For now, at least, Prospector Pete, formally known as “The Forty-Niner Prospector,” is still perched at his longtime home, in the plaza outside Liberal Arts Building 5, where, according to the Cal State Long Beach website, he “stands in representation of the school mascot and of the drive toward greatness.”
OK, for one thing, he’s sitting. For another, he’s now termed “an icon of genocide,” by Craig Stone, the American Indian Studies director and professor, and there are plenty who agree with Stone’s assessment. Enough to put Pete on Mascot Death Row, where he will join other ousted, X’s-for-eyes mascots as the University of Illinois’ Chief Illiniwek, the Cleveland Indians’ Chief Wahoo and Nebraska Wesleyan’s Plainsman.
More terminally, Pete was declared legally dead on Thursday, when university president Jane Close Conoley announced the de-mascoted statue is to be relocated from its place in the plaza to an alumni center, which is set to be built starting in the spring, because nobody loves Prospector Pete as much as alumni who, if they had their way, would prefer the university go back to its ancient name of Long Beach State College (or even farther back to its original name of Salinas-Orange County State College) and still have cigarette vending machines.
Things are getting even more goofy, with students and administration giving the university’s marketing department a severe case of shingles. Tim White, the CSU Chancellor, in an effort to disentangle the debaters in issues involving human-inspired mascots nationwide by simply decreeing that there be no more university mascots based on people, which is wise, because the human has yet to be born who doesn’t come with some sort of tawdry history, should one dig deep enough.
And, perhaps worst of all, is Conoley’s announcement that the name “49ers” no longer references the Gold Rush era 1849, but rather, 1949, the year the college was founded. To be clear, you can still call students and athletes “49ers,” but in your head you should be thinking of the Truman-era “49ers,” rather than the greedy and murderous ones from a century earlier.
In terms of picking up Pete the Statue and moving him, the only thing that accomplishes is moving an icon of genocide from one place on campus to another. So, since the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 prohibits reducing Pete to tiny pieces, the best way to de-iconize him as a proponent of genocide is simply to rename the sculpture as “Area Man Sitting Around Doing Nothing.”
There’s not a thing wrong with sitting around doing nothing. As I’m constantly having to remind my fleet of editors, the biggest part of writing is not writing.
In fact, renaming the mascot would allow the statue, once-renamed, to remain a mascot. The Area Man Sitting Around Doing Nothing would be an easy job for whichever student is saddled with playing the role of mascot at sporting events. He’d just sit on a rock on the sidelines killing time until the game’s over, while the Cal State Long Beach/California State University, Long Beach/Long Beach State University/Long Beach State College Fighting Do Nothings battled the University of Irvine’s Anteaters or the Stanford Cardinal on the court or field, except in baseball, where the Do Nothings are called the Dirtbags. Nomenclature isn’t the university’s strong suit.
But my considered advice has been pre-dismissed by Chancellor White. In blackballing humans, regardless of their level of ambition and energy, he has killed that idea even quicker than we came up with it.
Prospector Pete’s successor, whether it’s some sort of crawling creature or spectacular flora, or color or compound noun, will have to go through a year’s worth of rigorous vetting and background checks before it’s loosed on the student body and community.
It’s easy to predict the wrath to come from alumni, and just as easy to predict the barrage of gripes and outrage expressed by those who still insist there’s nothing wrong with glorifying bad, immoral or even deadly behavior from history. Because we’ve changed now, right?
Not that much, no, and that’s why the decision to replace Prospector Pete with a non-human makes sense. We are a flawed species and none of us meets modern-day’s relentlessly resolute mascot criteria.
Support our journalism.
Hyperlocal news is an essential force in our democracy, but it costs money to keep an organization like this one alive, and we can’t rely on advertiser support alone. That’s why we’re asking readers like you to support our independent, fact-based journalism. We know you like it—that’s why you’re here. Help us keep hyperlocal news alive in Long Beach.