Friday, October 21, 2005
OLE MISS, RACIST IMAGERY AND VIOLENT PAST: "FORGIT, HELL!"
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As with most good satire, EDSBS hits more truth than even Mssrs. Swindle and Montana could have realized with its "Negro-Scope" takedown of Ole Miss Tuesday.
Into SMQ's work inbox today comes a pair of press releases aimed at "Saving Ole Miss," bastion of Old South "gentility," from "The University of Mississippi," P.C. thugs (SMQ's been called a greasy thug, too...) bent on eradicating whiteness from our often-embroiled state's "flagship university." Foremost among this movement's griefs, naturally, are two disgraced symbols: the Confederate flag, which has no hope of official reinstatement, and Colonel Reb, who unfortunately might. Both will live on in forever in hearts that aren't racist or anything, but just wonder sometimes...
Before he continues, SMQ must note his own alma mater's sketchy racial past: Southern Miss was for many years the "Southerners," and sported a mascot decked in Confederate gear known as "General Nat," as in capable but brutal Confederate general and Ku Klux Klan founder Nathaniel Bedford Forrest, namesake of Forrest County, where USM is located (Forrest, a Tennessee native, does not, so far as SMQ is aware, have any connection to the area). Mississippi Southern, as it was then known, far-outdisgraced Ole Miss's later embarassment in the James Meredith issue by its treatment of Clyde Kennard when he attempted to become the first black student to enroll in the school in the 1950s (Meredith would eventually graduate from UM; Kennard was denied admission, framed for a petty crime - possession of liquor, planted in his car by crooked campus police - sentenced to life in prison and eventually died on the notorious Parchman farm in the Delta).
The point: Southern Miss ditched its Confederate guises in the mid-1970s, and so much as a Confederate flag bumper sticker today on what must be considered the most "progressive," if such as term can be applied to a Mississippi institution, of the state's big three schools would raise eyebrows. There is nothing resembling a movement to "Save General Nat" (few remember or ever knew of his existence), or to uphold some antiquated idea of "gentility."
And while SMQ is hardly above lighthearted academic schadenfreude - indeed, he relishes it within local confines - the persistence with which fans and alumni of the oldest and most visible university in his home state - one that is so, so much better with regards to race and pretty much anything else than outsiders realize -epresents itself with the following is consistently depressing:HOW IRONIC THAT Colonel Reb (“forgit, hell!”) should be done in by political correctness.Ironic, indeed, but perhaps for different reasons than writer Wyatt Emmerich thinks.
After all, the whole idea is rebellion, as in not going along with the powers that be, not conforming to groupthink, not giving in to misguided thinking.'
Then there is irony on top of irony. Colonel Reb is really a caricature of the ancient, decrepit old rebel who is still living in the past. If anything, the Ole Miss icon pokes fun at those who cling to the past.
Although just about everybody in my family and my wife's family went to Ole Miss, I really can't say that I'm going to lose any sleep over the loss of Colonel Reb.
So why do the attempts at doing him in bug me – and a whole host of alumni – so much?
Well for one thing, even thinking that this is an issue worth addressing demeans everyone and everything associated with Ole Miss. Who in the world cares? Leave the mascot alone.
A summary of the above position: "Fuck you, we're Rebels and we want the Rebel mascot! Even though we're really just making fun of rebels, because the mascot is a very stupid object of ridicule. And nobody cares about it anyway, especially us. So bring it back!"Back during the French Revolution, the radical Robespierre tried to create the "New Man." He decreed a new calendar, new days of the week, and a new God he called the "Supreme Being."So loss of racist, inhibiting symbolism=violent, atheistic oppression at the deepest, most fundamental level, resulting in poverty, famine and the death of thousands and millions? The Colonel's supporters will never better love their fellow man!
Then Mao tried to reshape man during the Cultural Revolution and turn him into a being of the state, devoid of tradition or self-interest.
This whole movement of "political correctness" is just a milder, more innocuous aspect of the same slop Mao and Robespierre tried to dole out. I guess the Ole Miss (excuse me, University of Mississippi) officials think retiring the colonel will turn us into New Age Mississippians and better love our fellow man.
The fundamental question here is, what's good about the state of Mississippi? What should our universities and symbolism represent? Stubbornness and reactionism born of hatred and deep, unthinking ties to repressive tradition? Or independence, down-to-earth simplicty and resourceful, soulful and artistic innovation? SMQ, a huge fan of proud, quirky regional monikers like 'Cornhuskers' and 'Volunteers,' does not think a generic symbol like 'Golden Eagles' represents much to rally around, but when the alternative is to rally around a 140-year old hate monguerer, it's a step forward.
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