Author Archives: Harrison Roberts

Trojan Marching Band: Old Navy, A Drumline Tradition

Background: The Trojan Marching Band is known as Hollywood’s Band for its many, many appearances in tv, movies, and advertisements. They have appeared in shows like Glee and Scrubs, movies like Forrest Gump, and programs like the Black Entertainment Television (BET) Awards. Through these connections, the band has also taken part in various events for companies around the world. In 2014, Gap Inc. hired the TMB drumline to perform for the grand opening of their largest Old Navy store in Shanghai, China. The informant, CN, relays this story how he was told it.

Main Piece: Because the Trojan Marching Band has a particular brand and logo, most companies won’t want to pay for the rights for those or have the band’s uniform tied to their advertisements. CN tells me that most companies have them simply cover up their TMB logos with tape, wear their harnesses, or wear something entirely different. For the Old Navy performance, Gap Inc. supplied the drumline with specially made covers meant to go over both the uniform and harness that would blend in and bear the Old Navy logo instead of the TMB one (Pictures can be found Here). 

Drumline members in Shanghai playing for the Old Navy gig in 2014. Note that the Old Navy covers are over the drum harnesses, and seem to blend into the uniform.

After the gig, CN said that the drumline got to keep some of those covers, but that they didn’t have anything to do with them. That is until a member of the drumline had the idea to use one of the remaining Old Navy vests as a form of punishment for freshmen. At the start of Saturday morning rehearsals, which is at 7:34am, whoever is the last freshman cymbal player to arrive has to wear Old Navy for the entire Saturday morning practice. As time went on, Old Navy got dirtier and dirtier, but no one ever washed it. Now, CN says that the drumline still uses the Old Navy tradition to give incentive for freshman cymbal players to show up as early as possible. The cymbals often receive the most freshmen out of any subsection of the drumline, so it’s important to the upperclassmen to make sure the freshmen have a reason to show up on time. Certainly, wearing a dirty, smelly vest over your clothes early in on a Saturday morning can’t be enjoyable, so freshmen have to learn to plan ahead to avoid it.

Context: Old Navy is a piece of the TMB’s history in that it marked a drumline trip to China for a big advertisement gig, but it also appears regularly through the Old Navy tradition. Every Saturday from 7:34am to 10:00am the TMB practices, even on game days, and punctuality is paramount for these early morning rehearsals.

Thoughts: I believe that Old Navy is used primarily for humiliation to teach freshmen “to be early is to be on time.” By CN’s account, the smell isn’t really that bad and the thick cover can help to prevent a new cymbal player from accidentally pinching their skin and clothes between the cymbals. Humiliation as a driving force can push freshmen to wake up earlier than their peers and spark a sort of competition of punctuality. 

Annotation: Band Bangs the Drums in Shanghai https://studentaffairs.usc.edu/usc-band-bangs-the-drums-in-shanghai/ 

Afghanistan: Mullah Joke and Religious Rigidity

Context: TA is a 71 year old clan head in Afghanistan and served as the Minister of International Relations for a previous president of Afghanistan. In this joke, he mentions Mullahs, which are educated Muslim men who often teach the religion. In the joke, TA discusses differences in religious rigidity.

Main Piece: The following joke was told to TA about six or seven years ago from some students he encountered in an Afghan village. He told me that the joke is primarily about religious rigidity, and it makes fun of how some people are too rigid with religious beliefs. 

Transcript:

TA: Some boys, their fathers send them to the temple on Fridays to listen to some recitation from the Holy Book. And then the Mullah also tries to teach them religion. And he was telling the boys, “If at any time you have a crush on a woman or someone, you must go and take a bath because you’re not clean and you have to be clean to offer worship… you won’t be able to do that if you have a crush on the woman or you see her in a dream. But the thing is even if you have a dream, you’re dreaming of another woman and you’re dreaming of having sex with her. You must go, even if you don’t have any intimate relations with her, just go and tell her so that she also takes a bath.” So some young guys, they’re smart guys, and they wanna make fun of him. So the next morning he goes and he knocks on the Mullah’s door, he says “I’m sorry to say this, but last night I had a dream, and I had your wife with me in the dream. If you could please ask your wife to take a bath.” So the guy is very angry, but he can’t say anything because that’s what he taught them. And the next day he goes and talks to him again, and the Mullah says “what now?” And the guy says “Well, Mullah, you take a bath please.”

