As Philadelphia prepares for its annual Mummers Parade, the city today released a series of videos asking participants to avoid cultural appropriation and potentially offensive satire.
One of the oldest mummery events in the United States, Philadelphia’s New Year’s parade has come under fire in recent years for skits and costumes deemed problematic by some viewers.
For instance, at last year’s parade, a local comic club performed a skit about Caitlyn Jenner, set to the tune of “Dude Looks Like a Lady.” They displayed Bruce Jenner on a Wheaties box — as well as Caitlyn Jenner on a Fruit Loops box.
That wasn’t funny, said Philadelphia’s director of the Office of LGBT affairs, because transgender people are a marginalized group, describing in detail how one transgender woman had her throat slit at a bar.
Another controversial skit, performed in 2013 under the name “Indi-Insourcing,” tried to draw attention to the outsourcing of American jobs. The skit first showed performers behind a “New Delhi Call Center” booth. Then, other performers in Native American garb appear, and they all dance to “Gangnam Style.”
This year was shaping up to include similar skits; a letter from vaudeville participants to the Mummer leadership complained: “We were saddened and disappointed to see such themes as ‘Native American Indians,’ ‘Chinese’ and ‘Pacific Polynesian.’ These themes appear to engage in cultural appropriation, and we’re very concerned about the potential to offend and alienate.”
So as Philadelphia prepares for the 117th Mummers Parade, the rough-edged city has begun sponsoring sensitivity training for participants.
One video discusses cultural appropriation, while another talks about what’s fair game for satire and what’s offensive.
Another video, which discusses “safe words to use when you’re talking about LGBT people,” has “the feel of a seventh-grade sex-education class taught by Rachel Maddow,” one Philadelphia Inquirer columnist quipped.
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow for the Steamboat Institute and the Independent Women’s Forum.