What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been

35 Years of the Pasadena Doo Dah Parade

On view August 15, 2012 to January 13, 2013

This colorful, fun-filled exhibition celebrated the wacky world of Doo Dah, named “America’s Best Parade” by none other than Reader’s Digest. The parade has garnered national and international attention, and spawned copy cat parades elsewhere, including in Columbus, Ohio, and Ocean City, New Jersey.

Doo Dah Fire Department, photo by Joe Messinger

Doo Dah Fire Department, photo by Joe Messinger

Beginning in 1978, the “occasional” Doo Dah parade took place sporadically: changing dates, season, and location in its characteristically casual and – some might say – disorganized way. The parade has always been controversial. Its detractors dismiss it as derivative, decry its in-your-face sexual and political humor, and are embarrassed to have it take place in a city such as Pasadena. Its supporters, who include former President Bill Clinton, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, comedian Jay Leno, and actor Tom Hanks, say, yes… that’s the point. No theme, no rules. Just glorious creativity and raucous eccentricity.

Named after an obscure 1960s British rock band, Doo Dah is a people’s parade. Anyone can apply to be an entrant, and homemade conveyances and walking entries are encouraged. Tips for entrants include: arrive early. There is no marching order; you choose your place on a first come, first serve basis. Another tip: no throwing of marshmallows; they clog bicycle spokes.

It has even been critically reviewed. Dr. Denise Lawrence, Director of the Center for Visual Anthropology at USC, asserted that the parade demonstrated the “rite of reversal” which anthropologists have found to occur in many societies, primitive and modern. These rites provide individuals with an opportunity to step outside their normal everyday social roles and relationships to engage in alternate forms of behavior. “Ultimately,” she concluded, “the Doo Dah and similar events give a community, both audience and participants, an opportunity to unite for one day in a celebration of diversity.”

Showers, photo by Joe Messinger

Showers, photo by Joe Messinger

PMH’s exhibition, What A Long Strange Trip It’s Been, included a photo wall of parade and crowd shots; vignettes of entries, including the Synchronized Precision Marching Briefcase Drill Team; costumes; and memorabilia of various Queens and music groups.

The exhibition was curated by a consortium of individuals including Tom Coston, Patricia Hurley, and Rosalind Schoen, all of Light Bringer Project, which sponsors the Parade; as well as Sue Behrens and Steve Vargas.