A couple of years ago, there was that old familiar handwringing come New Year’s Day in Philly. There may have been a Mummers black face or two during the storied march, (despite blackface having been outlawed since the 1964 parade), not to mention a comic brigade sketch parodying Indian call centers – complete with a bunch of Northwest Philly guys wearing stereotypical Indian dress with dots on their foreheads. Clever, right?
It was tempting to lambaste the Mummer’s tradition, as some did: Bunch of drunk white guys…rowdy…offensive. But, here’s the thing. Something else is going on with the Mummers, too—just as it is for the city itself. When you tune into the 115th Mummers Parade tomorrow, look closely and you just might see something else: evidence of a changing city.
The prevailing narrative of Philly 2015 is no longer old versus new—it’s old and new. Fresh eyes, from millennials to immigrants to empty nesters, are changing the city every day. Neighborhoods are blending, (Passyunk! Fishtown! NoLibs!), as newcomers and oldtimers alike add a vitality to once dormant streets. Jose Garces is reopening Bookbinder’s. Bicyclists share our streets with cars and buses.That’s the promise of the new Philly: Embracing timeworn traditions, while turning them into something fresh and new.
Which gets us to the Mummers. ‘Cause, yes, there’s still some neanderthalism to wade through. But hipsters have also migrated to the parade, drawn by its campiness. There’s no better example of this than the Space 1026 Mummers comic brigade; each year, the Chinatown art collective makes the march, as brought to life in a recent City Paper story: “Pairing a fringe collective of liberal artists with a group associated with the unionized working class is an unusual combination, but one that parallels other trends from the ongoing reurbanization of Philadelphia.”
The Space 1026 Mummers—they call themselves the Vaude-Villains—have been warmly welcomed into Mummer Land by the other comic brigades. As one of the newest, they’ll be one of the first to march in the parade on the morning of New Years Day.