Why I'm creating "Parade Talk" Blog

Tiff Graham's picture


I love a parade and documenting it is a multi-tasking, quick thinking, exciting adventure. In this blog I will describe techniques, articles, book chapters, and personal fieldwork documenting parades, processions, and marches too. I welcome other people’s advice and comments regarding the subject. So many of us have captured those ephemeral moments on camera. Many of us have written about them. I’m not the only one with the passion and experience in documenting these types of festive events and that is why I don’t claim to be the expert. Yet, I have resources, knowledge, and experience that might prove useful, informative, and entertaining to those interested in the topic.


My Background? 

I live in the Los Angeles, California area and avidly videotape, photograph, and take notes on parades, processions, marches, and festive events. I’ve lived here since early 2000’s while completing my doctorate at the University of California Los Angeles. Also, I’ve documented parades around the United States and wrote about festivals and parades along the Mississippi River Region in numerous Southern states. I lived in New England and the Appalachian regions where I rarely missed a festive event. Internationally, I visited Shanghai, China during their St. Patrick’s Day parade and other festive events around the world. I have studied the literature on parades, processions, and marches and have mini home library, digital archives, and plastic file boxes full of information about parades and festivals. I keep notes about fictional parades, processions, and marches that I see in movies, podcasts, and TV series too. And lastly, I’ve been in parades, participating as a queen contestant, baton twirler, marching band saxophone player, club member, etc. As a kid, I was an exceptional bystander at various New Orleans Mardi Gras parades, where I wore face paint, cheered, and dived for pearls without injury. My early remembrance of wise words from a New Orleans local during Mardi Gras will always be, “I disdain unless I catch it in flight” and that was my first lesson in bead catching etiquette. 

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Hi Tiff!
(Just felt like saying hi mostly=)
Your background seems very impressive. I am myself a huge parade-capturing enthusiast (parts of the world where I've been doing it so far include Indonesia, Thailand and Spain).

I'm sort of curious to ask you, since you are mentioning interest in fictional parades and real-life experiencing New Orleans Mardi Gras, what is your take on Treme tv-series?

Glad to hear from another parade lover. There are so many people with the knowledge and insight that can contribute to this dialogue about these types of events. Hopefully, this blog and future entries can be a starting point for the conversation.

So in response to your question about “Treme” and New Orleans’ Mardi Gras, I have actually used clips from “Treme” in a class about festivals, alongside clips from “All On A Mardi Gras Day” and Les Blank’s “Always for Pleasure,” plus some YouTube clips. Both the fiction and non-fiction video/film are engaging and provide some background information about these events. The character development in the fiction sometimes captures the students’ interests in the topic in a way that only large budget, well scripted, HBO shows can. Whether everything is culturally accurate in the fiction, that’s something I ask students to consider. There are so many fiction shows and books that use Mardi Gras parades as back drops to the action, but “Treme” stories somehow make me feel for the people, like how heavy and sweaty a costume is, how hectic the day can be with a parade or impromptu party happening in those few weeks, or how time-consuming and involved the pre-parades preparations are... Though, I do have to admit, sometimes I find the documentaries are better in showing the individual mindset, long-term preparations involved, and other aspects of the event linked to a filmmaker’s interest (i.e. “Mardi Gras Made in China,” “The Order of Myths,”etc.)

Yes, Tremé is definitely worth watching -- it's is a sort of heightened reality, especially as entwined as the series was with the Katrina recovery effect. At times it is painful, but it is also joyous, and it tells a part of the truth in its own way.
Here is some other documentary work to consider:
The Big Queens of Mardi Gras and the Big Chiefs of Mardi Gras: Spirit Leads My Needle provide another glimpse into the world of the masker. Spirit Leads My Needle was very poignant.
I will try to post something from the musicians following the uptown marching clubs next Mardi Gras as I did last. This is a tradition that seems to be contracting -- one of the clubs did not get to the streets this year. But, there were more marching musicians. Waxing and waning, I guess. Also, the flambeaux carriers are an interesting lot. Rien Fertel's article" The Keepers of the Light" in the Oxford American Feb 23. 2017 issue is worth a read.
New Orleans' world of culture is in so many levels now -- influx of savvy young culture-vultures, and also of savvy young silicon valley types, plus usual mix of native original practitioners, local academics, and an endless number of people who like to drink and roam around the streets. Makes of an ever-interesting mix!

Thank you, Tiff!
I do understand that documentaries could be more informative - cause that's probably their whole point, but my curiosity was more about how accurate is the fiction.

Also about curiosity - while I definitely am, I guess, the subscribers of the network would also appreciate if you ever decide to share any recommendations on reading about parades, especially if there are sources considering parades per se, as a phenomenon, not just this or that particular tradition.

Such good comments. I hope in future blog entries I can address some of these questions and thoughts proposed, and trigger similar insightful responses from curious readers.

Understanding why parades, processions, marches and other forms of group circumambulation happen is a guiding question for me. There are many significant reasons related to identity, economics, politics, ceremony, public visibility, power, social dynamics, psychological needs, special interests, and so on.

Each week or bi-monthly blog entry I'll post references about the topic. I hope others will continue to add their helpful resources too, as is evident from this week's blog.

There are many databases and websites with books and articles that could be useful in our studies of the topic. For example, I recently came across an historical study that examined the phenomena of British street processions, addressing "the familiar and spectacular" of the events. It may not relate specifically to my research, but it is helpful in that it does approach the phenomena of processions and parades from a particular historical/social/cultural perspective.
Google provides preview pages if interested: O'Leary, Paul. Claiming the Streets: Procession and Urban Culture in South Wales, C.1830-1880. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2012. (pp 9-17)