June 14, 2010

Roger Ebert loves Chief Illiniwek

Educator Debbie Reese brings this item to our attention:

Roger Ebert on the Arizona Mural and Race...but...He understands racism where African Americans are concerned, but he seems to be conflicted over stereotyping of American Indians. In a 2009 essay at his blog, he said that "Chief Illiniwek" is "the world's greatest sports symbol." Following his essay is a video of the mascot's "last dance."

In the comments section (he got LOT of comments), he says:

The Chief. *Sigh* I understand intellectually why Chief Illiniwek was retired. I agree with the decision ideologically. But my heart cries out, as in my memory he stands proudly on the 50 yard yard line and the Marching Illini conclude the school Song, Illinois! Illinois! Illinois! He was so much more dignified than a buckeye, a wolverine, a badger, a boilermaker, a spartan. He was greatness. I'm glad I was there.

Update: I'm adding another comment from Ebert that pre-dates the others above. The comment below is from "Noble Spirit, More than Just a Mascot" dated 2001 the Chicago Sun Times.

"Chief Illiniwek, for nearly a century the symbol of the University of Illinois, was until recently seen as a positive image of American Indians. The Chief never was a 'mascot,' and indeed goes back so far that he pre-dates the use of "mascots" for most sports teams. ... In recent years, however, Illiniwek has been under attack from a small, self-righteous coalition that wants to wipe him from the university's history."
(Excerpted from Debbie Reese's American Indians in Children's Literature, 6/9/10.)

Comment:  The hell it isn't a mascot, Roger. You can delude yourself however you want, but Chief Illiniwek fits the dictionary definition of "mascot." Therefore, it is one.

Until recently, all sorts of racist and stereotypical beliefs were seen as positive, or at least as harmless jokes. Now we know better. The only question is why you're clinging to this symbol of white power over Indians.

True, he says he agrees "ideologically" with the decision to retire the mascot. But the issue we're discussing is his ideological attachment to it. He loves the romantic image of the noble chief and hates the people who have criticized it.

Ebert's mascot worship

Amazing how people worship their stupid prejudices and stereotypes as if they're religious icons. Ebert is talking as if the Bible says homosexuals are sinners and Indians are Plains chiefs. As if God told him to honor Jesus and Chief Illiniwek in roughly that order.

Most of us went to high school and colleges that had sports mascots. These mascots supposedly represented our pride and spirit. We didn't take them too seriously because we were there to, you know, learn. Not to find a new identity based on the school's sports program.

In short, few of us fetishize our mascots the way Ebert has done. His views tell us a lot more about him than they do about the "self-righteous coalition" who challenged him. It's a freakin' circus clown, big boy. Get over it.

For more on the subject, see New Chief Illiniwek Chosen and Protesting the "Next Dance."

Below:  The second coming of Jesus?

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