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The History of Mardi Gras Beadwhores

• February 12, 2010 • 2:00 PM

In this edition of ‘Wonks Gone Wild,’ one researcher finds an answer to the Mardi Gras question: How do I get someone to throw me some beads?

In a 1992 issue of the journal Deviant Behavior, Craig Forsyth introduced the term “beadwhore” into the academic literature. The head of the criminal justice department at the University of Louisiana, Lafayette, recounts hearing it for the first time at a Mardi Gras parade.

He was wondering why the float riders weren’t throwing any beads to his 3-year-old son, whom Forsyth was carrying on his shoulders. The ritual of tossing trinkets to the crowd had been part of the Mardi Gras tradition since the 1830s, and Forsyth and his son were yelling out the traditional plea of “Throw me something, mister!” Why were they leaving empty-handed?

A “well-dressed older woman” provided him the answer: “You can’t catch anything with those beadwhores around.”


New Orleans’ annual Mardi Gras celebration has attracted a parade of social scientists over the years. For more on the scholarship inspired by the provocatively licentious pre-Lenten festival, check out in the coming days:
Unmasking Mardi Gras Deviants (Feb. 13)
Studying Drunken Promiscuity at Mardi Gras (Feb. 14)
The Evolution of Mardi Gras Rituals (Feb. 15)


 

As Forsyth quickly ascertained, she was referring to female festivalgoers who expose their breasts and, in turn, have beads or other small gifts showered down upon them. This practice, he reported, “began in the late 1970s, but its occurrence sharply increased from 1987 to 1991.” (Ah, yes, those wild and crazy years of the first Bush administration.)

After interviewing 51 women and 54 male float riders, he concluded these “parade strippers” were primarily college students engaging in “a playful form of exhibitionism” in which everyone involved experiences a rush of pleasure. “Some forms of deviance apparently do ‘work,’” he concluded, “and parade stripping is one of them.”

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Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

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