Sellouts: Parades, too?

What is the most troublesome issue in America today?

It isn’t raising the debt ceiling to a number that sounds like it was designed by kindergartners. It isn’t the overhaul of a flawed system of education that both punishes our nation’s children and encourages squabbling between underpaid teachers and underfunded districts. And it isn’t figuring out how to patch up our porous borders while accepting and assimilating those already here.

America’s biggest problem? The commercialization of the parade.

The parade is not an American invention, but as a recreational activity, it has been embraced here like it has nowhere else in the world. Where parades in many countries are associated with military and processional occasions, Americans see a parade as nothing better than an opportunity to cover a Winnebago with papier mache and clap for hundreds and hundreds of different horses.

Parades are most often associated with patriotic holidays (Independence Day), major sporting events (the Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena and New York City’s old ticker-tape parades for champions returning home), national holidays (the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City and Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade) and specific, regional celebrations (Mardi Gras in New Orleans and Pioneer Day parades across Utah).

Parades are supposed to be about small towns, high school bands, Boy Scout troops, mediocre bands made up of retirees, Shriners on itty-bitty motorbikes, flowery church floats and queens of the rodeo. Candy should be tossed liberally and snow cones should be readily available. Audience members should be able to glory in the perfection that can only be found in viewing a float, made entirely out of recyclables, that depicts the awesome scene of the Chester A. Arthur Junior High School student body officers, waving and smiling, piloting a space shuttle over Mount Rushmore and back down to a Hawaii beach luau, while overhead a giant banner reads “CHESTER A. ARTHUR J.H. SBOS: YOUR IN FOR A ADVENTURE!!!”

But parades are no longer like this. Sure, the odd marching band and squadron of horses comes along, but half of the parade entries these days are realtors and car dealers. Instead of hurling Tootsie Rolls, they hand out fliers. Where once the fire department blew their loud sirens at small children, there now passes a Ford truck full of Jiffy Lube employees shouting through bullhorns about “low, low prices.” What’s worse is that, while parades fill up with commercials, no one has invented Parade Tivo.

Do not despair, however. There is hope. Legend tells of parades in smaller cities, like Grantsville and Beaver, where parades still run uncorrupted. Huntsville’s Independence Day parade, which runs around a small city park, only recently became too large to continue its usual practice of traveling the parade route twice.

For those not fortunate enough to visit these smaller bastions of American sincerity, there are some ways to make your modern parade more palatable. Cheer loudly for every nonprofit float, buggy and pony, and glare coolly at realtors, politicos and banks who think that, just because they’re in the parade, they’re also a part of it.