From time to time, all of us should take a look at ourselves and the things that we do, say and care about and re-evaluate them.
Traditions, heritage, ideas and images that mattered to us in the past are all important. They help to form who we are as people. But that doesn’t mean that these things are free from challenge or that we shouldn’t be willing to look at them with new eyes.
There’s an ongoing controversy over the Skowhegan “Indian” mascot. Native Americans find the mascot demeaning, while some members of the community want to hold onto the name arguing that it’s important to their community identity and meant to honor the tribes.
A few radio stations this year are reluctant to play the classic holiday song, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” The song, written in the 1940s and recorded many times over by famous musicians including Dean Martin, Garth Brooks and Amy Grant, is being reconsidered in the age of the #MeToo movement due to its lyrics.
The lyrics of the song, usually performed in a duet between a man and woman, tell the story of a fellow trying to convince his date to stay with him for the night. It’s flirtatious and from a much different time. The song hasn’t aged well.
There’s a lesser controversy about the 1964 cartoon classic, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” A think piece in the online magazine HuffPost questioned whether the cartoon is still appropriate. It didn’t take long for the question to blow up as part of the annual war on Christmas in the make-believe universe created on Fox News.
The story is familiar. Rudolph is bullied and ostracized because he has a glowing red nose. The other reindeer won’t let him join in their games. There’s also a subplot about “misfit toys” that could be seen as a metaphor for people with disabilities and inclusion.
Whether the original piece was meant as a joke or not, it has launched a thousand back-and-forths, even prompting the president’s son to opine “Liberalism is a disease” in regards to the debate.
Raising tough questions about old cartoons and older songs can make easy targets for the “get off my lawn” and “get a life” attitude.
“Do you have to ruin everything?”
But why are we, as a society, so reluctant to take a new look at old ideas and cultural icons?
Perhaps there was no ill intent with the adoption of the Skowhegan Indian mascot. But in the modern context, the mascot is a hurtful, derogatory anachronism that should be retired.
When the tribes tell us that it’s not an honor, but an insult, we should listen.
Changing the mascot doesn’t take away from the community of Skowhegan or the pride members of the community feel.
As Gov.-elect Janet Mills wrote to the community last week: “The source of pride for a community is its people. While you weigh changing a symbol, I hope you will remember changing your mascot does not change you as a people.”
I know this is a tough debate for many, but changing the mascot recognizes that we can do better and that we should do better. It’s no slight on the people who have come before us to reconsider our choices.
Maybe you disagree that “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is problematic. Each of us is free to make our own music choices. But just as some radio stations don’t play songs with violent, sexual or hurtful lyrics, they are also free to reconsider even the classics. We should be able to have a conversation about whether the song is just out-of-date flirtation or, in fact, demonstrates inappropriate sexual pressure and manipulation.
And “Rudolph?” Let’s be honest. Bullying. Misfit toys. Exclusion because of physical differences. Cruelty. Anti-dentistry. Not really the message we should be sending, right?
That said, we watched “Rudolph” at my house this year (all except my 15-year-old daughter – her objection had nothing to do with the cartoon and everything to do with spending time with mom, dad and her little brother). We’ve watched it for as long as I can remember. Maybe it’s time to let it go.
It’s OK for us to look at things we like – loved and cared about – and decide it’s time for a change, particularly if our custom is hurting someone else. That’s not giving up or giving in. Instead, it’s part of humankind’s greatest strength, the ability to learn, adapt and change.