alone,” Shannon said.
Also falling on hard times: the string bands’ annual fundraiser, the Show of Shows.
For years, the showcase of Mummery thrived at the Civic Center in University City, routinely selling out of tickets. It moved to the Spectrum when the Civic Center was demolished, and, later, to Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall. This year, it was canceled, Loomis said. Drawing crowds to the Shore in February was just too hard.
Now you may easily point out that the history of the Mummer’s Parade is, well, checkered. Until the Civil Rights revolution in the 50s and 60s performances in Blackface were common and accepted. Women could not participate until the 70s (even today most female roles are given to men in drag). Associations are segregated by color and ethnicity and the whole festival is based on the concept of a riot of rowdy costumed gunfiring wassailers carousing drunkenly through the streets demanding drinks from hungover homeowners.
Sounds like good clean fun to me, but it was a simpler time.
And it’s not as if the West Coast Equestrian Equivalent doesn’t have it’s own, ahem, baggage.
A Reason to Watch the Sexist, Racist, Militarist, Corporate Rose Parade
By Sonali Kolhatkar, Truthdig
Posted on Dec 31, 2014
The Rose Parade has its origins in exclusivity and elitism. In 1890, when Pasadena was a magnet for wealthy East Coast Americans looking for temperate climates to vacation in during the winters, the Valley Hunt Club organized the first parade to show off the city. The hunting and fishing club, which continues to be featured in the parade for historical reasons, has had a problematic history of not admitting people of color.
Today the Rose Parade continues to remain ensconced within Pasadena’s well-to-do neighborhoods in the South of the city. Its annual route avoids by a wide berth poor and working-class communities of color, whose homes are concentrated in Northwest Pasadena.
One of the most nausea-inducing aspects of the annual Rose Parade is its homage to sexism (and royalty) as embodied in the tradition of the Rose Queen. Each year, thousands of young women apply to be the Rose Queen, putting themselves through the demeaning rigors standard to beauty pageants like the widely ridiculed Miss America contests. Requirements for the Rose Queen and the members of her absurdly named “Royal Court” are strict: She must be between the ages of 17 and 21, unmarried, childless, and enrolled in school. The usual promises of scholarship money are used to justify the sexist pageantry that culminates in a tawdry display of the chosen Rose Queen and Princesses dressed in ball gowns and tiaras, riding atop a float as the Parade’s ultimate pieces of live decoration.
Not only is the Parade’s Rose Queen a sexist abomination, it also has, unsurprisingly, a racist past. It was more than ninety years after the first parade that a non-white Rose Queen was first selected: Asian American Leslie Kawai. A few years later, in 1984, the first African-American Rose Queen was chosen. Since then, there have been only three others, including this year’s 17-year-old Madison Triplett. Only a handful of Latinas have ever been crowned Rose Queen, most in just the past decade.
For a good part of the Rose Parade’s existence, African-Americans were not even allowed to be part of it. In 1957, Joan Williams, a black city employee, was chosen to ride one of the floats, but she was disallowed at the last minute purely because of her race. Even though the Rose Parade has become a more racially diversified institution today, Williams, who will finally ride in the 2015 parade as a consolation prize 60 years later, has never received an official apology from the city of Pasadena.
If these are not reasons enough to disavow the parade, the annual New Year’s Day spectacle has also become a display of militarism. For years now, B-2 Stealth bombers pass over the city. We Americans may have the luxury of watching in awe and from positions of safety as the bomber jets flying over us, but the only context in which people outside the U.S. see them is when they are being bombed by our military, as the people of Afghanistan were during the Operation Enduring Freedom. Sadly, many parade attendees thrill in the display of U.S. military might. As this newspaper reader defended the flyover, he claimed to, “thank the lord for the protection and vigilance the U.S. military provides for our nation and its freedom.”
In 2014, a new display of F-16 fighter jets was added to the Parade. The U.S. Air Force’s participation in the Rose Parade was lauded by one online magazine as a tribute to, “the everyday, hard-working Airmen voluntarily serving America and defending freedom.” On the ground level of the parade, the U.S. Marines also regularly make an appearance, as part of the Equestrian contingent.
Two years ago, the Pentagon formally participated in the Rose Parade, even entering its float for the first time, smugly (and threateningly?) entitled, “Freedom is not Free.” The Defense Department spent $247,000 of taxpayer money to advertise itself in the name of Korean War veterans.
And finally, the Rose Parade has evolved into an institution by and for corporations. Some of the major corporations on the Parade’s list of sponsors include luxury jeweler Tiffany & Co, weapons manufacturer Parsons, automaker Honda, food giant Dole, Princess Cruises, one of the world’s largest cruise companies, and even Nike, Disneyland, Hallmark, Trader Joes, and Amazon’s Zappos.com.
For the past three years, the post-parade showcase of the floats has been sponsored by Miracle-Gro, a brand of the notorious Monsanto corporation. Disgustingly, this year’s theme is “urban revitalization,” which is meant to promote community gardens and green spaces. But of course Monsanto has been fighting small farmers and organic growers for decades, favoring industrial agriculture infused with pesticides and GMOs-values antithetical to community gardens.
While many of the parade’s floats are by non-profit entities (and sometimes cities that are battling bankruptcy), the majority of the parade is bought and paid for by corporate money. The corporate floats are simply branding for private companies whose greatest motive is profit. What better way to harvest eyeballs for corporate brands than to decorate giant versions of their logos with flowers, many of which are carefully applied by volunteer hands?
It is the unsanctioned political statements that make the Rose Parade slightly tolerable. A few groups have attempted to use the revered parade as a platform, with actions such as the China-themed float made by human rights activists, an Occupy Wall Street float, and animal rights activism against Sea World.
Promisingly, 2014’s biggest political issue-police violence against communities of color-is the inspiration for an organized disruption of the 2015 Rose Parade. Pasadena-based activist Jasmine Richards with #BlackLivesMatter said, “I used to go to the Rose Parade as a little kid, but then it became so whitewashed that it was clear we weren’t even wanted there. So now we’re taking the streets back. This is the way the year is going to start. This is the way the year is going to end.” With that, it appears as though I finally have a good reason to attend the Rose Parade.
Gee ek, it’s just a damn parade.
After 10 years you should know me better. The class war is raging all around you, naked in tooth and claw. Our elite overlords are just as corrupt, stupid, and evil as the Ancien Régime and deserve the same contempt. Each year I make only one resolution-
To be even more obnoxious.
Happy New Year!
(The 126th Tournament of Roses Parade is on NBC and ABC from 11 am to 1 pm)