Pepidemiology, Chapter 4: Live Mascots
Long delayed but ultmately finished, we continue our study of the art and science of college
pomp and circumstance, Pepidemiology, with chapter 4: live mascots. (Catch up on your studies with parts 1, 2, and 3 if you missed class.)
Cam the Ram wants you to study Pepidemiology.
Live mascots may represent the most primitive level of fan worship, the actual physical incarnation of a team's animus made animal, sitting there chained/leashed/tethered on the sidelines. Mascots are chosen like Indian totems, each representing an attribute or set of attributes the team seeks to adopt by proximity to the totem. The choice of attributes, however, is selective at best, and downright picky at worst. While Auburn may certainly want to be as ferocious as a Tiger, they would certainly not want to adopt the values of sleeping 20 hours a day, eating competitor's young, and peeing on objects to mark their territory. (Though Auburn fans have certainly been known to pee indiscriminately after games, and are not alone in this behavior.)
1. The practical.
The practical mascot is simply that: a mascot people can handle, either in numbers or alone.
Examples firmly in-category include Bevo from Texas, Smokey from Tennessee, and the classic of classics, UGA from the University of Georgia. Borderline examples include Ralphie the Buffalofrom Colorado and the War Eagle from Auburn. The animal is usually adorned with a piece of clothing or apparel from the team- a sweater, a shirt, a blanket, etc, and is escorted by a team of handlers who parade it around for pregame ceremonies before retiring to the comfort of the sidelines.
The key element of the practical mascot group is relative tameness. In some cases, this is clearcut and easy--UGA seems content to sit on the sidelines and get liver treats handfed to him while he cools his testicles on an ice pack on hot days. Bevo at Texas rolls through Darryl Royal in similar fashion, munching cud happily while wearing a brunt orange blanket and laying
mighty piles of cowflop on the sidelines.
UGA likes his rocks on the rocks
Their role is similar to modern royalty in their uselessness beyond the sphere of ceremony.
They merely sit and represent intangible greatness, rather than actually participating in
the event, posing grandly while scratching themselves and attracting several television cameras an hour for shots to establish atmosphere. Unlike real royalty, however, they rarely get involved in sex scandals, and do not often make offensive racial comments at inopportune times.
The actual representation of the team usually does not exhibit the same interest in the game as those who worship it, of course; alternately sleeping, panting, staring blindly into space, or defecating on the sidelines, the mascot can add an ironic counterpoint to the frenetic action of the game itself.
Chaos can rule, however, when even practical mascots refuse to behave according to the rules
of the event. Smokey of UT is notorious for minor incidents like these, including his infamous defecation on the sidelines at Auburn. He's also prone to nipping at Tennessee's mascot, the Volunteer, in moments of loud noise and hubbub at games. The War Eagle at Auburn is trainedto fly around the stadium as part of stadium-unless the bird, for reasons known only to it, decides to disobey the hard-wired lessons of years of training and revert to its original planto fly wherever it chooses, as it did before a game two years ago.
We'd attack the Volunteer too, if we could, Smokey.
The greatest risk is posed by those mascots is a nasty bite, a scratch, or at worst a minor trampling, which in the right environment might actually accentuate the electric game day environment. (Yes, we're talking about you, Longhorn fans. You'd react like the people in Devo's video for "Whip It" if Bevo broke loose and started chasing an Aggie cheerleader down the field.)
Platonic Ideal of the Practical Mascot: UGA. He barely moves. He's cheerful. He looks silly and is generally so overweight and overbred he'll pose for any photo-op happily. Just don't ask him to do anything, since his mind is fixed firmly on laying down for the majority of the game and cooling his testicles on bags of ice. Which means he has a few things in common with Shawn Kemp.
