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Jennifer Guiliano, Indian Spectacle: College Mascots and the Anxiety of Modern America

New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2015, 175 pages
Jennifer L. Gauthier
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Jennifer Guiliano, Indian Spectacle: College Mascots and the Anxiety of Modern America, New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2015, 175 pages

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1In the United States, the government has done all it can to obscure the actual historical facts surrounding the conquest of Native lands and the intentional genocide of Native peoples. History books used in schools make only passing mention of events like the Battle of Little Big Horn or the Trail of Tears. Unlike in Canada or Australia, state officials have not apologized for the forced assimilation policies and institutionalized racism of the Residential School system. However, the ugly details of this fraught history resurface each time public attention turns to Native American mascots in professional and collegiate sports. It is common knowledge that Americans love their sporting events, their sports teams and their sports rituals. Football and baseball are routinely linked with classic (conservative) aspects of American national identity. Although many teams have distanced themselves from their racially offensive mascots and invented new icons for themselves, the most insidious offenders persist. In the U.S., we were reminded of this fact during the 2016 World Series of Baseball. One of the most egregious perpetrators of Native American stereotypical images, the Cleveland Indians franchise, battled it out with the Chicago Cubs through extra innings in Game 7. Although they were ultimately bested and the Cubs took home the title for the first time since 1908, by the time it was over the leering, wide-eyed and red-faced Cleveland mascot had been seen by millions of viewers around the world. In fact, the 2016 World Series drew the largest television audience in 25 years.

2Who knows if anyone watching thought twice about the Cleveland mascot and its blatant denigration of a people and their culture. Defenders of these mascots claim that they are “honoring,” or “celebrating,” Native American peoples and traditions. This excuse has allowed the Washington Redskins to retain their mascot and its attendant products into the 21st century. Although plenty of other examples exist, Washington has borne the brunt of repeated demands to retire its mascot, the “Redskin,” by the Native American Indian Congress and other interested parties.

3With these debates fresh in public discourse, Jennifer Guiliano’s monograph, Indian Spectacle: College Mascots and the Anxiety of Modern America, provides a welcome historical context. Her text is short, but densely-packed, with 110 pages of prose and an extensive bibliography. Guiliano meticulously researched her topic using multiple archives and public documents. As the latest addition to the Critical Issues in Sport and Society Series at Rutgers University Press, her work adds a crucial perspective to this pressing and divisive issue in America. She argues that the origin of Native American mascotry is intimately linked to the development of the modern university in the first half of the 19th century. Moreover, she calls attention to all the various constituencies, both on and off the university campus, that stood to benefit from the commodification of racialized bodies. In addition, her work highlights attempts by these institutions to regulate the identity of the modern college man by invoking intertwined discourses of race and class. Universities and their sports boosters mobilized Native American mascots to alleviate post-war anxieties about masculinity and construct a specific white male identity.

4To support her argument she examines five case studies, the University of Illinois, Stanford University, the University of North Dakota, Miami University (OH) and Florida State University, specifically focusing on the development of their football programs between 1926 and 1952. American football (to distinguish from soccer, or European football), has been closely linked to hegemonic masculinity since its invention. Guiliano traces this imbrication along with its growing commercialism and its role as a “moralizing force” for young men (18). The irony of this myth notwithstanding, football generated massive amounts of money and attention for colleges and universities, even as early as 1905. With its clear connections to capitalism and its cultivation of “hysterical interest,” it is no wonder that in 1927 sportswriter John Tunis described the sport as an “American religion” (25).

5This distinct form of community identity and national expression relies on the tight regulation of bodies, revenue and fans. At the heart of this mix is the spectacle, and by the late 1920s it began to include the halftime show, including Native American mascots. The University of Illinois debuted Chief Illiniwek on a Saturday afternoon in October 1926. Played by local high school student and former Boy Scout, Lester Leutwiler, The Chief shared a traditional catlinite pipe with Benjamin Franklin, the mascot of visiting University of Pennsylvania during the halftime show. Most Illinois fans believed that the white character was William Penn reenacting a peace treaty with the Natives. Here the myths of Pennylvania’s founding erase the effects of colonialism and celebrate a fictional kinship relationship between Natives and white men.

6Guiliano sets this mythical relationship in the context of Ernest Thompson Seton’s appropriation of Native culture to form the Woodcraft Indians, a precursor to the Boy Scouts. White folks’ romanticization of a people they had worked hard to eradicate served to mask the historical facts, replacing them with myths of peaceful negotiation and mutual respect, or as Guiliano suggests, “benign interplay” (42). Thus the Native American halftime spectacle served to reassure white, middle class men of their place in society, to affirm their presence and simultaneously the absence of actual Native Americans on the university campus, or in fact, anywhere in their daily lives.

