By Phil Brown
“We’re not mascots, we just love our school”, claims the promotional material for Maverick Maniacs, the student organization that’s been tasked with leading the student sections in chants and cheers, and enforcing school spirit at sports events. But are the Maniacs blurring the division between mascot, a symbol used to unite a group of people, and sports fan, an individual who roots for a team based on his own choice and in his own way?
The Maniacs can be found at most sporting events nowadays, dressed in form-fitting red and black bodysuits that mask all identifying features, and clustered at the front of each venue’s respective student section. They’re immediately conspicuous, it’s impossible to miss them, and perhaps more importantly, they contrast distinctly with the rest of the student section. In this way, they are like mascots.
The anonymity, the minimization of personal identity for symbolic identity, the design of drawing attention, is all very much mascot-like. The behavior of the Maniacs as I’ve observed them is also very much like a typical mascot, with exaggerated gestures designed to attract the attention of the crowd.
The Maniacs are then, in effect, a caricature of a Maverick student fan, a mascot version of a sports fan, as if the team on the field was called “The Maverick Student Section” and the Maniacs were their mascot.
The trouble is, UNO already has one mascot: Durango the Maverick. Durango is supposed to be a unifying figure, a symbol that the whole crowd can relate to. His function as a mascot is a noble one, connecting the youngest to the oldest, the richest to the poorest, and stepping across lines of race and class. As a cartoon animal with no real-world equivalent, it’s easy to impart one’s own meaning to him.
The Maniacs, on the other hand, are unfortunately inherently divisive by nature of mixing the realms of mascot and fan. They are too much like mascots to be seen as part of the crowd.
The stark contrast between their outfits and the individual diversity of the student section specifically, and the crowd in general, sets them apart from the others at the event. However, they are also too much like sports fans to be useful as mascots. There are too many, for one thing, there’s no unified point of focus, and they are harder to identify with because they are more specifically illustrations of a certain type of fan.
In regards to their effect on the student section, or even the idea of a “student section”, I’ve noticed a couple of things. First, I notice that it de-emphasises individuality. The Maniacs have been tasked with essentially enforcing school spirit, by leading designed chants and cheers, and crowd actions, and ensuring that everyone is equipped with the same noise-making instruments. There could be a place for this type of organization, but not to the level of Maniacs.
The Maniacs also seem to cut down on a sense of spontaneity in the section. Students may no longer feel as much like participants, just mere followers. Rather than identifying with each other as students and as fans, they are asked to relate to a specific idea of a fan, a specific group of fans.