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November 30, 2016

Review: Mummers Parade sensitivity videos

Opinion Mummers Parade
Mummers Photo courtesy of Anthony Caroto/via YouTube

When one skit at the 2016 Mummers Parade mocked Caitlyn Jenner, people noticed.

I don’t know about you folks, but I’m kinda worried about this year’s Mummers Parade.

Remember how fringe elements of previous year’s Mummers Parades were all, like, yelling slurs at, and attacking, spectators and urinating all over walls and stoops?

And remember how the city set out to remediate these PC breaches in the name of wanting a family-friendly event?

Yeah, I remember all that too.

But I also remember how Trump America’s aversion to (what it calls) PC – and (what the sane call) common courtesy and decency – can only mean wonderfully shameful things come New Year’s Day, no?

Well, we’ll learn how that all plays out in one short month.

In anticipation of this year’s source of civic shame/pride/shameful pride/prideful shame, though, I decided to take a looksee at the “sensitivity videos” they’re showing the clowns, wenches and whatnot in advance.

There are three videos on involving said lesson-sharing: “Mummers Training on Cultural Appropriation,” “Mummers Training with Nellie at Jiminy Crickets Bar” and “Mummers Training with Patsy at Venice Island.”

Each “educational video” clocks in at fewer than seven minutes; if you want to follow along, they can be found via this link.

“Mummers Training on Cultural Appropriation”

This jawn starts with a melodic intro to the lush greenery of Cabrini University, a soothing segue into what attendees likely deemed an annoying intrusion into their annual tradition.

Steve Highsmith, “longtime broadcaster of the Mummers Parade,” introduces Dr. Angela Campbell, assistant professor of education and assistant dean for the school of education at the Radnor institution. Her “area of expertise is urban education and cultural diversity.”

Right off the bat, Highsmith speaks of the "wonderful" things that Mummers do for the community, including how people “really get a kick out of them on parade day.”

“But every now and then, somebody is offended,” he continues. “We’re here to explore some of that so we can move forward as a community.”

Oh, you don’t say, Steve? Somebody is offended?

Campbell defines cultural appropriation to the viewing audience and the “offensive, harmful, exploitive” aspects like mimicking speech patterns etc. that don’t hold that culture in esteem.

She cited her purchase of Navajo-themed earrings in Arizona from a Navajo store. There, she asked about the meaning of said jewelry to help eliminate her unfamiliarity.

This is the good approach!

The bad approach? That’d be someone starting their own Navajo-themed jewelry store without placing it in the proper context.

“What’s appreciating someone’s culture and cultural expression and what’s exploiting that culture?” she asks. “If I intend as a user to take the symbol and place it in a new context that doesn’t give credit to the origins, to the people, to the history that shaped this particular artifact, then I’m decontextualizing it. Then, it’s moving into erasing another group’s identity and contributions.”

Highsmith interjects that people may not know about all that, at which point Campbell brings up “privilege,” which is a term that – it’s a safe assumption – drew some groans from the mummery crowd. The talk then turns toward members of that “privileged group” consulting others who might be insulted by a skit idea.

“What’s entertainment and fun for one group may not ever be considered entertainment and fun for another group,” Campbell says. “I think it’s in the best interest of all of us to at the same time preserve our right to speech, to comedy, to cutting-edge work but also create space for conversation, dialogue and sensitivity.”

She then notes that many African Americans have been offended by the Mummers historically, but conversation and “transformation of consciousness inside the Mummers and their history” could help.

Screengrab from Mummers-sensitivity video/Via

Mummers are asked to be introspective to help avoid controversial skits at the 2017 parade.

“I don’t think anybody should be wedded to their past, but they should be held responsible for what they produce in their future,” she concludes.

“Mummers Training with Nellie at Jiminy Crickets Bar”

The second video features Nellie Fitzpatrick – director of the city’s office of LGBT Affairs – who notes a need for Mummers to be able to safely “celebrate their history (and) be the lifeblood of New Year’s Day while making sure everybody that comes feels the same way.”

