January 2, 2016

Caitlyn Jenner mocked in Philadelphia's Mummers Parade... replete with "Dude Looks Like a Lady."

"The Mummers Parade, held each New Year's Day and said to be the oldest folk festival in the country, has tried in recent years to be more diverse, but a musical 'act' put on by a group called Finnegan New Year's Brigade Comic Club was criticized as hurtful and bigoted," says The Daily Mail (with lots of photos). Here's video:

The group's response, via Twitter, was: "OMG STOP EVERYONE! Happy New Year 2016!! #Sensitive." And, an hour later: "Finnegans is seriously done with this bs tweeting back and forth and assumptions. Be a man literally and contact our email." And also:

I can't be a man literally, and I'm not one to email people in the news to try to get more info, but I'm interested in the context of the Mummers Parade. I haven't watched it in decades, but I remember the Mummers Parade of a half century ago, when I got my TV from local Philadelphia channels. It was always a bit of a mystery who these men are and why they were dressing up so fancy.  So I found an old news article about Finnegan New Year Brigade. Here. This is from 1997:
Finnegan New Year Brigade is determined to challenge for the Mummers comic brigade top prize. So for 1998, it has turned itself into a wench club. The guys in Riverfront NYB, who have paraded in wench dresses almost forever and won the big one in '95, are hard at work in their Two Street lair on elaborate props and gold lame turbans. It's the first time they'll strut without the traditional long-braided wigs. Last year, Bryson NYB, a 175-member family wench brigade, copped first prize with silver tinsel wigs and space age gimmickry that included actual females in dresses.

... As the rest of the parade shrinks, the freshest, fastest-growing part of modern mummery is the oldest - wenches. In Thursday's Mummers Parade, up to one quarter of all the estimated 8,000 costumed marchers will be (mostly) guys in wench dresses....

A decade or so ago, the city and some Comic Division directors were trying to exterminate the wench as everything wrong with mummery - drunk, unprepared, unaffiliated, boring, or (before the 1964 blackface ban) insultingly crude.
So cross-dressing is a big deal, and it's something the authorities have been embarrassed about for a long time. It's the low-class end of the traditional parade.
Finnegan NYB, named for a playground in Southwest Philadelphia where members met playing ball, is actually practicing tomorrow for their "Wenches of Oz.'' These are motivated guys, 120 strong, plus 17 sons and three young daughters, out to improve last year's ninth prize.

"It seems like all the time the wenches are winning it,'' said Captain Mike Inemer of Turnersville, N.J. "So we're going to give it a try.''....
ADDED: Wikipedia sums up the history of the Mummers Parade, which "traces back to mid-17th-century roots, blending elements from Swedish, Finnish, Irish, English, German, and other European heritages, as well as African heritage":

The parade is related to the Mummers Play tradition from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Revivals of this tradition are still celebrated annually in South Gloucestershire, England on Boxing Day and in parts of Ireland on St. Stephen's Day and also in the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador around Christmas.

Swedes and Finns, the first European colonists in the Philadelphia area, brought the custom of visiting neighbors on "Second Day Christmas" (December 26) with them to Tinicum. This was soon extended through New Year's Day with costumed celebrants loudly parading through the city. They appointed a "speech director", who performed a special dance with a traditional rhyme:
Here we stand before your door,
As we stood the year before;
Give us whiskey; give us gin,
Open the door and let us in.
Or give us something nice and hot
Like a steaming hot bowl of pepper pot!
The Mummers derive their name from the Mummers' plays performed in Philadelphia in the 18th century as part of a wide variety of working class street celebrations around Christmas. By the early 19th century, these coalesced with earlier Swedish customs, including the Christmas neighbor visits and possibly shooting firearms on New Year's Day (although this was common in other countries as well) as well as the Pennsylvania German custom of "belsnickling," where adults in disguise questioned children about their behavior during the previous year.
U.S. President George Washington carried on the official custom of New Year's Day calls during the seven years he occupied President's House in Philadelphia. The Mummers continued their traditions of comic verse in exchange for cakes and ale. Small groups of up to twenty mummers, their faces blackened, went door to door, shooting and shouting, and adapting the English Mummer's play by replacing the character of "King George" with that of "General Washington."

