Beatrice Chaudoin ’19 | Contributing Writer
His eyes bulge preternaturally out of his head. His smile gapes across the entire stretch of his face, more of a deep chasm than an expression of mirth, exposing his tongue, but no teeth to speak of. His electric orange fur hangs long and straight from his head, and his rotund torso is supported by two knock-kneed legs jammed into ice skates. He is here. He is Gritty.
Sept. 24, the Philadelphia Flyers revealed their team’s second-ever mascot, writing that he inherited some of his personality from his (presumably deceased) father, describing him as “talented but feisty, a fierce competitor, known for his agility given his size. He's loyal but mischievous; the ultimate Flyers fan who loves the orange and black, but is unwelcoming to anyone who opposes his team.” Gritty’s introduction was met initially by disgust, fear and anger — the first stages of grief — but Twitter users quickly moved on to the fifth and final stage: memes.
Gritty was quickly taken up by some circles on Twitter as a potential comrade, with his bedraggled fur, crass and chaotic demeanor and eyes that literally spin in their sockets speaking to a certain anti-establishment current.
Soon, Gritty was reclaimed as a “leftist icon.” People created images of Gritty punching Pepe the Frog (a common far-right symbol online) emblazoned with the words “Good Night Alt-Right.” A picture of Gritty grinning blankly with text that reads, “To punish the oppressors of humanity is clemency; to forgive them is cruelty — Gritty.” Another image tinted red with a quote from Karl Marx: “When our turn comes, we shall not make excuses for the terror.” Gritty already seems to be following this advice; at a recent game, he was sent to the penalty box and then broke the glass.
The Philadelphia City Council recognized Gritty’s emerging status when they officially welcomed him in a recent resolution, noting that “while the initial reaction to Gritty’s entry into the public eye was negative, he has persevered and become an icon of hope and resistance.” The resolution also noted that Gritty had been described as “a 7-foot tall orange hellion, a fuzzy eldritch horror, a ghastly empty-eyed Muppet with a Delco beard, a cross of Snuffleupagus and Oscar the Grouch, a deranged orange lunatic, an acid trip of a mascot, a shaggy orange Wookiee-esque grotesquerie, a non-binary leftist icon, an orange menace, a raging id and an antihero.”
Despite Gritty’s new status as an “anti-capitalist mascot,” others have questions. On Oct. 25, the Flyers checked into the Ritz-Carlton in Boston, crossing the picket line for the ongoing strike. Marriott workers across the country have been on strike for several weeks now, demanding, among other things, better wages, hours and healthcare. The Flyers, like all National Hockey League teams, are represented by the NHL Players Association, which is a union. How can Gritty be a leftist icon if his team refuses to support the workers’ struggle?
UNITE HERE — a labor union representing workers primarily in the tertiary sector of the economy — president Brian Lang, speaking with Boston Magazine, had an answer: “If Gritty was real,” he said, “Gritty never would have let his team go through the picket line… It’s a symbol that has been fabricated by a greedy organization to manipulate the sentiment, the genuine sentiment, of pride in being working class in the city of Philadelphia.” The Gritty drama never ends.
Lang wasn’t buying what Gritty was selling, and perhaps we shouldn’t be either. “Philadelphia has a rich and strong and proud history of working class people, strong unions and working class traditions, and so management tried to capitalize on it,” Lang said. “And they even have a mascot. Clearly it’s a disingenuous mascot because the decision-makers for the Flyers could give two hoots about working-class struggle.” This ongoing debate behind what Gritty stands for just goes to show how complicated and nuanced the meanings behind mascots are.