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Monday, November 25, 2013

GGRRRRRRR ... But In a Totally Heterosexual Way

An interesting piece from the Washington Monthly's College Blog about tryouts for Cornell's mascot, apparently known as the Big Red Bear, where one eager beaver bear applying for the position was reportedly told that the bear must act straight -- "act like a heterosexual man" and "only approach women."  Apparently the good folks in Ithaca haven't gotten the message about, uh, bears (not to mention otters and, one I didn't know, wolves). 

Anyhoo, I don't know whether to respond to this sort of thing by laughing, crying, or just beating my head against a wall.  On the one hand it's the most innocent, trivial thing in the world: a silly mascot hamming it up on the sidelines.  But before we dismiss it that quickly, let's think about this.  Let's assume that the applicant for the position is gay -- heck, if I had more gumption in college I might have enjoyed being the Columbia mascot (thought our legendary football losing streak at the time would likely have put a damper on any victorious frolicking).  This kind of message is certainly not a welcoming one to the applicant.

But more generally, I mean c'mon: the bear has to be het?  He can flirt with females and that's fun/expected/inoffensive -- but guys are off limits? (We're assuming that the mascot itself is a male, which is probably true for most human-identified mascots, but hey, why can't Vikings or Mountaineers be women, at least when it's a woman's team on the field?  As for animals, why not have female mascots, again, at least when women are playing the game and wearing the uniform?)  Guys can't take good-natured sexual ribbing, but girls can?  Frankly, it wouldn't surprise me if at least some college age guys would be cool with any flirting that would be sufficiently innocent as to be ok when applied to women.

Of course many may not be.  And maybe that's the big problem here.  Heterosexual flirting: OK, it's expected and nobody minds.  Same-sex flirting: Asking for a bloody nose, even when the fliter is wearing a bear outfit.  I dunno.  I get the argument from statistics (most college students, like most humans, identify as straight).  But to deny even the theoretical existence of a gay mascot seems like, well, denial.  And if an administrator's answer is that they understand, but they don't want to create the conditions in which a real problem might arise from a victim of the attention who can't handle it, then maybe the answer is to tell the bear to keep his paws to himself.  

Posted by Bill Araiza on November 25, 2013 at 06:15 PM | Permalink

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It's a reasonable job condition, directly related to accommodating the vast majority of families who will come in contact with the mascot. Not to mention, the brand and identity of the mascot are valuable and watered down with personality changes.

Schools should be given a degree of deference in setting up their campus culture, unless we are to start allowing Christian students to shut down "sex days" and the like.

It would be quite disingenuous to use the "unwelcome" card in the mascot context (which is a jay oh bee) and then turn around and not use the "unwelcome" card in other contexts that you disagree with politically.

Posted by: AndyK | Nov 26, 2013 9:30:26 AM

I think the larger point here is that mascots are incredibly creepy and should not be flirting with anyone.

Which actually relates to my more serious point, which is that this is, I believe, a conversation about norms (not about good arguments under existing employment law). Really a mascot should not have a discernible sexual orientation at all, IMHO, but here the school (or whoever is choosing the mascot) is treating heterosexuality as the unmarked, inoffensive category and homosexuality as marked, more explicitly sexual (in a way that some people may not relate to), and therefore more offensive. But believe me, heterosexual bear can be just as unwanted and offensive to some audience members. The facially neutral solution is to have mascots not enact a sexuality at all. At least not in the context of sporting events. Agreed?

Posted by: Susannah Pollvogt | Nov 26, 2013 1:10:19 PM

Seems more bestial than hetero

Posted by: anon | Nov 26, 2013 1:15:15 PM

Thus AndyK supports bestiality.

Posted by: anon | Nov 26, 2013 3:36:12 PM

Agreed. But note a different twist on this narrative: Women put off by the mascot's (hetero) "flirting" (which, if we're being honest, sometimes borders on assault or battery--in the sense of an unwanted touching) have no sense of humor and need to stop taking themselves so seriously.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Nov 26, 2013 5:37:48 PM

Why wouldn't this simply be seen as defining a character, much as a producer would for any acting role? Assigning a character trait isn't necessarily a commentary on the trait itself; it's a statement of what that particular role requires.

Posted by: Michelle | Nov 27, 2013 12:07:45 PM

I guess I'm of the viewpoint that if you're doing this much thinking about the sexuality of a mascot as an administrator, there are probably other things you could be spending your time on.

On the other hand, I'm also of the viewpoint that I will read every amusing news story, no matter how trivial or asinine, and so I appreciate this very much.

Posted by: Bob McFlintstone | Nov 30, 2013 3:39:47 AM

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