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When the Dead Don't Die: The Ole Miss Mascot Mess

Jeb WilliamsonCorrespondent IFebruary 9, 2010

Somewhat piercing the bubble—at least internally—of Ole Miss’ consecutive Top 20 recruiting classes is news that the University Student Body will be holding a vote on Feb. 23 to consider development of a new mascot.

The university has been without a mascot since 2003, when the post-reconstruction figure of Colonel Reb was graciously, though not quietly, discontinued.

Bringing back the anachronistic colonel is not an option, much to the dismay of a vocal minority who view the former mascot as a symbol of Southern heritage and its corollaries. Some will argue to red-beet-cheeked fervor the platitudes of having such a symbol and the uniqueness it represents, ignorant of the doppelganger: its ignominy.

As an Ole Miss Fan, the danger in writing about this topic is giving it more air to breathe. The student body is not even considering exhuming the colonel. Another piece on a subject most preferred kept in its pine box is guilty foremost of resuscitating it.

Ignoring something does not make it go away.

Just this past season, Ole Miss gained national attention for two very unflattering things: (1) an on campus protest of KKK members on football Saturday, and (2) the barring of the university band playing “From Dixie With Love” during games because some students sang “the south will rise again” at its completion.

When Ole Miss fans argue that the rally consisted of 12 people roundly heckled by a group at least 20 times that number, or that the addendum to FDWL is a recent development among a small group of misguided students, they miss the point: The details of what occurred are far less important than the occurrence itself.

Ours is a world dominated by headlines and sound bites, and the first casualty is perspective.

In the void created by the synopsis of a subject and a real study of it, people are left to draw conclusions based on whatever information they discover. What makes symbols so historically powerful lies in their ability to stand in that gap and appear valid because they can be interpreted in numerous ways by numerous people.

Symbols are not signs, which have definitive parameters and self-define their meaning. STOP means stop. YIELD means yield. WRONG WAY means wrong way.

Symbols—while physically defined—are not self-explanatory. The meanings of symbols are not defined to the interpreter, but by the interpreter.

Think of a cross—one of the oldest symbols on record. Depending on whom you are and what you want, the same symbol might inspire you to an act of religious faith, help you find medical care, or instruct you to add numbers together.

And that is just in contemporary society. The Cross Symbol is over 6,000 years old and has over 50 permutations.

Of the many mistakes the University of Mississippi made in originally choosing Colonel Reb as a mascot, failure to realize both the power of symbols and their ambiguous nature were primary.

I guess it made sense in 1979. That’s right. This historic mascot was all of 24 years old when put to pasture.

Patch-worked from the real life figure of Blind Jim Ivy—the son of a former slave who was a campus institution for the first half of the twentieth century—and the unofficial cheerleader wearing a confederate uniform on the sidelines during the same period, Colonel Reb was the Frankensteinian result of institutional narcissism.

Seeking to conjoin both local and regional histories with a love of folklore and identity, the university sanctioned an image they thought was relevant, unique, and honorary.

Let us hope they do not try to do it again.

There is no need to be relevant: I have hunted and golfed all over the South and am yet to see an elephant grazing in Alabama.

Uniqueness is not a prerequisite: LSU and Auburn are two of many college teams with the Tigers moniker, and both are in the same division, much less the same conference.

Considering some of the most recognizable mascots—Bucky the Buckeye, The Stanford Tree, Bevo—evolved from participants in the local ecosystems, steering clear of personal honorarium is perfectly acceptable.

As a fan, I want Ole Miss to have a mascot. I just do not want it to mean anything. I do not want any context, or reference, and certainly no double entendre. I want a cat or a fish or even a catfish—just something that really has nothing to do with Ole Miss at all.

The less meaning sought by those involved in replacing the colonel, the better chance his passing stops haunting us all.

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