November 30, 2006

On the Uses of Mascots

A common argument that I've heard recently is that the persistence in some quarters of keeping the Indian around is due to the fact that it wasn't adequately replaced. I don't buy that totally—I think certain alums would be just as pissed off and obstinate if we were the Dartmouth Moose or something as they are now that we're the Dartmouth Green. The point is that these men (they're definitely all men) have a connection specifically to the Dartmouth Indian and would fight for it regardless of the suitability of its replacement. For these geriatric jackasses, no replacement would be suitable.

But what about the students who continue to wear it? I think it's more a matter of arrogance and immature defiance than anything else, but let's think about this argument that it's simply a matter of The Big Green being a shitty mascot and unable to spark school pride.

Well, Harvard's mascot is... Crimson. School pride there, not a problem.

Indiana University's mascot is... a Hoosier, a name which no one knows the meaning of and is therefore completely unrepresentable. Team spirit there, not a concern.

North Carolina... Tar Heels? WTF, seriously. How do you get excited about a mascot like that? They do, at any rate.

Nebraska... Cornhuskers? Kind of shoots down the argument that a mascot must embody the qualities you admire. Those brave, ferocious corhuskers, you know. Same with the UC-Santa Clara Cruz Banana Slugs. Ohio State Buckeyes? Stanford Cardinal (which is represented by a pine tree)? Maryland Terrapins?

None of these schools have a problem supporting their mascots. Of course, none of them started out with a mascot that demeaned people either. Terrapins might seem a lot less cool if you have the option of a racist mascot to fall back on I guess.

8 comments:

  1. Anonymous12:17 PM

    I agree that it's a red herring, but I don't read Linsalata's piece as really making that argument. Rather, he argues that when someone designed a T-shirt and sought to have it display the opposing team's mascot fellating Dartmouth's mascot, the Indian is a more apt design choice for the recipient of fellatio than "Big Green." That's not the same thing as saying that some of the people who want to bring back the Indian only make that argument because "Big Green" isn't a very good mascot in its own right.

    Even so, some people do make that argument. The best that can be said for it is probably that people think about the Indian mascot more than they would if Dartmouth had a more inspiring mascot. I.e. the thought process goes something like this:

    1. "Big Green is a stupid mascot. Can't Dartmouth pick something better?"

    2. "Dartmouth didn't always have the Big Green as its mascot. It used to have the Indian."

    3. Thoughts turn to relative merits of Big Green vs. Indian mascot.

    By that logic, if Dartmouth had a better mascot, people would think about #1 less often and would therefore think less about #3, and the issue would be less relevant than it is today.

    Another way of putting it is that as long as Dartmouth has a mascot that more than 10 people on campus are interested in replacing, the Indian will be more on people's minds than it would otherwise be and the debate will always be more relevant.


    Though, maybe you make the exact same point in your last sentence...

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  2. I really appreciate your comments and I do agree with them, but Linsalata does make that argument:

    "in the absence of a suitable replacement for more than three decades now, the Indian remains a tangible symbol of Dartmouth for generations of students."

    I'm just trying to call it out as, like you said, a red herring. School pride doesn't have to be tied to a "suitable" mascot--i.e. one that provides what Linsalata says the Indian provides (that it "looks cool").

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  3. Anonymous1:27 PM

    RE your reference to the University of California Santa Clara...

    First - it's UC Santa Cruz. And the idea behind the choice of mascot was a kind of informal competition between UC schools to come up with the worst mascot - so, for example, UC Riverside is the Anteaters. Santa Clara University, a Catholic University, is the Broncoes.

    Second, I think you're confusing team names and mascots. The Stanford Cardinal are named after a color because their original name, Indians, was offensive. But their mascot was not replaced by a color splotch - it is, for better or worse, that retarded tree. The tree is the mascot, the team name, the Cardinal. Also, you refer to a lot of other team names - the Tar Heels, Terrapins, Hoosiers, etc. What those names all have that the Big Green or whatever lacks is tradition. UNC has always been the the Tar Heels, ditto UM and IU.

    And a Buckeye is a type of nut, which I've heard isn't all that tasty.

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  4. Actually, I know that there's a difference between a mascot and a team name. But I think all my examples of team names (besides Stanford and Harvard and, as I noted, Indiana) are actually figured in some way by a mascot. They all have stupid team names and stupid mascots. Stanford, Harvard and Indiana don't have any problem getting up for their teams despite the lack of a mascot that reflects their team name. I don't see why it should be a problem for us.

    My point is, seriously, why does our fervor depend on what the mascot looks like or what the team is called. Cheer for your team because it's your team, like all the schools I mentioned, and not because your mascot or name is badass or "cool."

    And, if you read this blog at all, you know what I think of an argument from tradition. Fuck tradition. All it means in this case is that you and a bunch of geriatric assholes shouted the same ignorant slogans while attending the same college, albeit at different times. Excuse me, but I'm not overwhelmed.

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  5. Anonymous2:30 PM

    Have you been to a Harvard sporting event lately? Except for "The Game," their teams are not supported at all. Their crowds are mostly parents, friends, and other athletes.

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  6. anonymous 13:07 PM

    You're right. I focused on the wrong part of the Linsalata piece. Thanks for the quote.

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  7. Anonymous5:31 PM

    A slight correction in my post - UC Irvine is the Anteaters. UC Riverside is, apparently, the Highlanders. UCR's website lists them as The Inland Empire's Division 1 Team! I think you'd have to be from Southern California to find that funny though.

    Now, to address your point about tradition - I understand your overall aversion to tradition. But tradition in sports is something completely different, and very relevant to our discussion. Tradition and sports go hand in hand - you really can't have one without the other. The Yankees and Red Sox, the Cubs and White Sox, Dodgers and Giants - they're what they are today because of the traditions and histories surrounding those franchises dating back 100 years. Every team or program at almost every level likes to connect their current atheletic teams to their athletic traditions because it drives home the point that this is the same team as those that played 75 years ago.

    You can deride tradition all you want, but it's different when you're talking about tradition and sports.

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  8. Anonymous6:54 AM

    Arguments from tradition don't offend me, but arguments trying to rationalize the sentiments of sports fans are just stupid. There are few things more artificial and irrational than the loyalty of a sports fan to "his" or "her" team.

    Also, as a northeasterner, the Yankees offend my culture. The fact that they've been doing it for 100+ years doesn't make me any less offended.

    The larger point, I suppose, is that the Indian mascot is a Dartmouth tradition, regardless of what one thinks of its merits. When an institution decides to scuttle a tradition, as Dartmouth did, the tradition doesn't go away easily, and sometimes it's harder to kill the tradition when you put something stupid in its place.

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