Friday, October 19, 2007

Indian Summer Roundup: Wahoo Meets Herbie


The blogging has gone a little slack in recent weeks, mostly because I am working on a big project that I will be eager to share very soon--some good news from the popular visual culture front.

In the meantime, here are a few thoughts following up the Graphic Tales Chief Wahoo seminar of the last ten days, ably improved and extended by our first-rate GT commenters. To review, the discussion began here and resumed here.

For the record: I haven't previously noted the obvious fact that the Cleveland Indians are not the only major sports franchise to be named after the people who were here first. In baseball, naturally there are the Atlanta Braves, previously of Milwaukee (1953-1965) and Boston (1912-1952). [The last time the Clevelanders won the World Series, in 1948, it was an all-native contest between the Indians and Braves, repeated with the opposite result in 1995.] The NFL includes the Redskins and the Seahawks, the latter notable for being an Northwest Indian artifact, rather than an actual person. The artifact thing has promise--the Fabulous Thunderbirds? Hockey has the Blackhawks, and college football is awash in Indians--the Seminoles and Illini coming to mind quickly. I am sure I am leaving a few out--I invite corrections and addenda.

My old friend Todd Peterson, a very talented artist, baseball historian and deep romantic, offers some reading: "for a balanced and insightful view of the whole Wahoo controversy, I would recommend The American Indian Integration of Baseball, by Jeffrey P. Powers-Beck, published by the University of Nebraska Press in 2004. Todd is working on book about a Negro league team from St. Paul.

If I can get my mitts on one of Todd's beautiful screenprints in a jpeg form, I will post here.

UPDATE: See print below.


Rob Dunlavey will be in a good mood this morning, as Josh Beckett dominated the Tribe last night. Rob, a highly regarded illustrator, reports from the front line of the Natick, Massachuestts mascot wars. The Redmen are under siege, as described here in a Boston Globe article. Below, Rosita Andrews, also known as Chief Caring Hands, offers the perspective of the Praying Indians, the tribe native to Natick, as reported by The Metro West Framingham News. Caring Hands offered up the possibility of changing from the Redmen, which was thought offensive, to the Red Hawk Men, which was not. I foresee a new Marvel Comics title set in New England.

Let us pause to note that the estimable M. Dunlavey has singlehandedly brought the focus of our attention and the American League Championship Series back to Massachusetts. Briefly, I hope.


Brian of Shelf Life clothing (based in Cleveland, no less) provides a paleface antidote to Chief Wahoo: a 100% cotton, 110% ironic, Cleveland Caucasians tee shirt. Very stylish. I'm gonna get me one.


Along with the above mentioned Todd Peterson, I lived in Lincoln, Nebraska from 1986 to 1989, which bears on this discussion in two ways. As a graduate student in printmaking--which now strikes me as a borderline ludicrous disciplinary choice, but who knew then that digital technology would render printmaking and photography antiquarian activities, though in truth, the former had long dwelled in Amish country--the printmakers and photographers would race to Bill's Saloon (alas, since razed) on Fridays following critiques for pitchers of beer and hours of longboard. Longboard refers to a tabletop shuffleboard game played in bars; you slide metal disks called "quaits," lidded by red or blue plastic to distinguish teams, along a narrow hardwood table. At any rate, the longboard in Bill's was ruled by the team of Percy and John, whom we aspired to beat. John was a bespectacled accountant, pleasant enough, nondescript; Percy was a big Omaha Indian who threw a quait with terrifying velocity. And Percy wore a Chief Wahoo shirt on most Fridays. Go figure. These images live varied lives.


The second reason I mention Lincoln has do to with a second mascot, who comes as close to the idea of Team Caucasian as you can get: Herbie Husker. He varies between a blonde and a brunette, but in either case as shown here, the total effect is sort of like watching Astro Boy in Oklahoma! It's unsettling. There's a bright golden haze on the robot... You spend three years looking at Herbie and you begin to appreciate the fact that Chief Wahoo, racist though he be, is darn well-designed. Forced to make a choice, I'm with Percy.


Images: Exhibition case, Milwaukee Braves, 1953-1965, Wisconsin Historical Society, 2003; Todd Peterson, The Aviary, 2005 [?] screenprint; Eric Wells, news photograph, The MetroWest Daily News, Framingham, Massachusetts, January 9, 2007; Political Map, State of Nebraska, The New International Encyclopedia, Dodd Mead and Company, New York, 1908; Herbie Husker, University of Nebraska Mascot; Osamu Tezuka, still from Astro Boy title sequence, Tezuka Productions, 1962.

2 comments:

Rob Dunlavey said...

"Let us pause to note that the estimable M. Dunlavey has singlehandedly brought the focus of our attention and the American League Championship Series back to Massachusetts. Briefly, I hope."

Thanks DB. You're too kind!

I'll keep you posted regarding the culture wars in Natick. Regarding the Praying Indians: they go back a long long way in these parts. Local historians have breathed life into old accounts of King Philip's War and more than ever, as I think we've seen across the globe, the Present is merely the Past grown up. History is very real. That being said, I'm sure Wahoo will be with us for some time yet.

Rob said...

Supposedly there used to be 3,000 sports teams with Indian-themed names. Now there are fewer than 1,000, supposedly.

Two prominent names you missed are the Chiefs in pro football and the Fighting Sioux in college ball. Now that Chief Illiniwek of the Fighting Illini is gone, the biggest points of contention are Chief Wahoo, the Washington Redskins, and UND's Fighting Sioux.

See Team Names and Mascots for more on the subject.