From Round to Square (and back)

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Thursday, September 8, 2011

Displays of Authenticity (9)—Iowa Corn Trophy

Click here for the introduction to the Round and Square series Displays of Authenticity.
[a] Corn  RF
What could be more authentic than a good, old-fashioned football rivalry in the middle of America's heartland? The annual football game between the University of Iowa and Iowa State University is just such a storied contest. There is pigskin, turf, girth, and three yards and a cloud of dust every September in Ames or Iowa City. The folks with the nation's first presidential primary every election year also have a football rivalry on their hands, and this one doesn't take three years off after a winner is declared.

Oh, and the winner gets a trophy.

For several decades, the trophy showed a football player on the open field, defying invisible opponents and holding the ball in a precariously fumble-prone position. He is hurtling toward an enormous gold football, which blocks his path like 350 pounds of linebacker. Or a Mack® truck.

[b] Cy-Hawk RF
Last year, they decided to retire the old trophy to that big football stadium in the sky (actually, to the Iowa Hall of Pride in Des Moines). The Iowa Corn Growers' Association agreed to provide a new trophy, and it was unveiled at the Iowa State Fair in mid-August.

The reception was chilly, to say the least. The nicest negative comment was given by former University of Iowa football coach Hayden Fry, who said (I paraphrase) that the family image is nice enough, but he can't imagine how it connects to a football game. Others have been far more critical, and comments have ranged from "did this come from a garage sale?" to "get rid of it."

They did. The Iowa Corn Growers' Association is going back to the drawing board. The silvery farm family has been pulled after the first episode.

[c] Rivalry RF

All of this got me thinking about authenticity. Up until now, these posts have focused on what we might think of as "positive authenticity"—authenticity that makes us feel good (loyal dogs) or, at the very least, neutral (tip jars). There is something else going on, though. We often have very strong opinions about things that appear to be inauthentic. We seem to know it when we see it, and that is even more interesting (everything "social" is) when the dislike swells into a storm of ridicule. This topic won't go away, and I will spend large chunks of time in future posts considering displays of (frustration over) "inauthenticity."

So what goes into an authentic football trophy? The Iowa debacle has raised that question for several writers, and they are worth considering:

Authenticity. Let's keep thinking about it (and its "opposites"). Keep your eyes on this blog for the results of the storied rivalry this Saturday. We'll see what they give the winners, but perhaps that harshest comment about the unsuccessful farm family trophy was from one person who said "I thought they were going to give that one to the loser."


  1. A strange attempt at a "display of authenticity" I overheard today: a young woman sitting on the side of the street with a cooking pan, repeating the same two sentences to everyone passing by: "Help out a real panhandler. See--I'm actually handling a pan." Her plea was delivered with little emotion (to what extent was it a joke?), and got little more than strange looks from passers-by.

  2. Dear Rob,

    Many thanks for another thought provoking post.

    Authenticity and functionality's relation seems interesting to me.

    What does authentic mean anyway? I feel that "relativity" has taken care of many of such notions.