Media, culture, and politics from an aesthetic-materialist's perspective.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Mascots 'R' Us?

My comments below respond to The Chronicle of Higher Education's March 7th gloss on events following the University of Illinois' decision to terminate its "Fighting Illini" mascot symbol. For more on the matter, go here.

It seems illogical to me to equate the presence of Indian mascots in collegiate sports with some vague notion of "celebrating" cultural difference (much less "uncovering" the ancient history of a civilization whenever the San Diego State Aztecs take to the field). From Warriors to Vikings to Cowboys to Banana Slugs (Santa Cruz's wonderful parody of a mascot), mascots are necessarily stereotypes. Thus, the terms of the debate should address the representational politics of mascots, not their illusory capacity to stand in for "real" cultures and peoples.

The American Sociological Association has been perfectly reasonable in outlining its position on the matter. On the other hand, defenders of Indian mascots who rage against political correctness are reduced to making a weak, "personalist" argument: "What difference does a 'redskin' on a jersey make? Doesn't offend me." Other defenders who hail the "achievements" of indigenous people through collegiate and professional sports teams (!) would seem to have lost the plot on what social and political recognition entails in a pluralistic society.

Defenders of Indian mascots would do better to frankly acknowledge their practical interest in the matter: A mascot has nothing to do with celebrating cultural difference (or "honoring" indigenous people) but is instead a powerful symbol of institutional history and pride. In other words, the mascot is a symbolic figure of identification for legions of students, administrators, and, most especially, alumni. If defenders would openly admit this very basic principle of institutional memory and identification, the debate over the use of Indian mascots in collegiate sports would expand and feature more interesting viewpoints.

No comments: