Byko: Offense easily evident in Mummers Parade

Leslie Rogers rides on the Rabble Rousers' "toilet" float on South Broad Street in the 2017 Mummers Parade. The comics parody other Mummers, parade judges, the media that broadcasts the event, and the parade organizers themselves in a performance entitled “A Parade of Excuses: Cleaning Up Our Act,” with the tagline: "A skit about how bigotry is ruining the country's oldest folk parade."

Even before the “official” 2017 Mummers Parade began at City Hall at 9:45 with entertainers marching down Broad Street, Wench Brigades -- with brass and drums and air horns -- marched up Broad Street before 9 a.m. They were getting in position for their later strut down Broad Street.

The least organized of the five Mummer divisions -- the other four being Comics, Fancies, Fancy Brigades (which put on their shows at the Pennsylvania Convention Center), and String Bands -- the Wenches represent the roots of the parade.

The Mummers New Year's Day in-the-street and in-your-face tradition predates the founding of the Republic by about 100 years,  when roving groups of revelers in disguise would pound on neighbors’ doors and recite this ditty:

“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!”

Yes, whiskey and gin. Today’s Wenches carry on that part of the tradition -- drinking. Many carry wine gourds and thinly disguised cans of beer even though drinking is officially banned along the parade route.

It is these men and women who directly connect with the roots of America’s oldest and largest spontaneous folk celebration.

In recent years, however, instead of celebrating the color and choreography and costuming and music of 10,000 Mummers, there has been scrutiny of a very few elements that have represented real or imagined offense, in some cases being termed actual hate.

So Sunday, sadly, I tasked myself with looking for whatever element some parade watchers would find offensive. It was like watching the Rockettes to find the one dancer whose kicks were out of synchronization. Instead of being on the street as I have for decades, I got my view of the parade through coverage provided by 17WPHL.

Anchor Steve Highsmith accurately noted it is unfair to blame the 99.9 percent of Mummers for the bad actions of the .1 percent who cross the line from satire into ugly mockery.

The weather cooperated with the parade, with mild-for-January temps reaching 50, but the parade did face a headwind -- the Eagles/Dallas kickoff came at 1 p.m., just as the String Bands hit the street.

If there is going to be offense, it's more likely to be found in the ranks of the Wenches and Comics, but the pickings were slim early on.

One Wench, who had “Trump” written across the seat of his pants carried a “flunked sensitivity training” sign, Cara Liom used an Octoberfest theme, which could have been the cursed cultural appropriation and Phillly Jesus ran and waved an American Flag. Trama Comics did a shotgun wedding Hillbilly theme that Kentucky and West Virginia might have found insensitive.

Slim pickings. Even anti-social media was pretty quiet, with most giving the parade a thumb's up, while a very few haters threw shade on it. You know, if you don't like it, don’t watch it. Pretty simple stuff.

I was holding my breath for the two Comic clubs known for their self-declared sensitivity to any possible offense in the parade.

First to arrive was the Vaudevillains, with props showing towers of hate labeled racism, bigotry, homophobia, misogyny, which slowly turned into towers of love as they were being circled by feral cats seeking sanctuary.

Were they cats or were they metaphors for undocumented people and being cruelly portrayed as animals?

Probably not the latter, but when you make up your mind to find offense, there’s little doubt you will find it.

There was no such question with the routine by the Rabble Rousers, who received a lot of media attention last week due to their stated intention to expose bigotry and intolerance in the Mummers Parade. They were going  to be quite daring, they told themselves.

At the start of the routine, three white-wigged magistrates came out, followed by comics dressed as flies in front of a skillfully constructed 10-foot tall bathroom toilet.

As the toilet lid lifted and revealed something, broadcast booth visitor Pierre Robert, the WMMR DJ, said, “Oh, no. No, no, no, no.”

Yes, it was a big pile of animated poop. The TV camera quickly pulled back from a closeup.

Hidden in the doo-doo, I am sure -- actually, I am not sure -- there was a message about bigotry and hate being bad, very bad.

What I am sure of is this: Despite their supposed High-minded good intentions, their message was murky and this was the singular most tasteless thing I have seen in 40 years of parade watching.

Congratulations Rabble Rousers. I think more city-sponsored sensitivity training -- or sanitary training -- is called for.

After you have figuratively taken a dump on your city, there’s not much more to say, so I won't.