This past Saturday marked my 10th consecutive year riding in the Spanish Town Mardi Gras Parade and the second year I’ve been in charge of coordinating the second-oldest continuously rolling krewe.
It’s a day my wife and I look forward to with great anticipation every year, not only because it’s an awesome party where we have fun with approximately 200,000 of our closest pink-clad friends, but because it’s the only day of the year in which traditionally stuffy Baton Rouge lets down its hair and gets as irreverent and satirical and raunchy as it can without breaking the law. It’s the one day when Baton Rouge can take that huge red stick out of its ass.
That’s why I launched The Red Shtick’s printed progenitor, Red Shtick Magazine, on the same weekend as the parade back in 2004. If we were going to start a publication dedicated to lampooning those deserving of lampooning, I figured, why not do so when thousands of people gather downtown to do the same?
So to say I love the Spanish Town Parade is an understatement. After all, I’ve had a plywood pink flamingo (Flessie, the parade’s mascot) and a curtain of flashing pink LED lights in my front window since December.
That’s why I’m pleading with all the krewes who participate to, once again, bring their satire A-game.
You may have seen by now how a handful of the 75+ independent krewes in this year’s festivities used the parade theme “#PinkParty” as an excuse to take aim at the Black Lives Matter movement. Needless to say, some folks cringed a bit. Others were downright outraged.
At best, this is not quality satire. At worst, it’s abhorrent ridicule of the deaths of people who committed relatively minor offenses, if they committed any offenses at all.
Let me just say that in its 35-year history, Spanish Town has almost always had its fair share of cringeworthiness and outrageousness. Furthermore, as it now stands with no decorum-approval process in place by the Spanish Town Parade board (aka the Society for the Preservation of Lagniappe in Louisiana, or SPLL), these krewes have every right to display what they displayed.
However, at best, this is not quality satire. At worst, it’s abhorrent ridicule of the deaths of people who committed relatively minor offenses, if they committed any offenses at all.
Walking around, looking at the assembled floats before the parade began rolling, I personally counted at least five floats featuring the tagline “#PinkLivesMatter.” I could brook that … if not for the fact at least five different krewes thought they were clever in coming up with something at least four other krewes also came up with.
Over the past year, folks have countered the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag with similar iterations, such as #AllLivesMatter and #BlueLivesMatter. I could buy “#PinkLivesMatter,” by itself, as a critique of the national dialogue on the matter. Nevertheless, when five different organizations are telling the same joke, it is, by definition, “hack.”
At least of couple of these krewes, though, went from being merely unoriginal to unfunny. One float featured an image of a flamingo with its wings up, wearing a sign saying “I can’t breathe” while being beaten with a police officer’s billy club. Another float had a joke about “Freddie Gray Goose.”
Bad taste is expected at Spanish Town. Bad judgment is an entirely different matter.
Most floats are decorated by at least a few people from each krewe. Apparently, no one involved in decorating these particular floats thought it was a bad idea to make fun of the death of Eric Garner, whose last words “I can’t breathe” were uttered to New York police officers who had him in an illegal chokehold after he was caught selling loose cigarettes. Similarly, none of these people thought a very lame joke about Freddie Gray — whose spine was severed while in Baltimore police custody, and who died days later from his injuries — was worth vetoing.
Who in these krewes is in charge of decorating the floats? George Zimmerman?
Hey, if you’re going for cheap laughs at the expense of people who died either in police custody or at the hands of police, why stop with Eric Garner and Freddie Gray? Where were the jokes about Sandra Bland “just hanging around” in jail? Or what about Tamir Rice? The “kids will be dead kids” jokes practically write themselves.
Seriously, who in these krewes is in charge of decorating the floats? George Zimmerman?
I’ll be honest. While brainstorming ideas for our float this year, one person suggested we go with “#PinkLivesMatter: Wings up, don’t shoot.” My response was basically, “Dude, how about we make fun of something in which people didn’t die?”
(FYI: We settled on “Make America Pink Again: Vote #PinkParty.” I still managed to work two voluptuous blow-up dolls into the theme.)
Sadly, these weren’t the only krewes that failed to realize satire should punch up instead of down, that the primary purpose of satire is to lampoon the powerful, not victims. Another float said, “I prefer to call rape surprise sex.”
I guess they couldn’t think of any good “dead baby” jokes. Either that or they decided to double down one year after a krewe drew strong rebuke for making fun of a local reality TV star who allegedly was molested as a child by her reality TV star father. Because rape and molestation jokes are fucking hilarious, am I right?!?
Actually, that “surprise sex” joke is neither funny nor original. It wasn’t funny when former porn star Sunny Leone reportedly tweeted (and deleted) it three years ago, and it wasn’t funny when some dolt decided to put it on the side of a float seen by a couple hundred thousand people this past Saturday.
Now some folks are saying the SPLL board should approve krewe float themes and decorations before granting entry into the parade. The board hasn’t been doing that for the past 35 years, and I don’t expect it to start doing it now.
Others, like East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Councilwoman Tara Wicker, have said the city-parish should have to approve float decorations before approving the parade permit.
I can’t decide what’s more asinine: Thinking publicly ridiculing the deaths of Eric Garner and Freddie Gray is a good idea, or thinking the government should be in the business of approving constitutionally protected free speech.
If I wanted to be in a parade with a bunch of stupid frat douches, I’d join the green one that rolls in March.
So Spanish Town krewes, please do me and all fans of the parade a huge favor: Step up your goddam satire game. It’s the only practical solution for ensuring the health and continuation of something I and thousands of people love.
You’ve been given something billions of people around the world wish they had: the power to publicly lampoon those who wield power. Use it wisely. Don’t squander it to take cheap shots at people who died tragic deaths or at those who’ve been scarred by sexual violence. If I wanted to be in a parade with a bunch of stupid frat douches, I’d join the green one that rolls in March.
Some may argue that people are too easily offended. I agree: People are way too sensitive nowadays. This past season of South Park was by far the best with its takedown of hyper-PC culture and safe spaces.
But make no mistake. This is not a matter of people being hypersensitive. It’s a matter of shitty jokes making fun of dead people and rape.
Of course, the First Amendment guarantees you have every right to make your shitty jokes and try to pass it off as “satire.” And that same First Amendment guarantees people have the right to shame you and boycott our — OUR — parade, until the only people who show up for Spanish Town are your shitty friends who think your shitty jokes are awesome.
In other words, to borrow the name of a popular humor website, be funny or die, Spanish Town krewes.