Through the 19th century, large groups of disguised (often in blackface) working class young men roamed the streets on New Year's Day, organizing "riotous" processions, firing weapons into the air, and demanding free drinks in taverns, and generally challenging middle and upper-class notions of order and decorum.

An 1808 law decreed that "masquerades" and "masquerade halls" were "common nuisances" and that anyone participating would be subject to a fine and imprisonment. It was apparently never successfully enforced and was repealed in 1859. Henry Muhlenberg, writing in 1839, reported, "Men met on the roads in Tinicum and Kingsessing, who were disguised as clowns, shouting at the top of their voices and shooting guns.

Unable to suppress the custom, by the 1880s the city government began to pursue a policy of co-option, requiring participants to join organized groups with designated leaders who had to apply for permits and were responsible for their groups actions.
The government co-opted it!
The earliest documented club, the Chain Gang, had formed in 1840 and Golden Crown first marched in 1876 with cross-town rivals Silver Crown forming soon after. By 1881, a local report said "Parties of paraders" made the street "almost like a masked Ball." By 1900, these groups formed part of an organized, city-sanctioned parade with cash prizes for the best performances.

Southern plantation life's contributions include the parade's theme song, James A. Bland's "Oh, Dem Golden Slippers" (introduced in 1903), as well as the 19th-century cakewalk, dubbed the "Mummers' Strut" or the "2 Street Strut".  Other ethnic groups have been integrated into the parade through the years. Italians began to participate in large numbers after World War II.

The first official parade was held January 1, 1901. The first string band, Trilby, was organized in 1898, first paraded in 1902, and last paraded in 1924.[citation needed] In the early years of the official parade, the makeshift costumes of most celebrants were gradually replaced by more elaborate outfits funded by associations' fund-raising efforts.

As they assimilated to Philadelphia, many immigrant groups have joined the tradition. For example, Italian Americans began to participate in large numbers after World War II.

While almost all parade participants are currently white, African American mummers existed in the past. The all African American Golden Eagle Club, formed in 1866, had 300 members in the 1906 parade, for example. Judges systematically discriminated against black clubs, however, and the last, the Octavius Catto Club, withdrew after receiving last place in the 1929 parade. The brass bands hired to accompany the Comic Brigades often include black musicians, but do not dress in costume and consider themselves session musicians rather than Mummers. By 1964, only one African American mummer, Willis Fluelling, remained. As of 2007, a few of the less traditional clubs, such as Spiral Q Puppet Theater's. West Philadelphia Mummers Brigade, were integrated.

The comic "wenches" and other female roles in most skits are typically performed by men in drag. Women were not officially allowed in the parade until the 1970s.


Gahrie said...

People are having fun? Where? We must put a stop to that right now!

sydney said...

What's the point of having a Saturnalia if you can't break all the rules?

David Begley said...

I think the Mummers are a uniquely Philly thing; like cheesesteak.

Kristian Holvoet said...

Trying to understand the Mummers is not a healthy past time. Born hear, live here and I can't really explain it.

Phil 3:14 said...

There's a lesson in here for all of us, I'm just not sure what it is.

(Maybe its "It's not fair for men to dress up in women's clothes and make fun of a man who dresses up in women's clothes."

or maybe "Cross dresiing is now serious stuff!")

sean said...

How can blackface be banned, consistent with the First Amendment? This must be the new Con Law that Prof. Althouse and her colleagues have made up, where "equality" overrides the First Amendment, equality being the chancellor's foot.

Ann Althouse said...

I updated with historical background.

This is a very old tradition. It's the working class acting out, and the government tried to stamp out this behavior and then co-opted it.

What we saw yesterday -- with the mockery of the rich person Caitlyn Jenner -- can be contextualized historically. These men need to behave. That's been said for 200+ years.

EDH said...

I always liked John Belushi's "Little Chocolate Donuts" satire of Bruce Jenner.

Especially the memorable flag wave @ 0:26.

Tina848 said...

I live here, it is all been a fun tradition. They make fun of current topics and politicians. It is a time honored tradition of mockery by the comic division. They have segregated some of the more nonPG rated stuff to South Philly, and have the main parade with the string bands. This year they have the first Latino groups. Seems they have a similar tradition. What is old is new again....