2. The impractical mascot. This category includes mascots that for one reason or another are entirely impractical or even potentially dangerous to the fans who admire them. As with all mascots, there's a spectrum here, but the rule for defining an impractical mascot is the inability of the mascot to be handled by one or two people safely. Bevo, for example, is borderline since a bull weighing over a thousand pounds could, in theory, do a tremendous amount of damage to a person or group of people. Yet Bevo slips into the practical category since he seems quite happy to be led around by the nose and adored by a crew of cowboy-hatted attendants.
Impractical mascots could and in some cases would harm people, either out of sheer predatation instinct or the urge to punish someone for imprisoning them. Ralphie, the Colorado Buffalo, runs bucking across the field at Colorado held down by a crew of no less than seventeen desperate undergrads clining hopelessly to his medieval harness in one of college football's most disturbing spectacles, giving the impression that if just one of the total morons brave men holding the animal down were to let a rein slip, Ralphie would turn the first five rows of the student section into a concussion farm. The image is simultaneously compelling and revolting: Ralphie is clearly a powerful, wild totem, a dark mass of fur, muscle, and energy on the verge of spitting its bridle at any second. Ralphie also clearly wants to head butt everyone in the stadium and hates your ass for telling her she can't do it (and yes, Ralphie is a she.)
Ralphie: hates your ass.
An even more impractical mascot is Mike the Tiger at LSU, an eight hundred pound predator who cannot even attend games uncaged because of his unfortunate natural tendency to eat other living things--including LSU fans, potentially. Mike enjoys posh surroundings now, but such was not always the case. One apocryphal story--apocryphal meaning anything our uncle tells us after a few scotch and waters--involved the botched theft of the LSU Tiger by Tulane students in the 1980s. The students cut the locks, freeing Mike to knock down a few trees and scare the bejeezus out of the entire student population before being captured in the LSU track stadium and returned to his cage safely. Endearingly, Mike hates his mascot lookalike and roars at the very sight of him, and the number of roars allegely coincides with the number of touchdowns LSU will score in the game. (We suspect that this is highly unscientific.)
Cute! And would totally fucking devour you...
Other mascots extend the case of impractical mascots: the FAMU Rattlers, for example, most likely do not carry rattlesnakes onto the field, though given the density of the rattlesnake population in North Florida finding one by chance on the field in mid-game wouldn't be all that surprising. Ditto for the Florida Gators, another Sunshine State team with a reptilian, carnivorous mascot who neither likes people nor refuses to take them off the buffet line of potential dishes. The real live mascot doesn't come close to making an appearance at the game, save for the alligators lurking in various ponds around campus, who sometimes show their team spirit by periodically devouring a dog or two walked too close to the edge of the water by an unwitting sorority girl. We won't even go into how useless the TCU Horned Frog is to the morale of its team other than to say that at any given instant the Horned Frog would rather be eating cockroaches and spiders than watching your silly football game. And a wolverine...well, no one wants to see anyone's face ripped off at a game, so it's doubtful anyone's ever tried to bring one to a game, much less tame one. (Au contraire! See comments below for an account of someone doing just that at a Michigan game.)
Just wishes you would...
At the risk of sounding homerish, we'll go ahead and proclaim Albert the Gator as the platonic ideal of the impractical mascot. Albert is not portable, since cold weather will leave him torpid or potentially dead. Albert is not partcularly charismatic, since he would rather flee from the sight of you or eat you rather than help you feel peppy about a football team. Albert is tough, but not the handsome kind of tough personified by a Mike the Tiger or Ralphie the Buffalo. Albert has rather a primordial, prehistoric toughness bred from an evolution that ceased progress several million years ago, a description befitting an animal that can live for an hour or so after you blow its brain out of its head. (This is a fact alligator hunters NEVER fail to mention when talking about their hobby.) Albert does no tricks, does not understand the concept of tricks, cannot and should not be walked on a leash, and contrary to what Miami Vice fans might thing, makes a lousy, lousy pet.
A dumb, nearly indestructible eating machine with little interest in humanity? Sounds perfectly impractical to us.
Doesn't do tricks. Contrary to popular belief, not friends with Don Johnson.