A Final Take On the Mascot Situation

 

Wow. There is so very, very much I can say on this. I could criticize the entire process we all endured. I could praise the Ole Miss family for not selecting Hotty Toddy. I could endlessly ridicule everyone who didn't at all understand this process and, to this day, cannot understand that the name "Rebels" isn't changing, nor does it have to just because our mascot changed. I could neutrally observe this as some sort of bizarre anthropological study (truly, it is). Oh, I could. I could, and I would, were I not too worried about this evolving into something far too long and rambling.

So I'll do what I can to be brief and make some sense. I cannot guarantee either, but I can guarantee that I'll try.

To say that I am a little annoyed with everything that has gone down doesn't even come close to describing the myriad of emotions I've felt over the past so many years regarding the mascot debate. I've been annoyed, yeah, but I've also been angered, frustrated, amused, and, after wrestling with all of that, I've now just grown tired to the point where I truly don't care that much.

Students, my beef doesn't lie so much with you anymore. You're a stupid, arrogant lot, but everyone that I'm somehow still friends with after the way I behaved in my late teens and early twenties would readily call out my hypocrisy. Just know that things aren't as great or as bad as anyone tells you that they are, and that you're nowhere close to as smart and worldly as you think you are. Shit, I'm twenty-four and, while I'm light years ahead of where I was when I was nineteen, I've still got a long, long way to go.

So y'all got your priorities all out of whack, said some ill-informed things, and acted like whiny brats, and bitched and moaned about unimportant decisions made long before y'all were even enrolled at Ole Miss. No big deal. You'll realize how dumb all of this was in five or ten years anyway.

Ole Miss administrators, I think y'all are pretty damned incapable of getting things taken care of in an assertive or efficient manner, but such is the way of the Magnolia State, I reckon. So slowly have the wheels of progress (why this is a spooky term nowadays I'll never know) and change been in Oxford, but they're turning by God. At the very least, y'all have an idea of where Ole Miss needs to be and how to, very incrementally, get us all there.

And Alumni, those of you who so vehemently cling to or argue for the traditions and meaning of Ole Miss, as you perceive it, are so hopelessly out of touch that it's unreal. I realize that Ole Miss isn't today what it was 10, 20, or 30 years ago. Neither is anywhere else you've ever been associated with. I suppose it says a lot about your years at Ole Miss, that they were so great that you wouldn't want the place which served as their setting to change, but it has and, just as it already has with me, it will continue to.

I know what it's like for one of your favorite watering holes to close down. I know what it's like when university tradition that means something to you ends for reasons you find frustrating. I know what it feels like to almost fruitlessly and futilely defend something you're passionate about in the face of an opposition that "doesn't understand" and certainly doesn't wantto understand. 

Don't let my haughty preaching cause you to lose sight of something crucial here: I'm one of y'all. I grew up in Mississippi. I randomly recite lines from "O Brother Where Art Thou." I eat pimiento cheese, fried catfish, and banana pudding with a voracity and dedication rivaled by few. I graduated from Ole Miss and am a lifetime member of the Alumni Association. I also have a lifetime membership to Graceland Too, and will entertain arguments as to which I should be prouder of. I've seen Ole Miss play against and lose to every single SEC opponent multiple times. I can make the drive from Clarksdale to Oxford with my eyes closed (And maybe even have... Hi Mississippi Highway Patrol!). I hate Mississippi State. I wear red and bleed blue. I am an Ole Miss Rebel.

I'm not some holier-than-thou, carpetbagging outsider trying to tell Mississippians what they should do or how they should view themselves. I am preachy and arrogant, but if you've spent five minutes reading this blog you'd know that already. I love our home state, our university, and our sports teams - all for better and for worse.

But, when it all comes down to it, I frankly do not care that Ole Miss is moving away from certain images held dear by some people. I don't care that opposing fans and Rebel snarksters alike are going to make fun of the mascot - what, did y'all think we'd be at all capable of selecting something that everyone in America would be awestruck by? I do not care that Ole Miss is perceivedly becoming a "liberal" place controlled by "academic elites" or whatever the buzz words du jour are. I do not care because I simply think that Ole Miss is doing what Ole Miss must do to continue to grow by bringing in new students and expanding the horizons of the school's academic offerings. If that means tossing remnants of the Old South aside, then so be it.

There's a reason it's called the "Old South": it's old. It's outmoded. Despite what so many people - Ole Miss related or not - think Ole Miss is or should be, the University of Mississippi is in no way whatsoever obligated to cater to, honor, or even respect the traditions, vestiges, or imagery of the Old South. Ole Miss does, to a limited extent and in a far different fashion, do such through things like the Center for Southern Studies and National Blues Archive, but Ole Miss doesn't really owe it to anyone to do so.

And that, really, is where all of this trouble comes in.

People are upset because they're afraid that the South they knew, the South they want, or even the South that they know now will become something scary and alien to them. The polarizing controversy stemming from Ole Miss is just another front in this "War of intra-Southern Aggression." Flag controversies, religious tension in public schools, and the general notion of an eroding set of "Southern values" are just a few of the many manifestations of this. It happens in a lot of places but we have had the unfortunate honor of having the front lines of this war against change drawn right through the Grove.

Furthermore, people worry that when something they love, regardless of why they love it, is labeled as "racist" that they are, by proxy, racists. I constantly and with the unforgiving viciousness of a rabid, hungry dog defend Ole Miss and the state of Mississippi in general from such attacks for the very same reason. But those aren't things I can readily let go of; nor could I ever in my life disassociate myself from them. And, really, nor are they the villains people either mistakenly believe they are or nefariously want to make them out to be. Colonel Reb is no villain, but his presence was undeniably controversial and, like many controversial things, he was easy for me and the university to let go of and move on from.

Seven years ago, I too once wore "Colonel Reb is My Mascot Stickers." But I've since lost whatever attachment I had to Colonel Reb. Frankly, he isn't all that important, and I saw my attachment to certain symbols move towards things which are real and more important, such as Ole Miss' future - a future which I honestly believe is a right one, but one which cannot be achieved through a constant adherence to ideals or images of the past.

I wasn't dragged kicking and screaming into this resolved position, nor did it suddenly strike me. My thoughts on this have slowly evolved over the past decade or so, a decade which has seen me apply, gain admission to, graduate from, and pay alumni dollars to the university we all love. And it is with this care for my alma mater that I honor and defend her decision to do whatever she thinks is best for her future as the role of my home state's flagship university.

Just please, please, please, for the love of Ole Miss, come to grips with the fact that the mission of the Univeristy of Mississippi isn't to serve as some great bastion of what was. It is there to serve what is. It is an institution to educate all types of people - white or not, Christian or not, Southern or not. It is ideally a marketplace of ideas, where thinking people come together to answer questions, solve problems, elaborate on the intricacies and beauties of the arts and, in the end, mutually benefit from this shared interaction. It is a repository of knowledge. It is a safe haven for the thinking mind. It is a helluva place to spend your late teens and early twenties.

It is not your, my, or anyone's personal nostalgia piece.  

So we don't have Colonel Reb anymore. So what. We've still got the Square. We've still got a haven for literary artists and thinkers. We've still got John Currence slinging around James Beard Award winning dishes at City Grocery. We've still got one of the country's finest public honors colleges. We've still got the most famous tailgating scene in all of the college football world. We've still got Manning Way and its 18mph speed limit. We've still got RL Burnside's music. We've still got the nation's best looking student body. We've still got Ole Miss.

Hotty Toddy, everybody. Let's get back to business and put this behind us. Shall we?

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