Response: Opinion: In half-hearted defense of our new mascot

Posted on Aug 24 2018 - 5:50am by Connor Harper

The Aug. 23 column by Will Hall titled, “On the mascot issue: Ole Miss jumped the Shark” struck me as worthy of rebuttal.

Let me start with a disclaimer: Mascots are not to be taken seriously. They are cartoon characters designed to represent schools and sports teams and are equivalent in importance to state birds. The only exception to this unimportance is when they are used as a platform for casual racism. Say, for example, a school’s mascot were a racial caricature or a reference to some period in a state’s history during which the depicted mascot happened to own other people and fight a war for the right to do so, legally. In such cases where the basic decency of other people is offended, it is fair to raise complaints about a school’s designated dancing costume person.

I, for one, fail to see how our friend Landshark Tony offends anyone at all. He is silly because he is a fish — we have a university that is landlocked for miles — but mascots should be funny. To me, yesterday’s piece vaguely claims that the vote for the new mascot was unfair to groups that preferred either no mascot or to return to our more problematic mascot. However, I cannot remember being asked if I was “a liberal” before I voted. My understanding is that the referendum was available to everyone — regardless of how much their opinions about the state of U.S. culture do or do not resemble their great-grandfather’s.

Conspiracy mongering is typical of modern conservatives. They see themselves losing a culture war, and it scares them. So they rally themselves around their fear of cultural erasure. The mascot (or maybe Confederate statue, rebel flag…)  is their history, and as we well know, it is a great crime to sever the connection between a people and its history. I’m sure that American slaves would have agreed.

If only we went to the universities that organizations like Turning Point USA and many Republicans think that we do — dens of leftist sympathy that are ideological monoliths fashioned by feminism and Marxism and Black Lives Matter sympathizers. That would be cool and good. Unfortunately, we have a community of people who are “right-leaning” or “classical” liberals who parrot right-wing talking points and call it “intellectualism” and “fairness” — the kind who blow an ahistorical conservative dog whistle over a guy dressed like a football shark.

I don’t know what “Southern tradition” Mr. Hall refers to, but the only ones I acknowledge are sweet tea and hospitality. I can’t imagine how our current mascot violates either of these ideals. In fact, the political correctness that Hall despises is rather in line with the Southern tradition of hospitality. One can only wonder what tradition Hall is worried he will lose. Hall assures us that “this issue is not about voicing support for one mascot or another,” but I get the impression that he has a preference.

So to answer his challenge, I like the new mascot. I think it will achieve the only goals for a mascot that matter: It will be funny and inoffensive.

Connor Harper is a sophomore English major from Tupelo.