Bay Area Guy said...

Never heard of the Mummers - until now. Thanx for the post.

As for Bruce Jenner, well, as someone who craves media attention like his obnoxious/vacuous stepdaughters, he/she can take a little ribbing, right?

MayBee said...

In a truly free society, only some opinions should be allowed to be expressed. We need to respect the freedom to not be mocked.

JAORE said...

Lighten up, Francis.

robother said...

A history prof in the 60s connected the lower class tradition of these events in Eighteenth Century America (Halloween and Guy Fawkes Days were even more riotous than the Mummers stuff cited by Ann) to the outbreak of the American Revolution. Whatever the merits of his theory, I remember being impressed by the huuuuge amounts of average daily alcohol consumption by our Founding Generation..

MayBee said...

What does ISIS have to say about Caitlyn Jenner?

Humperdink said...

Jenner wanted to be on the front page and lo and behold, there he/she is.

If he/she doesn't have a complete meltdown, I will be stunned. The meltdown will be on the front page also. The behavior is so Michael Jackson.

BobM said...

I was able to listen to "O' Dem Golden Slippers" on YouTube. If you listen to the chorus, the melody appears to be the same one used in the commercials for the 1990's breakfast cereal Golden Grahams ("Oh! Those Golden Grahams.")

Hammond X. Gritzkofe said...

Sixty-five year old man, briefly famous as amateur athlete 40 years ago, returns to national news with self-publicized gender and/or sex transition.

Media showers man with praise and adoration.

Competitive parade group presents skit noting man's two moments of fame.

Media unloads scorn and abuse on parade group.

WTF ?!?

Mark said...

Also yesterday, we had Iowa football fans at the Rose Bowl getting offended by the Stanford band's mocking of them.

Serious lack of humor by many people in today's society.

Fernandinande said...

Nobody wearing an Obama mask?

"The Bruce Jenner/Caitlyn thing is kind of old hat to me. I had a transgender woman in Pink Flamingos. She had breasts and a penis. She got the operation that week. That was radical to me then. Caitlyn’s a Republican, she’s on a reality show, and she’s a Kardashian. We can’t make fun of him or her?"

William said...

Men dress up as women for diverse reasons.

Milton Zenobia said...

David, Absolutely. I've been to the Mummers Parade. It is great fun. I would add to the Mummers, cheesesteak consummate Philly list and say scrapple and Bookbinders Soup.

CatherineM said...

Mummers. Where do I know that from...


Big Mike said...

Let's see, we can't mock Caitlyn Jenner and we can't mock Barack Obama -- screw it! I'll mock anyone I feel like mocking, and someone who accepts "Woman of the Year" while still possessing testicles and a penis seems to be very fair game.

Michael said...

Before we go any further I would like to know if Caitlyn still has a penis. Does he plan on a full conversion or is he satisfied to be a mere cross dresser, a sort of permanent mummer with a name change? And what is the impact, and this is the important part, on the Kardashian clan and their future as stars of America? Perhaps the actual conversion will be a part of the drama, upcoming, with rallying around. And what will happen to the penis?

chickelit said...

Althouse obfuscated with "... can be contextualized historically."

What does that mean?

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

But this is ancient. It goes back a lot further than the 18th c. Cf. the English pantomime, where the Dame is always a man (one episode of Rumpole apart).

Likewise the blackface. In the US it might be construed as imitating actual black men, but the tradition's a lot older than that. Chesterton, over a century ago, has an account of St. George showing up at his door in blackface. I am assuming that that wasn't an elaborate social satire.

n.n said...

Transgender/crossover is a legal right in the age of progress. It joins other ancient dysfunctional practices including transgender/homosexual and abortion rites.

The "=" movement has set a precedent for institutional and legal selective or unprincipled exclusion of politically unfavorable orientations and behaviors under the pro-choice quasi-religious doctrine.

Carter Wood said...

A little etymology: In German, Vermummung is a disguise or mask. I always liked the word, Das Vermummungsverbot, the ban on covering your face enacted in 1985 after leftist/anarchist riots, especially in Berlin. At the time, a big political debate. Italy passed its federal ban in 1975, during the height of the Red Brigades and other mayhem.

