Title page for ETD etd-04022009-111826

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Leighton, Corey Elizabeth
URN etd-04022009-111826
Title Strutting It Up Through Histories: A Performance Genealogy of the Philadelphia Mummers Parade
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
Department Communication Studies
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Michael Bowman Committee Chair
John Fletcher Committee Member
Patricia Suchy Committee Member
Ruth Laurion Bowman Committee Member
Monica Postelnicu Dean's Representative
  • tacit knowledge
  • commoditization
  • cross dressing
  • strategic invisibility
  • historiography
  • ethnography
  • community
  • class
  • gender
  • the Philadelphia Mummers Parade
  • history
  • performance studies
  • performance genealogy
  • race
Date of Defense 2009-03-20
Availability unrestricted
This study examines the cultural performances of the parade community in one of the oldest and largest parades in the country: the Philadelphia Mummers Parade. The modern parade celebration consists of groups of mostly working-class white men from South Philadelphia who dress up in extravagant sequined and feathered costumes and, beginning in South Philadelphia, march toward City Hall on one of the largest streets in the city on New Year’s Day. The parade is competitive and marked by performance competitions at the end of each parade. The parade’s history in the city of Philadelphia is extensive but contested. Many locals know little about the parade and its community, while others debate its history and the positionality of its community within Philadelphia. Therefore, the parade community holds a precarious position in the larger Philadelphia community, which results in many questions and concerns about the role and function of the parade in contemporary Philadelphia.

This study examines the cultural performances of the parade community in the Philadelphia Mummers Parade. By tracking the histories of three specific sets of performances— those of race, gender, and class— this work analyzes how both parade participants and members of the larger Philadelphia community attempt to make sense of the parade. In choosing the performances of race, gender, and class, the study looks at ways the parade community relates to these identities at various points in history, and it argues that the Mummers perform these histories, often unconsciously, on and off the parade stage. By using a cultural performance perspective, and ethnographic and historiographic methods, I assert that in this performance of history the Mummers attempt to make sense of their own identity as a community, with potentially problematic results.

Through the research stemming from the unofficial theme song, “Oh, Dem Golden Slippers,” the study finds that the Mummers use a kind of strategic invisibility to distance the parade community from problematic issues in its history while maintaining legitimacy with other bits of the history. In the history of gender, a paradox with a passing form of female impersonation on one hand and an all-male performance tradition on the other causes trouble with Philadelphians’ understandings of gender in the parade. Lastly, the city adoption of the parade in 1901 focused the parade community on the socially acceptable performances involving the financial expense and commoditization of the parade, which results in a struggle between the working class history of the community and the financial focus of the contemporary parade. The study, therefore, reveals the significance of history in the performance of community in the Philadelphia Mummers Community.

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