Inside the Mind of The Football Mascot

The mind games behind why Huddersfield Town have ditched their old mascot - a tatty old terrier for a buff young pup.
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The mind games behind why Huddersfield Town have ditched their old mascot - a tatty old terrier for a buff young pup.

One of my younger students, into the sport of 'football', sent me the following video the other day: It related, he told me, to the reasons behind Huddersfield Town's change of mascot. He described it as 'crushing', but reaching for my copy of James Frazer's Golden Bough, I find Huddersfield Town's film makes good sense.

I remember once attending an interesting lecture about "intellectual parricide": about how scientists who wanted to make a name for themselves often engaged in violent attacks on their former mentors, the better to assert their own independence. It was a sort of Bloomian "Anxiety of Influence" argument, albeit executed (boom boom) without explicitly drawing on Bloom, or, for that matter, Oedipus Rex.

A similar thing happens here. But given that the "new" Terry - call him Terry2 - isn't the author of this attack, I think a new interpretation is called for. The audience here are the key to understanding the film.

Mascots clearly play a totemic role - I'm sure there's much anthropological literature on the continuities between totem belief systems and the symbolic role of the mascot or standard. The mascot comes to embody and personify (ironic sounding, I know) the "spirit" of the team, and hopes are invested transitively within the mascot. The mascot is an animal chosen to capture some element of positive relation between the team and the characteristics the team wants to validate in itself. Here, the terrier is tenacity, and strength out of proportion to size. The mascot is anthropomorphised, becomes chimerical. The mascot is the vessel into which hopes are poured.

But the mascot in this capacity is also vulnerable: a "scapegoat" - carrying the sins of the people, and whose execution or exile absolves the people (as the swine in whom Legion inheres are driven over the Galilean bluff).

So the film does several things: it seeks to divest the team of "bad" spirits thru proxy exorcism, and with the old mascot discredited, to insert a new mascot into the vacant role.

"The mascot is also vulnerable: a “scapegoat” - carrying the sins of the people, and whose execution or exile absolves the people."

Belief in the old "godhead" must be eroded before the new godhead can be validated: lingering affection for Terry1 must be converted to contempt. Admiration must be converted to mockery. We see a similar situation in the lampooning of political figures by caricaturists or oppressed people (burning Hitler effigies, for example, or Chaplin's Great Dictator).

So the film is occupied with the discrediting of Terry1, the better to elect Terry2.

The curious thing is that the film doesn't explain *why* Terry1 was sacked, simply *that* he was, and Terry1 doesn't actually exhibit any signs of weakness until the deposition. He isn't deposed *because* he is weak, but his deposition nonetheless reveals his weakness.

In this respect, the film's mythological structure is almost Jobian: what we are witnessing is Terry1's failure to cope with trial. His latent weakness, previously untested, has been exposed. The speed and totality of Terry1's collapse discloses failings previously unseen. At the end, with Terry1 entirely broken, we realise that we were ourselves mistaken: he was always an unworthy mascot, and our gratitude and affections are transferred to Terry2, and transitively to the manager who wisely revealed Terry1 for what he was: a false god.

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