THE ROAD to hell is paved with good intentions, says the proverb, and that might explain what led a Mummers comic club into the toilet on Sunday afternoon.
Literally into the toilet.
The club was the Rabble Rousers, which last week got a lot of media attention with its vow to confront what it believes is bigotry and intolerance in the Mummers Parade. The Rousers were going to get in the face of the Mummers, they said, as if Mummery and bigotry were synonymous. This year more criticism came from within Mummer ranks than from without. And that's OK.
What the self-righteous Rabble Rousers had in mind were a couple of inappropriate incidents in recent years in the six-hour parade.
As PHL17 parade anchor Steve Highsmith recently noted, that was blaming 99.9 percent of the 10,000 entertainers for the bad behavior of 0.1 percent. And, yes, the men and women cakewalking down Broad Street are entertainers. The Mummers Parade is a show, one that predates the founding of the republic. It is America's oldest and largest spontaneous folk celebration.
When the Rabble Rousers had their moment in the sun - and Sunday was a sunny, mild-for-January day - here's what they did:
At the start of their 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 slowly lifted and revealed something brown, broadcast booth visitor WMMR DJ Pierre Robert said, "Oh, no. No, no, no, no."
Yes, it was a big pile of animated poop, with a Rabble Rouser inside the mess. The TV camera quickly pulled back from a closeup.
Hidden in the doo-doo, I am sure - actually, I am not sure - was a message about bigotry and hate being bad, and inclusion being good.
What I am sure of is this: Despite their supposed high-minded good intentions, their message was soiled. This was the single most tasteless thing I have seen in 40 years of parade-watching, more excremental than experimental.
Congratulations, Rabble Rousers! It's clear more city-suggested sensitivity training - or sanitary training - is called for.
Your intentions were probably good, but what you did was take a figurative dump on your city. As they say, s- happens.
The Rabble Rousers weren't alone in airing their ideas of righteousness. Another loudly "sensitive" group is the Vaudevillains, who last year publicly expressed fear of offending others when it learned the South Philadelphia String Band was using a Chinese-inflected theme and Pennsport was using Tiki Island Jungle Jivin'. Polynesian! OMG.
It turns out South Philly got a couple of Chinese American authorities to take a look at rehearsal and they reportedly were thrilled. I saw no antisocial media guff about either routine being insulting. South Philadelphia handled the theme respectfully, as is almost always the case with the String Bands, which use themes to pay homage, not to mock.
I did see some complaints, and some praise, for the Vaudevillains' performance, which used a cast of feral cats and props showing pillars of hate labeled racism, bigotry, homophobia, misogyny, and so on. During the routine, the towers turned into a blurry message about sanctuary cities, which are illegal under federal law. Was the sanctuary meant for the homeless cats? Were the cats metaphors for undocumented people? If so, didn't that dehumanize them, casting them as animals?
Probably not the intent, but if you are determined to find offense, there's little doubt you will find it. But just thinking it is so does not make it so.
That's something the Vaudevillains and Rabble Rousers could stand to learn. Context is important.
It is really sad, and wrong, that a unique municipal tradition is seen as a carnival of hate by a few with overactive imaginations and overheated Twitter accounts.
I was happy to find no serious offense in the 117th edition of the parade, other than what was provided by a sanctimonious Comic group that took a dive into the toilet.