When Mascots Go Mad, and Other News


On the Shelf

Sebastian the Ibis in a fit of pique.


  • Listen well: to be a sports mascot is to wear a hair shirt. These people are flagellating themselves. After a while, donning the costume comes with mental consequences. Trapped within the padded, poorly ventilated headpiece of every mascot is a madman waiting to come alive. The mascot’s dream is to shed his sweaty cocoon and “be himself,” as a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. We saw this most recently in the case of Mr. Met, who this week offered a lewd gesture to a fan. (It wasn’t the “middle finger,” apparently; Mr. Met, having an even number of digits, is anatomically incapable of that motion.) But this was hardly the first time a mascot has gone rogue. Victor Mather has assembled a guide to “mascots behaving badly.” My favorite entry belongs to Sebastian the Ibis, who reps the Miami Hurricanes. In attempting a good-natured prank, Sebastian ran afoul of the police, themselves mascots of the state: “The Miami mascot thought it would be funny to wear a firefighter’s outfit and carry a fire extinguisher to a Florida State game in 1989. The plan was to make it look as if he was going to put out the flaming spear carried by the Seminoles’ Chief Osceola, though he never planned to actually do it. The Tallahassee police found it less funny and grabbed him on his way in. Less funny still, the extinguisher went off and hit an officer. ‘At that moment, I realized, uh oh, something is wrong here,’ Sebastian told USA Today years later. ‘Within two seconds, there were five of them slamming me up against the fence. One wing was out to one side, the other wing held behind my back. Another guy is pulling my beak and trying to yank my head off, and I had a chin strap underneath so it felt like he was trying to choke me to death.’ ”
  • Jill Lepore reminds us that dystopia, a very popular word at present, doesn’t just refer to some terrible future civilization—it must be an inversion of utopia: “The word dystopia, meaning ‘an unhappy country,’ was coined in the seventeen-forties, as the historian Gregory Claeys points out in a shrewd new study, Dystopia: A Natural History. In its modern definition, a dystopia can be apocalyptic, or post-apocalyptic, or neither, but it has to be anti-utopian, a utopia turned upside down, a world in which people tried to build a republic of perfection only to find that they had created a republic of misery … The dystopian novel emerged in response to the first utopian novels, like Edward Bellamy’s best-selling 1888 fantasy, Looking Backward, about a socialist utopia in the year 2000. Looking Backward was so successful that it produced a dozen anti-socialist, anti-utopian replies, including Looking Further Backward (in which China invades the United States, which has been weakened by its embrace of socialism) and Looking Further Forward (in which socialism is so unquestionable that a history professor who refutes it is demoted to the rank of janitor).”

  • Nadia Khomami reports that a play by Edith Wharton has resurfaced in her archives after lying in wait for seventy years: “About eighty years after Wharton’s death, researchers have found a play titled The Shadow of a Doubt in the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas. Dr. Laura Rattray and Professor Mary Chinery, from Glasgow University and Georgian Court University respectively, found two typescript copies of the play and have also established that it was in production by early 1901 with theatre producer Charles Frohman and Elsie de Wolfe in the leading role … Set in England, The Shadow of a Doubt centres on the character Kate Derwent, a former nurse married to a gentleman. Opening on a scene of social privilege and affluence studded with sharp one-liners, the play takes a dark and controversial turn into a world of extortion, mistrust, deception and assisted dying.”
  • Jacob Mikanowski tells the story of a nineteenth-century French lawyer who said to himself, I should be a Patagonian king, and then made it happen: “The Kingdom of Araucania-Patagonia … [began] in the mind of a French lawyer named Orélie-Antoine de Tounens. Tounens was born in 1825. He was the eighth of nine children born to a prosperous farmer from Périgord. He believed his family was descended from Gallic nobility, and all his life, he wanted to better their station. From an early age he dreamed of restoring France’s fortunes in the New World. Napoleon and his nephew, Napoleon III, beckoned Tounens’s mind as examples of self-crowned kings. All he needed to do was to find a suitable kingdom. Reading Voltaire, he stumbled on the poems of a sixteenth-century conquistador named Alonso de Ercilla. This settled his choice: he would go to Chile and make himself king of Araucania … Dressed in a royal costume he had made for himself out of a finely woven black-and-white poncho, silver belt buckle and spurs and long sword in a sheath inlaid with gold, he met with the Araucanian chiefs during one of their assemblies. Through an interpreter, he promised them weapons and ships with which to fight the Chileans, though he had neither.”