Steve Mullen: Lessons from Admiral Ackbar

February 26, 2010 11:06:00 AM

Steve Mullen - smullen@cdispatch.com

 

Recent events at Ole Miss make me wonder if someone broke into the marijuana farm and is handing out free samples. 

 

This week, the student body voted to begin the process of coming up with a new school mascot. We''re talking here about the guy with the big foam head that roams the sidelines of sporting events. 

 

While I''m an Ole Miss graduate and fan, I always wondered about Colonel Rebel, the mascot the university stopped dressing out in 2003.  

 

The best sports mascots are equal parts intimidation and awe: Bears, Eagles, so on. The Ole Miss guy looks about 80. He''s well past retirement age. We are led to assume he is a Civil War-era colonel, which would mean he was born about 1830, if not earlier. Football wasn''t even around yet. Honestly, if we were dealing with a fourth and long, with two seconds on the clock, would you send him into the huddle? Would you want him calling a play? Plowing a lane through a pack of LSU defenders? Sprinting to get open in the end zone? He can''t even walk without that cane. 

 

Mr. Burns, Homer''s centenarian boss from "The Simpsons," would bring more skills than this guy. 

 

We also infer that he is a plantation owner. I don''t remember seeing a plantation on campus during my time there. The closest thing to a farm was -- you guessed it -- that happy little green patch off Highway 6 that I mentioned earlier. 

 

Yes, there once was a time that a retired Confederate (slave owner?) was intimidating. But in 21st century Mississippi, we''re no longer there, and clearly, the time, and the game, has changed. We''re not comfortable being intimidated in that way anymore, if we ever were.  

 

Long story short, I''m fine with a mascot change. 

 

Here''s where the mind-bending drugs kick in. A small band of Ole Miss students has been pushing for the Star Wars film character Admiral Ackbar to be the new mascot. For those readers who don''t know, Admiral Ackbar appeared toward the end of "Return of the Jedi," as the leader of the Rebel fleet. He has the personality of Winston Churchill, but where Winston Churchill''s head should be, is the head of a giant orange squid, with two huge, yellow, bowling-ball eyes protruding from each side. He noisily sucks on air in between sputtering out cliches like "It''s a trap!" 

 

This whole thing started as a joke, obviously. We''re the Rebels, he''s the head Rebel in "Star Wars," plus he''s funny looking, har har, let''s write about it in the Daily Mississippian. 

 

Admiral Ackbar ain''t gonna happen. Yet, the fact that a handful of Star Wars geeks is driving this debate speaks volumes. Above all, it appears that few people really care about what shape the foam head on the sidelines might take. That was borne out in that fewer than 20 percent of students voted in the election on Tuesday. (The vote was an overwhelming 75 percent in favor of coming up with a new mascot.) 

 

It could also be that many students in Colonel Reb''s camp didn''t cast a ballot, figuring that the university will do as it wishes, no matter how they might vote. That''s probably true.  

 

That said, it''s heartening that the current crop of students can embrace change. Even though a "no" vote wouldn''t have brought back the old colonel, a group of students and alums known as the Colonel Reb Foundation campaigned for students to vote that way. The old mascot should be brought back because he represents "heritage," they argued. With the mascot''s sideline appearances totaling about 30 years, that heritage doesn''t exactly run deep. 

 

The vote showed that Ole Miss'' recent heritage has not been an attachment to the symbols of the past. Its recent heritage has been the ability, however painful at times, to distance itself from those very symbols. The result is a thriving, dynamic campus, and a strong sports program to boot.  

 

Some folks harbor strong feelings about the university letting go of things like Confederate flags and colonels. But I think change is a great thing, especially when the goal is to be more inclusive.  

 

If only we could all agree to come off the farm, and leave the Star Wars toys at home.

Steve Mullen is Managing Editor of The Dispatch.