All we need, then, is a Vermummungsverbot for the Mummers.

Saint Croix said...

I love "be a man and e-mail."

Oh yeah, because typing is so manly! Our forefathers are mocking all of us as the girlie men of the 21st century. Although granted we have scarier tools, and we can kill more people. But technology does not make a man!

I'm sure there are tribes of men right now who are saying "fuck this internet" and they are meeting in fight clubs and beating each other up to a bloody mess to discover the man we used to be.

Seriously, my big thumbs on this phone, or this tiny keyboard, and then trying to limit myself to a small number of words, like a haiku, and calling it a "tweet," like I'm a little bird, I get your despair, old guy in a dress. I get it. Be a man and e-mail! I go this far with this dweeb technology and this is how far I will go!

You're like the Amish guy in Witness who hates buttons but has a swivel chair with wheels, and he's rocking the chair around on his kitchen floor. 4:00 am, time for milking!

E-mail like a man!

I get it, manly dude. You kinda want to smack that annoying writer over in London who just doesn't understand this Philly thing, but you have to buy a ticket and fly on a plane (more technology shit!) and by the time you get across the Atlantic you've had six beers, you're drunk off your ass because of the high altitude, and you've forgotten who you were going to punch and why.

It is tough being a man in the 21st century! Oh sure, you get to call people Hitler on the internet, but that's about it. Now excuse me while I go play Farm Hero Saga. But at least I'm wearing pants. Long pants, Althouse! Because it's cold and I have the logic of Spock! You know that's right.

Skeptical Voter said...

These guys are a bunch of lightweights. They need to send some members out to one of the Gay Pride parades in San Francisco or Hollywood to get ideas for better material. Then the Mummers will be able to put on a real show.

Gahrie said...

Likewise the blackface. In the US it might be construed as imitating actual black men, but the tradition's a lot older than that. Chesterton, over a century ago, has an account of St. George showing up at his door in blackface

"Zwarte Piet ...English: Black Peter or Black Pete,... is the companion of Saint Nicholas ... in the folklore of the Low Countries. The character first appeared in his current form in an 1850 book by Jan Schenkman and is commonly depicted as a blackamoor. Traditionally Zwarte Piet is said to be black because he is a Moor from Spain... Those portraying Zwarte Piet typically put on blackface make-up and colourful Renaissance attire, in addition to curly wigs, red lipstick and earrings. In recent years, the character has become the subject of controversy, especially in the Netherlands"


Hammond X. Gritzkofe said...

Caitlyn Jenner mocked ... That your word, Althouse, or are you quoting from somewhere? "Portrayed" would be more neutral.

And again: ... -- with the mockery of ...

Jenner clearly, actively, seeks publicity and public exposure. The parade group just accurately portrayed Jenner as then and as now.

1. What has got you so upset that you see this as mockery? What are you conflicted about?

2. If it do be mockery, then ain't nothing wrong with that. The man clearly seeks exposure, and there ain't no such thing as bad publicity.

Methinks the joke's on you, Althouse. (But I gotta say, that was a righteous riff on John Kerry the other day.)

Quaestor said...

A decade or so ago, the city and some Comic Division directors were trying to exterminate the wench as everything wrong with mummery - drunk, unprepared, unaffiliated, boring, or (before the 1964 blackface ban) insultingly crude.

Everyone who claims to have special needs deserves a rhetorical drubbing, good and hard -- Muslims and their profiteering prophet, self-identified women, babies, asshat Jesus-botherers, the lot. After these blights on human dignity are throughly inured to the humiliation they richly deserve (and subconsciously need) we should attack that stupid ban on blackface. Blackface is like porn, not to everyone's taste, and not very funny, not because it's hurtful and bigoted, because its unfunny -- like a Ritz Brothers movie. If you don't like blackface, boo it, turn your back, make hurtful and bigoted sport of the guy wearing it, but don't ban it.

Jupiter said...

"I can't be a man literally,"

Sure you can. You're just not trying hard enough. I bet your health insurance covers it.

jr565 said...

Its ok to attack Jenner and his transgenderism, because he is a republican. And a privileged white male. So, I think a lot of lefties who would normally have a conniption if a transgendered was mocked will, if not join in, at least put on blinders.