June 16, 2004

What's a tempest without a teapot?

So I was reading the article and colloquy about the big University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign mascot controversy. When I read these colloquys, particluarly when they're about PC issues, I always like to play "Spot the English Major, " and its companion game, "Pick the Theoretical Concentration." This time, the pickings were particularly easy to make. Here's my favorite response in its entirety:

There is no way that a colonizing nation can respectfully represent those that it has deracinated in the act of colonization. To represent the Illini accurately as an essentially peaceful plains tribe is to beg the question of why we felt the need--or felt we had the authority--to drive them from their ancestral lands. And to represent them as a bizarre caricature of Native Americans is to disrespect the sorrowful history that we compiled.

The continuing use of Chief Illiniwek as a symbol of Illinois-UC sports should only be allowed if it is possible to find a living descendant of the tribe willing to play the part, which would no longer be dancing or cheerleading, but merely bearing witness to the lands and way of life destroyed to validate America's manifest destiny. Alternatively, the figure could be a living person or a representation, so long as the latter was rendered by Native American artists. With all respect, retaining the name without the symbol has the effect of emptying the name of its historicity, sort of like having a cricket team named the Slugging Sepoy in the days of the British Raj.

English major? Oh yes, definitely. Self-proclaimed, even. Theoretical concentration? Could it be, oh, I don't know...Post-Colonialism? Let's see, Said and Bhabha's ideas about the colonizer never, ever, ever being able to understand or communicate The Other? Check.
Hand-wringing over the numerous past offenses of whitey? Check. Gratuitous mention of England and India, the template from which all post-colonial discourse is drawn? Checkity McChecky pants!

The only thing missing is the use of "hegemony," though the author does manage to work "manifest destiny" into his breast-beating solliloquy.

God I love the Chronicle, mainly because it reminds me that I no longer have to spend hours each day donning the post-colonial hairshirt when discussing things of earth-shattering import like SCHOOL MASCOTS. Yeesh.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at June 16, 2004 01:09 PM

As the holder of a couple of degrees from the University of Illinois (long enough ago that we didn't have to worry too much about being PC, though there was a plentitude of the pretentious twits that academia is ever plagued with underfoot even then) I'd like to note for the record that The Chief is not and never has been a "mascot". He is a symbol of the University and of the state -- both named for the Illinois tribe. There is never any cavorting in a furry suit or anything like that. In fact, The Chief's appearances are rather more on the respectful and even awesome side.

I do think you're right about the English major part though -- the vocabulary is beyond the grasp of the soft-headed soft social scientists who are the other customary fellow travellers in this arena. Between the post-modernists, the marxists and the multi-cultis, the academic world has gone to hell in a handbasket in recent years. Their tendrils even reach my current institution which is firmly in the technology column with hardle any humanities or social sciences in view.

Posted by: Nolo Contendere at June 16, 2004 02:12 PM

She misused ``beg the question.'' Some English major. Let's hear from an imaginary military historian major. ``You lost. Get over it.''

I'd change the emblem to something that honors the herds of casino that used to roam the prairies, before they were deracinated so their meat was tenderer and they were easier to manage. Nothing's worse than an underacinated casino.

Posted by: Ron Hardin at June 16, 2004 03:24 PM

As the holder of two degrees from UIUC, neither of them in English, I'll tell you that it doesn't matter what you call the Chief: he's a mascot. He looks like one and acts like one, and he's as authentically "Indian" as Bob Dylan is authentically an opera singer. My favorite comment about the whole thing so far came from a black student who said, "All I know is that if they dressed some white boy up as Shaka Zulu I'd be pissed." He wasn't an English major either.

Posted by: Michael at June 17, 2004 10:07 AM

As yet another person who holds multiple degrees from UIUC, I'll say that I enjoy the protests. It sure beats the anti-apartheid shacks they used to build on the quad. It keeps the idiots busy on something completely irrelevant so the rest of us can get on with life in these lovely twin cities.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at June 17, 2004 10:39 AM

Michael -

Thanks for the mental image of a white Shaka Zulu. Hee.

Also - does everyone have a degree from UIUC? I'm feeling deprived.

Posted by: BAW at June 17, 2004 11:49 AM

I'm an English major grad of the U of I.

For sheer halo preening, you can't beat the Chief controversy. Loads of morons volunteering to protect the legacy of Indian tribes.

I've been to several football games over the past years where the PC morons boo the Chief. My solution: "empower" the football team to raid the stands and beat the hell out of anybody booing.

Many problems can be resolved this way. In fact, "empowering" the football team to beat the hell out of English professors would also improve the general quality of education at the university.

Just a thought.

Posted by: Stephen at June 17, 2004 03:19 PM

BAW, UIUC has the largest alumni organization in the country. It's quite something (they even offer medical insurance).

A few thoughts: (1) I'd respect the "Honor the Chief" crowd more if I thought more of them realized that there's a university attached to the sports teams. (2) The Chief wears Sioux regalia, and the Sioux were historical enemies of the Illini. (3) I read years ago that the Illini practiced homosexual concubinage of teen boys for adult warriors (I don't know if it's true, but what the hell). If we're going to be authentic, let's be authentic. After all, think of the possible band formations.

Posted by: Michael at June 17, 2004 03:42 PM

Michael -

See, this is what happens when you hang out in the South all your life--you miss out on alumni medical insurance...good grief!

Now I have a mental image involving the band, gay soft porn, and a gyrating white shaka zulu.

I wonder how that would go over at halftime? The Chronicle colloquy on that would be absolutely amazing.

Posted by: BAW at June 17, 2004 04:35 PM