Friday, August 1, 2014

Why would you want Satan as a mascot?

“When you think about it, why would you want Satan as a mascot?”  This question was casually put to me twenty years ago or more by a high school student.  At the time I was the faculty moderator of a high school newspaper, and the student was leafing through a book of clip-art (do such things exist anymore?) when, in the mascot section, he came across several pages of “devils”.  I had never thought about it in those terms before, but he had a point; I’ve never since been able to consider devil logos as innocent and harmless.
     Now, there are many folks out there who will say that I’m making a big deal out of nothing.  As Catholics, however, we should know better: we of all people should understand the power of images. As I explain in an earlier post [here]:

This is something the Church has always understood: why else the great art, stained glass windows, cathedrals and Gregorian chant, the whole “smells and bells” routine?  Why else the traditional condemnation of “impure” images, and the stern warnings to steer clear of their dangers?

I go on to point out that current brain research that shows that images have a profound, often unconscious, impact on the psyche.
     In the case of mascots the connection is explicit. They are the modern-day descendants of the ancient tribal totems, which were believed to confer their most prominent qualities (e.g., the bear’s strength, the wolf’s ferocity, etc.) on the people that had adopted them.  While we no longer attribute numinous powers to them, groups still choose mascots (today mascots are often people as well as animals) because they represent certain desirable qualities that that the group would like to associate with themselves, and that they would like their members to emulate.  For example, American Indians have long been a popular mascot for athletic teams in the United States because of their reputation as brave and tenacious warriors.

     Images and logos on clothing serve a similar function for individuals: they depict things and ideas with which we want to associate ourselves, such as admired athletic teams and players, schools which we have attended, maybe a political message of some kind or some other symbol of personal importance (marijuana leaves are popular among a certain set).  The point is that we wear images on our person to tell the world something about us (and, usually, to tell ourselves something about ourselves).
     It was for this reason that my lovely bride was somewhat dismayed the other day when she went online to look for t-shirts for our children.  She visited the site of a well-known retailer that she had often used before, but found that this time a wide array of children’s clothing was adorned with skulls and similarly macabre images.  Now, I know that such images have been around for a long time, although usually only among a very narrow segment of the population; today they are becoming ever more pervasive, and less and less remarkable.  What does it say about our culture that we seem to think nothing of decorating our children, even little girls, with images of death and corruption?  What qualities are we holding up for emulation to these young people who are still forming their sense of self?
    This is the bottom line: if we surround ourselves with ugliness and grotesquerie, we shouldn't be surprised to find our world growing more ugly and grotesque; if we dress our children that way, why should we expect them to aspire to beauty and nobility?  That's no way to evangelize the world.  We need to say "no!" to the Culture of Death, even in a matter as "trivial" as a Jolly Roger t-shirt (don't they always say "the Devil is in the details"?). St. Paul tells us:

     Finally, brethren, what is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8)

Not only is that Holy Scripture, it's plain common sense.