How Philadelphia Flyers Hockey Mascot, Gritty, Became a Leftist Icon

Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

"As for why he resonates with leftists specifically: anarchy and rage are inherent to Gritty’s public persona"

"Getting attention from mainstream news and the general public is a high priority for leftist organizers, because their message is so often muted or challenged by corporate media."

As one of the oldest cities in America, Philadelphia is an ancestral home of this country’s political culture. Throughout its tumultuous history — from a site of revolutionary anger in the earliest days of this country to the proud, post-manufacturing metropolis it is today — you can find the story of the United States, writ small. That’s also probably why the city takes its teams so seriously: this was, in a real sense, the birthplace of America, and what’s more American than taking sports too seriously?

This year, the Philadelphia Flyers, the city’s hockey team, debuted its second-ever attempt at a mascot: Gritty, a shaggy orange wookiee-esque grotesquerie who, in his first appearance on the ice, fell directly on his ass — and into America’s meme-addled heart. Gritty’s popularity exploded online, across sports media and beyond; his giant, googly, unblinking eyes conveyed an unhinged, anarchic glee that inspired a raft of memes.

In Philadelphia, of course, Gritty made the biggest splash of all. Online the city and its residents instantly claimed him as an icon, one that represented its own rough and tumble personality — as one person put it, “We’re scrappy fighters. And our city is dirty as hell.”

But it was Philly’s activist left communities, in particular, who took that memeified characterization and ran with it: Gritty communicates the absurdity and struggle of modern life under capitalism, while bearing that weight cheerfully, striving to better the lives of his comrades. Within a week of his debut, the mascot had shown up on a banner at an anti-Trump protest. There and elsewhere online — in meme groups and leftist forums — the messages were always the same: Gritty is for the people. They were different from the other Gritty fans, because to them he’s more than a mascot; his very existence symbolizes the absurd contradictions of the modern condition that the left rails against. Or maybe that’s going too deep. Perhaps the left loves Gritty for the reasons everyone does — because they need him.

Whatever the reason, the Philly left’s immediate embrace of Gritty was effective and convincing enough to warrant a pearl-clutching op-ed in The Wall Street Journal. “Appropriation, indeed,” writer Jillian Kay Melchior begins the last paragraph in her piece. “Gritty belongs to Philadelphia, not to far-left activists. Still, in an era when everything from Nike and the NFL to your local restaurant is a political battlefield, this development is as predictable as it is sad. Not only can’t we have nice things, we can’t even have silly, creepy things.”

“To be perfectly honest, I think that the Philly leftist community just really needs an ally right now,” says the writer P.E. Moskowitz, when I reach them over the phone. Moskowitz is a member of the Philly Socialists (and someone I’ve known socially and professionally for a number of years) who moved to Philadelphia in 2015; ever since, they’ve been a part of its burgeoning left community, as one of the main organizers behind the city’s Occupy ICE campaign and as a participant in a number of demonstrations.

“We’ve had a lot of wins, and a lot of good shit happen, but it’s also been kind of dismaying to see the state so violent,” Moskowitz says, referring to the harsh way Philadelphia police broke up the Occupy ICE encampment. “So when Gritty came along, it was just this weird mascot… non-binary leftist icon, whatever you want to call him — or them — that was just… They seemed so weird and crazy, and I feel like a lot of leftists can identify with feeling a little weird and crazy. Both huggable, but also potentially insurrectionary or violent. Like Gritty is fluffy, but he has something else going on in his eyes.”

Read full article at The Verge

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