This one veers away from race toward “sexual orientation, a sex that was assigned at birth and gender identity.” These terms are described in Sex Ed 101 terms, which is somewhat fitting.

“My wife is a tall blonde woman. I like people who are tall blondes. One of the really important parts of the tall blonde that I like is that they’re a woman,” she says. “For me, Gwyneth Paltrow and Brad Pitt (are) not the same.”

(So, if you see a spiteful Paltrow vs. Pitt skit on Jan. 1, you’ll know from where it came.)

She then breaks down trans-community marginalization and terminology.

Transvestite? Not good.

LGBTQ? Safe!

It takes a deeper turn when Nellie talks about violence toward trans people, and the silence of others all but validates the hatred. It involved a case where the victim’s throat was slit.

“That is why when a skit focused solely on the life of one transgender woman that everybody in the USA knows, it was devastating for everybody who’s trying to survive,” Nellie says. “That is why that was punching down at a very marginalized community that’s very much in need of everyone seeing them and supporting them.

“We have to do better. This is why it’s my greatest hope that somehow, someway, the Mummers can actually be a part of changing that conversation, that dialogue. You guys carry a great deal of opportunity and power for these young people, to change hearts and minds.”

“Mummers Training with Patsy at Venice Island”

Oh no. 

When the Mummers had a cultural training session at Venice Island Performing Arts Center in Manayunk, it was helmed by Patsy, the stereotypically stoop-sitting South Philly brainchild of Jen Childs, producing artistic director for 1812 Productions.

Pluses: Patsy sounds like one of their 2-Street own, so they can relate.

Minuses: Patsy sounds like one of their 2-Street own, so they can brush off.

She also talks about “punching down” and not being a bully.

Screengrab from Mummers-sensitivity video/Via

'Patsy' breaks down the nature of satire at a recent sensitivity session in advance of the 2017 Mummers parade.

“Weak people making fun of strong people is satire. Strong people making fun of weak people is bullying,” Patsy says. “Making fun of Ryan Howard because he’s African American is bullying. Making fun of Ryan Howard because he can’t hit for s--- and we’re paying him $25 million to embarrass this city on a national stage is satire.”

Good point, Patsy.

She also urges attendees to “know their history,” like how it’s not really cool to use ethnic slurs like you could back in the day. 

And how it’s OK for her kid to do his impression of a mean nun at school at the family’s dinner table, but not in front of that mean nun, especially while dancing to the song “Like A Prayer” with football players dressed as penguins holding rosaries.

“Consider the context,” she explains. “There ends the lesson of the ... basic rules of satire.”


Sure, the city was right to ask Mummers to attend these sessions and view these well-produced videos.

And sure, the lessons therein are important for those who want to be a respectable part of their community to understand.

But, do you really expect some (a few, not all) to not go rogue because of something a professor, elected official or comedienne told them? (Update: Lauren Hitt, spokeswoman for Mayor Jim Kenney, noted that parade-regulations established this year ensure that it's not up to the videos alone to keep the Mummers in check.)

I don't. And I'm not alone.

"I can't guarantee no one will do anything stupid," said Love the Mummers Chairman George Badey, after all.

There's a time and a place for everything, and this year's neither the time nor place for drunken, fringe Mummers to have their moments of clarity. 

The social pendulum swung away from compassion and understanding in America in 2016, even before the city decided lessons adults should've learned long ago needed formal reinforcement. If the point of the Mummers is to comment upon our cultural gaps and oddities, they all but have to acknowledge that as they march past families and cameras.

Now, we can hope there's a comic brigade astute enough to take those realities and transform them into an intelligent, deft takedown of a world losing its way. 

But, c'mon, when's the last time you've seen something intellectually impressive on Broad Street when the booze started flowing before sunrise?

All of which is to say prove me wrong, Mummers who hated every second of the Nanny State telling them they had to watch remedial videos about how to treat other human beings. 

This is the perfect time to take a stand and prove your hater(s) wrong.