Mighty, Like A Rose

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And then there are the floats, those mobile confections depicting everything from the joys of motherhood to the growth of Altadena. Each year, there are approximately sixty of them, sponsored by cities, states, corporations, public and private organizations, and even countries. Although there are about forty applicants on the waiting list each year, the Association’s Float Entries Committee customarily reinvites those which have been in the parade in previous years. Early in the year, the president of the Association announces that year’s parade theme (in 1974, ’75, and ’76 it was America’s Bicentennial; in 1978 it will be “On the Road to Happiness"). Since almost all the floats are constructed by seven commercial contractors in and about Pasadena, their professional float designers then go to work on ideas. When these are approved by the association, the designers hit the chosen sponsors, displaying elaborate presentations while city councils and corporation boards gravely ponder their choices.

 

It is just as well that they ponder gravely; the cost of a single float can range from $30,000 to $50,000, and each year the aggregate cost of the floats, which use about twenty million commercially grown blossoms, among other things, amounts to some $1,500,000. In the case of communities, civic pride usually overcomes fiscal reluctance; in the case of commercial companies, the three minutes of air time each receives as its float coasts into camera range (the equivalent of about $100,000 in advertising costs) makes the investment a superior buy. For their own part, of course, many other companies spend months scrambling over one another for the privilege of buying air time for commercials (at just over $30,000 a minute).

The Pasadena Tournament of Roses, conceived as a little exercise in community pride, has been transformed into a major media “happening” of truly McLuhanesque dimensions, and the soft rustling one hears in the background of the annual television broadcast is not the sound of falling rose petals; it is the sound of money.

—T.H.W.