Native American Mascotry

Indian Spectacle: College Mascots and the Anxiety of Modern America (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press,
March 2015.)

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Editorial Reviews:

“Novel and fresh, Indian Spectacle is a well researched and clearly written history of sport and society in the United States. Guiliano’s sound, thorough, and comprehensive book makes a significant contribution to advancing current understandings in new and important ways.” —-C. Richard King, Professor of Comparative Ethnic Studies, Washington State University

“Persuasively locating the University of Illinois as historical ground zero, Guiliano offers a beautifully written and thoroughly researched account of the development of the sport mascot. Indian Spectacle sets the standard for understanding the origins of the craziness at halftime.”—-Philip J. Deloria, Carroll Smith-Rosenberg Professor, University of Michigan

Description of the project:
Indian Spectacle: College Mascots and the Anxiety of Modern America critically interrogates college football and the creation of halftime performance through the lens of Native American mascotry. While most contributions to public discourse about mascotry have focused on contemporary copyright issues, explored the effects of Indian imagery on young children, presented quantitative survey results of contemporary native peoples’ opinions on mascotry, or focused on a single historical site, this book presents the first entirely historical multi-site analysis that connects mascotry to twentieth century expressions of community identity, individual belonging, and cultural hegemony.

Indian Spectacle writes against the ahistorical nature of public knowledge about mascotry to locate the formulation of mascots as something bound up in the spectacle of halftime performance, the growth and competition of collegiate football, the anxiety of middle-class masculinity, and the increased commercialization of the twentieth century. Drawing from an interdisciplinary breadth of theories related to cultural formation, identity politics, and colonialism/post-colonialism, this book strips away the contemporary concentrations on tribal authorization of the use of a particular mascot and the use of these identities by current Universities and Colleges to reveal the historical factors behind the formation and spread of Indian mascotry. In doing so, this book presents a unique argument: that Indian mascotry was a vestige of colonial knowledge expressed through twentieth-century anxieties about masculinity, class, and belonging in the competitive world of higher education.

In recent months, the moves made by colleges and universities to change athletic conferences have garnered international headlines. Whether Syracuse and Pittsburgh’s decisions to join the Southeastern Conference or the University of Maryland’s decision to join the Big Ten, the American obsession with college football cannot be understated. In 2010, the collective revenue of the fifteen biggest grossing teams in Division 1A topped one billion dollars, as reported to the U.S. Department of Education. What marks this figure as even more impressive is that it does not take into account university-derived income from the sale of athletic and university-related apparel. Expressions of team alligiance, particularly the wearing and display of sports mascots, are a visual expression of American obsession with collegiate sport.

By demonstrating the ways in which mascotry relied on historical tropes of Indianness that were rarely rooted in the reality of Native peoples’ lives or experiences, this book moves beyond the claims made by contemporary scholars that mascotry was derived from any one individuals’ impetus to “play Indian” to argue that that there existed a loosely-affiliated network of actors who were engaged in producing and consuming ideas about Indian bodies simultaneously. Athletes and coaches, band members and their leaders, spectators, newspaper writers, University presidents, alumni, and faculty, fraternity members, artists and writers, and community members each contributed to the formalization and dissemination of Indian mascotry throughout the United States.

Indian Spectacle argues that the University of Illinois was a central actor in creating the vehicle by which mascotry expanded: halftime performance. The dominance of its athletic teams in the early and mid-twentieth century coupled with the exciting performances offered by its internationally-recognized band offered an ever-widening circle of competitors, University administrators, and alumni that were primed to consume the implicit and explicit messages of Indian mascotry. Yet, it does not limit its consideration of spectacle to halftime performances only. Instead, it considers spectacle more broadly to encompass written materials about sport and Indians, artistic renderings including cartoons and illustrations, and news accounts of athletic events. Focusing on the experiences of individuals and institutions engaged in the formation of this “American Spectacle”: the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s “Chief Illiniwek,” the Stanford University “Indians,” the University of North Dakota’s “Fighting Sioux”, Miami University’s “Redskins”, and the Florida State University “Seminoles, it asks the questions: How did college football and its attendant events (termed here “An American Spectacle”) become a vehicle for cultural production by individuals and institutions in specifically raced, gendered, and classed ways? What was the role of this “American Spectacle” in the articulation of individual and group identities at sites across the United States?

At its narrowest, this book outlines the individual aspects of the spectacle: bands and musical performances, artistic production and commercial athletic identity, and the rituals of performance. At its broadest, it traces the ways in which newswriters, students, and university administrators contributed to the formation of athletic identity imbued with Native symbolism and theme. In each instance the fundamental exploration is guided by consideration of how individuals and institutions constituted, transformed, and transmitted ideas of Indian mascotry within the spectacle of college football. This book then asks these central questions: How and why were Native Americans represented as sports mascots? What cultural work did these images perform? How did these written narratives, visual images, and live performances create a tradition of performance that branded college football as “an American spectacle”? Finally, how did the deployment of “American Spectacle” function to support the “civilizing mission” of colleges and universities?

Importantly, Indian Spectacle is a historical discussion of the individuals and institutions engaged in the creation of this particular brand of American identity at various sites and moments in the early twentieth century.

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