A thinner mascot does not an outrage make.
Still, both campus and social media have been alight with the fresh scandal of the university’s redesigned mascot, displeasure boiling over with the debut of an updated Bananas the Bear at this past weekend’s football game against the University of Rhode Island.
But like this week’s crisp fall weather, his reception has been something less than warm — with many students commenting that he looks more like a panther than a bear, comparing his slimmer, sleeker design to that of a long-incarcerated felon.
This sort of overzealous indignation is not uncommon, particularly among university students. Change of any type is a contentious subject on campus, because, by design, students feel a sense of ownership over their institution. If an institution is changing without their input and permission it can easily be read and felt as a betrayal of the highest order.
But while this deeply personal connection to the university creates a hugely beneficial sense of community, it also cultivates dangerously passionate attitudes about inconsequential “threats” to the culture students have become both accustomed to and invested in.
With this type of intense investment, even the minutest of shifts in school policy, class organization and administration are met with the sort of outrage typically reserved for the grossest of worldly atrocities. Hyperbole takes the place of rational discourse about small issues of no true consequence, while issues of serious significance that are less glamorous, less visible, are swept beneath the rug, swallowed by the apathy.
Truly, the redesigning of a mascot is a small matter, and one hardly worth the time and effort of this manufactured hatred. School pride is not and should not be contingent upon the perceived quality of a costumed representative running the field — school pride is a broader, deeper thing than that.
The sincerity and passion of University of Maine students for their school never has been, and never will be, reliant solely upon the perception of its mascot. To say that it is is both a misrepresentation of what it means to be a Black Bear and what it means to be a fan.
This outrage culture that pervades our campus is a dangerous thing. Because change is a necessary facet of running an effective, responsible and financially viable campus. It will never be a thing of the past. Change is as natural as the people who loathe it, and like them it has a right to stay.
But by making this change harder than it needs to be, by fighting development and restructuring every step of the way, students are limiting progress and slowing growth.
So no, the redesign of Bananas is not an apocalyptic event on par with the Titan’s destruction of old. It is simply another adaptation, another interpretation, of what it means to be on this campus.