Friday, August 05, 2005

I Think I Like This Decision, But I'm Not Sure

So the NCAA has banned American Indian mascots from postseason tournaments. As the title of this post makes clear, I'm uncertain exactly how I feel about this. Overall, I do like it. Most teams with American Indian mascots typically have white guys dressed up in hideously caricatured outfits running around acting like fools. And then they're joined in be the crowd doing the tomahawk chop.

To their credit, some schools, such as the University of Illinois, do at least attempt to be authentic. The infamous Chief Illiniwek is wearing authentic regalia presented to the university by Sioux Chief Frank Fools Crow. His dance is supposedly based on an actual celebratory dance. However, I don't know that I would consider this picture to be the most dignified pose for the Chief.

It seems that the near authenticity is actually what makes it so bad. Imagine halftime at Notre Dame. Out comes a girl dressed up in priest's robes. She's swinging around--I have no idea what the proper term for this item is--an urn hanging on a chain, spreading the smoke from the incense inside. During part of her routine, she jumps and does the splits midair. She ends with a somber moment, going through the motions of blessing a round disc of unleavened bread and eats it. Do you think that Catholics would feel honored by this display? Somehow, I doubt it.

My reservation about this is due to the idea of mascots in general. A school or team picks a mascot for many reasons. One reason is to display strength. So would Sparty be offensive? I don't know how representative his outfit is of the clothing of the people of Sparta. Sparty, like most mascots, is simply a person in a ridiculous costume trying to rally support from the fans.

So which would be better for schools with American Indian mascots? An almost-but-not-quite authentic Chief Illiniwek, or someone with a bunch of feathers on their head looking ridiculous? Is there any middle ground in the discussion? For example, could U of I keep the Illini as their name, but take the Chief out of the halftime performance? Like I said before, I'm not really sure.


At 5:39 PM, Blogger the fiddlin' fool said...

American mascots based on an ethnicity generally demonstrate a massive ignorance for that ethnicity. Look at the "Fightin' Irish." C'mon, a short, squat guy dressed in bright green with his fists up? It sort of underpins society's general perception of the Irish, but it's totally off. I never cared for mascots like these, because watching them constantly remind me about how ignorant we are as a collective society.

Painting your face red, i.e. to "imitate" the skin color of an American Indian, is akin to the practice in the early part of the twentieth century of blackfacing. And guess what? Were you to go blackface in public today, you would probably get things thrown at you.

Take note of how many mascots we have honoring black heritage. None. So why is it so acceptable in society today to have American Indians as mascots? Because American Indians don't have the voices in society today to speak up. Why? Because we systematically killed most of them off.

At 5:53 PM, Blogger the fiddlin' fool said...

I guess I was trying to say this in the previous post, but I think mascots have to be caricatures of what they portray. That's why they are fun. Take the Nittany Lion. He's a tall, lanky guy who runs around on the sidelines, doing pushups for each point on the scoreboard, cartwheeling down the sidelines, etc. Does he accurately demonstrate the qualities of a lion? Of course not. Does anyone care? Of course not! That would be dull.

Or the Pirate Parrot. How many parrots do you know that walk around wearing an eyepatch?

Or the Hurricanes (Ibis). I actually always found it amusing that an Ibis was the mascot for the Hurricanes.

That's why I think ethnicity mascots are a bad idea. You cannot have one without caricaturing your understanding of that ethnicity. And when you do that, you're bound to offend someone.

At 5:31 PM, Blogger Seamus said...

Hey Michael,
Came over from the public trust.
I like what you write.

I thought you might enjoy this topical song by Atom and His Package.
"If you own the Washington Redskins You're a Cock"

And sock knitter, being a despiser of all things sporty (mascots and that one spice included)I never knew the Hurricanes mascot was an Ibis.

But when I read that I immediately thought of "The Scarlet Ibis" by James Hurst. Quite possibly one of the most depressing stories ever put into a 9th Grade literature book.
Kid kills his crippled little brother by making him walk so hard his heart burst. Then he notices the dead kid looks like a scarlet ibis they found dead after a hurricane.



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