Thursday, February 22, 2007

The United States of Haliburton

The University of Illinois mascot, Chief Illiniwek, danced his last dance yesterday to face a future of luxorious retirement. Considering that, as far as I can deduce, Chief Illiniwek is some sort of sports mascot, I generally could not care less if he works, retires, gets eaten by a dinosaur, or ceases to exist entirely, which is my official stance on any sports mascot. In fact, I didn't even know that they were going to retire him on the 21st until about two days ago, and even then, I had to consult Wikipedia to discern what all the fuss was about. This is my typical response to any sports-related topic, up to and including who is playing in the Super Bowl.

Okay, despite my being totally oblivious to anything that has to do with sports, on a political level, I am aware that there has been tremendous pressure on sports-related institutions like universities and various millionaires to retire various sports mascots deigned offensive to Native Americans. Some of these instutions have included the Cleveland Indians, whose logo features a charicature of a conventional Native American with the stereotypical gigantic, toothy grin and eyes in the form of nature's cruelest shape, the triangle. Of course, this offends Native Americans, and I can fully understand why, because Indians are people from India.

Another highly reviled team is the Atlanta Braves, whose fans celebrate the team scoring points with what has been deemed the "Tomahawk Chop." This has been deigned offensive, as far as I can tell, because at one point in history, Native Americans used tomahawks. In fact, tomahawks are still widely in use today, except they're known as "hatchets," or "axes" if they're really big. Native Americans, however, don't want to be remembered for having invented the axe in the form of the tomahawk, mainly because it has a negative connotation attached to it since they were once used as weapons, much the same way axes sometimes are today. But if you used something as a weapon in the past, you can only complain so much when you're remembered for using something as a weapon in the past. It's much the same way that Scott Peterson can't complain that he is remembered for killing his pregnant wife, Germans can't complain that they're remembered for getting drunk and trying to take over the world every few decades, or George W. Bush can't complain that he's remembered for being a gigantic dumbass. Still, the Tomahawk Chop portrays the Native Americans in a poor light when there's so much they could instead be celebrated for, so I can see the logic of their argument. But hey — why assume that they're Tomahawk Chopping heads? Why not wood or something?

After over two decades of pressure from the Native Americans and various civil rights groups to have the "offensive" and "abusive" mascot removed, the University of Illinois finally caved. They used to maintain that the dress and actions of Chief Illiniwek were customary of traditional Illiniwek tribal practices. Except... that they really weren't... at all. The "chief," was generally portrayed by a European-descended student, with the only two exceptions being of Latino and Filipino descent, the costume was traditional of the Sioux Tribe, and the dances were traditional of — seriously — a Boy Scout who did some research into general Indian tribal dances. Instead of a traditional Illiniwek dance, Chief Illiniwek was dancing a standard Indian "fancy dance," and a very loosely interpreted one at that. In other words, the dance that Chief Illiniwek was doing, to the Illiniwek Tribe, was about as traditional as the Macarena was to the Spanish. Here I'm thinking that, if an actual Native American was portraying the Chief, and his garb and interpretive dances were traditional of the proper tribe the university was supposed to be celebrating, there would have been far less of a controversy, because it could have been considered an homage to the Illiniwek instead of a parody.

It would seem that, much like the Germans are adamant to convince us that the whole Nazi mistake didn't actually happen, the Native Americans are so obsessed with homogenization that they would like to convince the rest of America that they didn't ever actually exist outside of highly collectible designer plates from the Franklin Mint. They're already trying to erase satirical representations of themselves from Looney Tunes shorts and eliminate any reference to themselves from the world of sports. It makes one wonder what might come next. Well, wonder no more, because I've been struck with a brilliant idea.

We should change the name of any state that was named after a Native American tribe. I mean, let's face it, our ancestors named the states after Indian tribes to uphold the sacred and noble traditions and philosophies of a race of people that they very nearly annihilated, but I think in the centuries since, we've seriously let down those tribes. As the world's current number one manufacturer of failure and shame, the United States really only serves to embarrass the Indian tribes who've been honored with the recognition of a state name. Perhaps the tribes should lobby to take their tribal names back from the states that have only attached to them continuous shameful lapses in judgment.

So, if not Native American tribal names, what would our states be named after? I'll tell you. Whenever there is any sort of orginization in need of both money and a name, what is the one thing in America that it can count on to supply both? That's right, corporations. If Native Americans start demanding that our states begin rescinding their once-proud tribal names, I foresee corporations offering large sums of money to states expressly lacking in exactly that, in exchange that the state be named after the highest bidder. It's the ultimate form of advertising. Who is going to forget that Powerade is a sports drink when it's also the state they live in? No one, that's who.

There would be a lot of states named after various corporations because there are a lot of states currently named after Native American tribes or words, save for ones with Spanish-derived names like New Mexico, or made-up names like California. Illinois could be renamed to Powerade, Iowa to Ford, Massachusetts to MacIntosh, Missouri to Microsoft, Michigan to Kelloggs, Texas to AT&T, Connecticut to CNN, and on and on until we end up the United States of Haliburton. Considering that corporations pay in the range of fuckwit stupidity for any sort of major advertising, and people will typically only buy things, no matter how inferior, if they're heavily advertised because buying the same thing everyone else buys is the key to individuality, people will keep paying into corporations who have states named after them, which will in turn give the corporations more money to feed into the states for the continued use of their name. Native Americans won't have to worry about their heritage being further dishonored by the utter ineptitude of state politicians. It's a complete win-win situation. I can see no down sides. So let's get to it.

np: Lana Lane - "Coloured Life"


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