June 28, 2010
After much deliberation, Ole Miss' official Mascot Selection Committee has unveiled eleven "initial concepts" to replace the defunct paean to the Confederacy, Colonel Reb. As expected, none achieve anywhere near the level of progressive diversity and high comedy of the early favorite, Admiral Ackbar, vaguely ichthyoid commander of the Rebel Alliance Fleet in the Star Wars universe and subject of a surprisingly effective grassroots Web campaign earlier this year.
The actual "concepts" in play range from a pair of "muppet-like characters" named "Hotty and Toddy" to a riverboat pilot to a "Land Shark" to a talisman named "Mojo" to a "Rebel Lion." (Rebel-lion, get it?) My money is on the most boring-yet-not-embarrassing option available: The "Rebel Black Bear."
As a native Mississippian, though, if I had a vote, it would definitely be for the only choice that actively repudiates the image of its predecessor:
Rebel Blues Musician. The Blues, a musical tradition birthed right here in Mississippi, is loved the world over. And Ole Miss is the keeper of that tradition. The University maintains the world’s largest blues collection in the Blues Archive; the University also publishes Living Blues, the standard bearer for the uniquely Mississippi musical genre. The most influential blues musicians have all come from Mississippi, and this cultural legacy has led to our state's brand identity — "Mississippi – the birthplace of America's music." Blues legend W.C. Handy composed "Ole Miss Blues" almost a century ago, and Indianola’s B.B. King recorded his live album, "Now Appearing at Ole Miss" thirty years ago. ... There would be endless opportunities for interacting with the crowd, and the Rebel Blues Musician would provide broad appeal at a variety of Ole Miss events.
Forget, please, that blues music originally arose as an embodiment of resistance to the oppressive culture created and sustained by institutions like Ole Miss and actual people "Colonel Reb" was meant to represent. Or that a cartoonish bluesman, if handled poorly, would be the final, ultimate Disney-fication of a poor black culture largely geared toward well-off white people for decades. At least the blues is an homage to something positive from a state often insultingly cited for producing nothing of value.
Back when those commemorative state quarters came out about a decade ago, I hoped in vain Mississippi would choose a bluesman as a symbol of its enormous contribution to the rest of the world. Instead it chose a confusing picture of a magnolia. (Mississippi: Flowers grow here!) But a bluesman leading the crowd from the hallowed sidelines of the state's flagship university while the officially banned ghost of Colonel Reb lurks in the parking lot would be so much better. If it takes 100 years for the symbol of the state's 20th Century rebels to replace the symbol of the 19th Century version, well, at least it will be done.
Not that I think it will be done, given the inherent risks from both sides of the aisle, politically: Done poorly, "Rebel Bluesman" could be a P.R. nightmare that achieves the exact opposite of its ennobling intent. Again, bet on the Rebel Bear. And if Elvis shows up as a write-in candidate, this competition is over.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.