While giving self-righteous op-ed journalism the old college try and subsequently dooming this column with an opening clich?, I knew that unless I took an internship with Riggs Bank, there would eventually be some truth I wouldn’t be able to hide from the student body. In this case, it is the painful fact that I don’t know everything. Naturally, my ego splintered once I began to chase a conspiracy without definitive answers. Not that I am really an authority on anything anyway; I take classes in the Columbian School.
Since GW is, for a third straight year, listed as one of the “hottest universities” to go down in the rankings, and since my last column was a tribute to addicts, I thought I’d give a shout out column to any conspiracy theorists out there who prefer to cut class and lower the bar for us all. Thanks.
A friend of mine visiting GW, believe it or not, asked me the significance of all the ridiculous hippo paraphernalia strewn about campus. As a one-time cog in GW’s toolbox of student activists, I had an answer prepared. I submit to you, the contours of the administration’s hippo mythology.
A few summers back, I had the immeasurable luxury of hearing President Trachtenberg address a few sessions of Colonial Inauguration. We sat in awe of his glorious retelling of how once, after a trip of incalculable importance, he stopped at a quaint shop on the drive home and after splitting a six-pack of beer with the store owner, he proceeded to buy a bronze hippo.
Purportedly, after the hippo was denied residency at his house, it was moved to the corner of 21st and H streets, to stand proudly as our unofficial mascot.
To preserve the theory, students are supposed to rub the statue for good luck before an exam, although I imagine that would only distract a student considering how many times I’ve seen that hippo urinated on by overzealous Manouche-goers on a given Saturday night.
This story, like the sushi at J Street, I had the good sense to not buy. As we all know, Manouche was conveniently forced to go underground into the delivery sector, while the R. Kelly-esque droplets rained upon on our beloved statue. This coincidence alone was evidence that there was more to this hippo than publicly known.?
Upon asking a few students why the University would stray from the timelessly patriotic Colonial to this mysterious hippo, those that didn’t scoff smugly had few answers. One student speculated that a hippo was a friendlier alternative to the rogue Colonial. But as a student who uses the Hell Well during off-peak hours, I beg to differ. Zing!
So I asked, why the need for a friendlier mascot? One student surmised the mascot change was a PR move. It was clear that GW had been engaged in legal battles for colonizing much of Foggy Bottom and that any connection to colonialism would be detrimental to the University’s image during its legal proceedings with the BZA. Spicy.
A different theory revolves around the marketability of the hippo. You’ve got the $2,000 hippo stuffed animal nesting once in the bookstore lobby, the River Horse Bistro, the Hippodrome, and the various overpriced hippo bookstore tchotchkes. And perhaps a companion to the ever-popular GWopoly could be GW’s board game version of Hungry, Hungry Hippos, with each color hippo representing housing, tuition, the bookstore and Aramark all vying to consume the scattering white pellets labeled as ‘student savings.’
Another theory: Maybe the administration thought our lacking school spirit would finally galvanize if we were represented by an awe-inspiring symbol such as an asexual amphibious water beast. Makes sense. I know I am still partial to the logo in which our colonial is charging forward with a suspiciously phallic-looking Washington “monument,” looking ready to pole-vault over another tuition barrier. The possibilities seem endless.
Ultimately, I am left with no definitive answer, only fuel for the conspiracy. It’s possible we may never know the real rationale for the hippo. But in the end, as long as we have a friendly mascot at our gates, the warm pretense can continue to try to overshadow cynical theorists and somehow justify our Disneyland-high admission fees.
-The writer, a senior majoring in Middle Eastern studies, is a Hatchet humor columnist.