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Steely McBeam Will Die for Our Sins 

Friends, Pittsburghers, county residents, I come not to praise Steely McBeam, but to bury him. Right after holding a Full Metal Jacket-style Terrible Towel Party, where he is beaten savagely with yellow terrycloths wrapped around bars of soap.

That's what you want to hear, right? Everyone hates the new Steelers mascot, an overdrawn steelworker toting a somewhat flaccid I-beam.

Well, maybe not everyone: The Steelers claim "Steely" signed more than 100 autographs a day during training camp. (Though in fairness, some of those signatures may have been on his own death warrant.) And the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette seems smitten. "The Steelers' introduction of Steely McBeam -- surely he will become Big Mac to the fans -- is a bit of fun and a good way to celebrate a Pittsburgh institution's 75th year," the paper burbled in an Aug. 11 editorial. "Even the name is inspired -- a blend of steel history and the Irish heritage of the Rooney family."

But that just goes to show: There's no set of cleats that the boosterish P-G editorial board -- "Big Flack" to its fans -- won't lick.

Let's just say the obvious and get that out of the way. I don't know where the P-G editorial board sits when it goes to games. But no one who has sat in section 535 could ever think people just want "a bit of fun" at a Steelers game. It is serious business, and if you're not in your seat by kickoff, the fat dude in the Lambert jersey rags on you in front of everyone. OK?

Second of all, here's what everyone other than the editorial board and the Steelers front office understands:

A team that prides itself on a no-bullshit attitude can't have a mascot ... because mascots are bullshit.

A Steelers mascot isn't silly, or irrelevant ... it is a contradiction in terms. Steely McBeam is the "Piss Christ" of mascots. Like Andres Serrano's photo of a crucifix immersed in urine, Steely insults the belief system its imagery borrows from.

Come to think of it, Steely embodies the same mistake made by every attempt to market Pittsburgh's identity. In one way or the other, all these "regional branding" campaigns have sought to convince people of the city's "authenticity" -- its plain-folks neighborhoods, solid work ethic, proud history, and so on. But the minute you try to base a marketing campaign on authenticity, it ceases to be authentic. I don't know why this stuff is so hard for local boosters to understand.

All that said, isn't there something a little over-the-top about the Steely bashing?

It's not like a taboo has been violated here. During the 1970s, the Steelers had the towel-shaped "Terrible Fan" mascot. Somehow we found a way to enjoy those Super Bowl seasons regardless. And from the mid-1980s through the mid-1990s the team had "Stevie Steeler." Those were terrible years, but Stevie is largely forgotten -- probably because his antics were overshadowed by the other guys with foam-rubber limbs and overstuffed heads: quarterbacks Mark Malone and Bubby Brister.

Perhaps the problem lies not just in our mascots, but in ourselves.

Judging from the preseason, our offensive line -- the heart of that vaunted "smashmouth" offense -- is a question mark. There's talk of ... of ... relying on the pass. As for the fans, a sizable chunk of them appear to be either retired, or capable of lifting nothing heavier than a computer mouse. So when it comes to square-jawed toughness, about all that separates Pittsburgh from any other place these days is ... we don't have a mascot.

Our team is defined by an industry we no longer have; our fans, not surprisingly, got used to being represented by a mascot that didn't exist. And we certainly don't want one that presents a camped-up version of our own past. It's still too near for us to be ironic about, the way Cowboys or Buccaneers fans might be.

The point of a mascot is to inspire passion, to symbolize the spirit of a team and its city. Steely McBeam, and the hatred he inspires, reflects our own ambivalence about who we are and where we're going, our inability to let go of or fully embrace the Pittsburgh myth. In that sense, he's the perfect Pittsburgh mascot.

And for that, he must die.

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