Mummers: We Promise to Clean Up Our Acts Next Year

"For any ethnic theme performed … it will be required that the club have as advisors and/or participants members of that ethnicity to guarantee respect."

Finnegans New Years Brigade 2016

Finnegans New Year’s Brigade’s Caitlyn Jenner performance on Friday. (Photo: Dan McQuade)

The Mummers say things are going to change.

Several skits sparked outrage at the Mummers Parade this year. This has happened before, and pretty much every year since the beginning of the parade, but social media makes it easier to spread outrage nowadays. And the Mummers have reacted. Yesterday, parade organizers issued a press release on the controversy:

On areas of concerns raised by the public and officials in the parade, the leaders of the 5 traditional Mummers Divisions have issued the following statement. We, the Presidents of the 5 traditional Mummers Divisions, categorically reject expressions of hate and bigotry. That negative behavior and expression has no place in a parade that celebrates family, working people and the hopes for the New Year, and in a parade that has come to represent the City of Philadelphia. We hope that people realize that the vast majority of thousands of Mummers put forth entertaining and family-oriented productions. The few who violated the spirit of the community do not represent the majority. However, even a handful are too many. Therefore, we will continue to educate and to promote inclusivity and cultural awareness.

The Mummers and Finnegans New Years Brigade — who had the skit portraying Caitlyn Jenner‘s transition complete with signs calling him the “world’s greatest tranny” — also discussed the man caught on video yelling “fuck the gays.” He’s been banned from the parade permanently, and Finnegan NYB is “reaching out to the LGBT community and offering its services to help with an LGBT fundraiser or equality awareness, and to learn more about LGBT concerns.”

The five overarching Mummers divisions have also released a list of steps that they plan to take going forward. The five points below are quoted from their release.

  1. We make clear that we vocally condemn any expressions of hate.
  2. We pledge full cooperation with legal or government authorities looking into these areas of concern.
  3. On the matter of the Mummer Comic tradition of satire and poking fun at pop culture, we will continue dialogue with Mummers about sensitivity and with non-Mummers about the Mummer tradition of humor and what can be accepted as freedom of expression and what is over the line.
  4. We commit to educate and embrace inclusivity.
  5. For any ethnic theme performed by a club, it will be required that the club have as advisors and/or participants members of that ethnicity to guarantee respect. These names will be made available to Division President, and to the media upon request.
  6. We establish “Love the Mummers-Love the City” as a conduit for education of Mummers and non-Mummers and to bring the city closer together through inclusion in the parade of people from all walks of life and neighborhoods.
  7. We will continue dialogue with community representatives and the City of Philadelphia and are beginning new discussions on issues of awareness, sensitivity, community standards and inclusion.

Point four, above, seems the biggest change. There’s precedent for it, too: In 2003, the Slick Duck Comic Brigade was forced to drop a skit that would feature priests chasing around little boys. Slick Duck performed a “Jailhouse Rock” theme instead, and said the whole priests skit was a complete joke on the media and Mummers organizers.

But whether it was a joke or not — Slick Duck was a small club, and doesn’t appear to exist anymore — it’s clear that some themes are off-limits for Mummers skits. PHL 17, which aired Saturday’s skits without comment, vowed to cut away from Slick Duck’s skit. The new requirement that “the club have as advisors and/or participants members of that ethnicity” is clearly in response to the Sammar Strutters’ brownface skit filled with Mexican stereotypes. Now if you want to do such a skit, I guess an actual Latino will have to sign off on it “to guarantee respect”? Okay.

Meanwhile, the Vaudevillians New Years Brigade — the hipster Mummers, if you will — released its own statement condemning several of the acts on Saturday:

These types of displays have no place in a parade we can be proud of. We know that the majority of mummers perform joyful, comic and entertaining routines without resorting to themes that use gender, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation as a punchline. We appreciate the Mummer tradition of political parody, but it should not come at the expense of alienating many Philadelphians and prohibiting them from feeling welcome at the party. As Mummers, we understand the extraordinary effort it takes to lead the city in a public celebration of moving forward into the New Year. However we know that there are those in the parade who choose not to embrace this joyful, inclusive spirit and we believe that all Mummers and the institutions that support the Mummers Parade must take responsibility for this and act accordingly.

In other Mummers news, Mummers TV — the all Mummers, all the time channel on subchannel 17.4 — is no more. It has been replaced by Comet, a new channel that airs old sci-fi movies and TV shows, and a professional wrestling promotion with Philadelphia roots, Ring of Honor.

Follow @dhm on Twitter.