7In her chapter on the role of college bands in the institutionalization of Native American mascotry, Guiliano notes that they played an important role both on and off the field. By mobilizing the community through youth programs, public concerts and other service efforts, the band generated an audience of loyal, excited fans. This guaranteed participation was necessary for the successful enactment of the halftime spectacle, as the fans became the witnesses to the ascendancy of the white, middle class, modern American college man. In their music, bands appropriated what Philip Deloria calls the “sounds of ethnicity” to accompany the ersatz Native dances and rituals (50). As Guiliano vividly describes, these spectacles highlighted the silencing of the Indian voice, as the interplay between the white bandleader and the dancing Chief echoed the power relations in American history (52).

8The University of Illinois pioneered and perfected the halftime spectacle, but many other schools did not have the financial means to mount such an elaborate show. Despite their limitations, Miami University (Ohio) and the University of North Dakota both sought to employ colonial tropes of racial dichotomies to mobilize school spirit and bring spectators to athletic events. In documenting the efforts of these two schools, Guiliano marshals extensive historical evidence including stories from the Miami student newspaper, fraternity archives, alumni bulletins and university brochures. She intertwines this material with a detailed history of the conquests of both Ohio and the Dakotas. With their vivid depictions of blatantly derogative stereotypes, the university publications are difficult to stomach, particularly for a contemporary reader aware of the persistent deployment of the same images almost one hundred years later. Despite some opposition at the University of North Dakota, both schools adopted Native American mascots as part of their strategy to attract students and assert a “modern” American identity.

9The final case studies, Stanford University and Florida State University, chronicle efforts on the part of students to construct an identity that reflected their sense of themselves. At Stanford, the student body was reluctant to accept their Indian mascot between 1923 and 1930. This is an historic moment of contestation, as Guiliano herself notes, however, it could have been explored more fully. The debate at FSU centered on gender politics, as the university proposed the Seminole mascot to distance itself from its predecessor, a women’s seminary, whose symbol was the Tarpon. Efforts to agree on a mascot were further complicated here by the aspects of Southern identity thrown into the mix. In this chapter, the author also highlights the important role played by modern, state-of-the-art stadiums and the associated local infrastructure. Moreover, she includes a dense history of the settlement of Florida, but the timeline is diffuse and scattered.

10While the previous five chapters emphasize the deployment of Native mascots to consolidate modern American masculinity, in the final chapter, Guiliano explores what happened when this identity was threatened by women and actual Native people. Here she examines the role of Indian athletes and female bodies in the halftime spectacle. As we might imagine, they were largely unwelcome. During the 1940s, as more women entered colleges and the men were away at war, the University of Illinois introduced “Princess Illiniwek,” played by Idell Stith, a white woman who had “honorary status with the Osage tribe” (90). However, Stith’s performance was limited to a single season. At the University of North Dakota in 1937, six Fort Yates Indians performed in the halftime show. Beginning in 1951, Yurok Indian H.D. “Timm” Williams performed as “Prince Lightfoot,” at Stanford University. Dressed in a Sioux headdress, Lightfoot performed on the sidelines at football games. Despite what Williams himself perceived as a kind of successful infiltration of white culture, Guiliano suggests that these highly regulated performances furthered the traditions of Native mascotry whose ultimate goal was to alleviate white anxiety and celebrate the modern American man.

11Guiliano’s work lies at the intersection of sport studies, Indigenous studies and critical race studies, but it is firmly entrenched in the disciplinary methods of history. Thus, it could easily fit into a course within any of these disciplines. Her close attention to detail through readings of contemporary newspapers, institutional publications and personal correspondence lends strong evidence to her argument. Occasionally the reader may get bogged down in the minutiae of college yearbooks and fraternity magazines, but the effort and intention are recognized. Guiliano offers a convincing argument that Native American mascotry and its attendant activities played a significant role in the construction of the white modern American college man in the early 20th century. Although the book is purely historical in its focus, it invites the reader to see parallels with contemporary discourses, such as those I mentioned at the start of this review. Sport is a microcosm of life and thus this book reminds us of the roots of contemporary racism against Native Americans. Although Stanford (1972), Miami (1997), Illinois (2007) and North Dakota (2012) have all retired their Native mascots, Florida State retains Chief Osceola as their symbol, apparently authorized to do so by the local Seminole tribe.

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Jennifer L. Gauthier, « Jennifer Guiliano, Indian Spectacle: College Mascots and the Anxiety of Modern America », InMedia [En ligne], 6 | 2017, mis en ligne le 01 juillet 2017, consulté le 17 décembre 2018. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/inmedia/909

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Jennifer L. Gauthier

Professor of Communication Studies, Randolph College, Lynchburg, Virginia, USA

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