An American spectacle: College mascots and the performance of tradition

Jennifer Elizabeth Guiliano
Dept. of History, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
July, 2010
Full text (external site)


"An American Spectacle: College Mascots and the Performance of Tradition" seeks to understand how college football and its attendant events (termed here "An American Spectacle") became a vehicle for cultural production by individuals and institutions in specifically raced, gendered, and classed ways. It asks what was the role of this "American Spectacle" in the articulation of individual and group identities at sites across the United States and outlines the individual aspects of the spectacle: bands and musical performances, newspaper writers and narratives of athletics, artistic production and commercial athletic identity, student publications and University identity, and the rituals of performance. In each instance the fundamental exploration is guided by consideration of how individuals and institutions constituted, transformed, and transmitted ideas of Indian mascotry within the spectacle of college football. This dissertation then asks these central questions: How and why were Native Americans represented as sports mascots? What cultural work did these images perform? How did these written narratives, visual images, and live performances create a tradition of performance that branded college football as "an American spectacle?" In answering these questions, "An American Spectacle" vividly illustrates a uniquely American story of race, class, identity, and community that argues for the framing of a complex set of institutions that are uniquely shaped by industrialism, commercialism, capital acquisition and expression, mass democracy, and the nation-state. An innately political practice that, while recognizing multiple identities, privileged young, male, white, middle-class, and athletic as powerful and transmitted those ideas via various networks, this dissertation ultimately reveals a uniquely American spectacle.