[Laugh together]

HR: Do you know, where did you first hear that joke?

TA: I was in a village in Afghanistan just a few years ago, 6-7 years ago, these were students I was talking to, and they told me this story…

HR: Do you think that this was a joke told to make fun of religion in general? Like how in the US we like to make fun of Catholic priests for some of the same things?

TA: Not so much in general, but it’s just about the rigidity… some people see religion as very rigid, and others don’t.

Thoughts: I think that the humor in it is similar to the humor in making fun of Western religious teachings. Whenever religion is so rigid that it locks people into hard rules for their lives, it invites them to challenge that authority through humor. This joke provides a divergence from religious culture while tying into the direct punchlines of other Afghan jokes.

Trojan Marching Band: Band Names

Context: Initiates in the Trojan Marching Band all receive a special nickname known as a “Band Name.” Traditions surrounding band names vary by sections. Some sections, like the drumline, name all of their initiates by the end of the first two weeks, others wait until the end of the semester, and most sections name throughout the semester whenever they come up. Band names can be chosen for just about anything that the section finds humorous about the initiate, and they’re often puns that combine multiple aspects of that person. 

Main Piece: My informant, CN, told me the story of his name, “Tiny Dancer”. When he was a freshman, used to make small dance movements when he talked as a way of gesticulating. At one point, one of his classmates decided to quit the line by not showing up to a practice. When another member pressed him on where that classmate went, he recounts that he said “She’s *gone. Like, she’s not coming *back”  (with gesticulations at every *), but the drill instructor didn’t understand what he meant. His upperclassmen thought this was funny, so in reference to an Elton John song, they named him Tiny Dancer. 

There’s also a sort of ritual about how naming becomes official. CN told me that, when the upperclassmen have decided to name you, they take your lanyard that holds your printed name and band logo. That night, they flip it to the blank side and draw a picture to represent your name, and the next day after sectional practice ends they will keep everyone back. They call the initiate to the front of the group, and say something like “Due to constant dancing on the field with tiny dance moves and wearing different kinds of sunglasses, the drummer formally known as CN shall henceforth and forever be known as Tiny Dancer.” The exact phrase “The [player] formally known as [parent given name] shall henceforth and forever be known as [band name]” is consistently used to mark the transition from non-band member to band member. 

Band names are not only the mark of induction into the band, but they’re also legitimate nicknames. CN tells me that most of his friends in the band call him “Tiny” instead of his parent given first name, and those friends often introduce him to others as Tiny. In CN’s words “Band names become a part of our identity…” and when his band friends call him by his first name it feels off. As a way of cementing band names into the band member’s identity, even when the band name doesn’t stick as a functioning nickname, whenever someone says something that references someone’s band name, they “take a lap” (See Trojan Marching Band: Band Camp Traditions).

Thoughts: Nicknames are a common and simple form of folklore, especially when the nicknames are tied to a liminal, or transitional, periods. Traditions involving nicknames of initiates often mark a level of acceptance into a group. This is just as true in the Trojan Marching Band, where members in their first year in the band receive a band name. I believe that the concept of band names is both interesting and consistent with previous analysis that humor is often a medium for liminal periods. By accepting a band name that jokes about an aspect of one’s personality, one can be better accepted into the group because they’ll know more about the humor that group expects from them. From the perspective of the TMB, band names can function as a sort of alternate identity that links everyone in the band to something greater. Where once there were a few hundred instrument-playing students, there are now a few hundred band members, and that distinction is made in part through band names, among other traditions.

Trojan Knights: Rivalry Week and Tommy Watch

Context: The week of the football game between LA rivals USC and UCLA is known as “Rivalry Week” or “Conquest,” and during it the students of both schools spend the whole week getting excited for the big game. Rivalry Week has a history between the schools of serious pranks being committed, many of which are detailed in other archive posts. Informant MF, a member and prior Archivist of the Trojan Knights, instead describes the traditional measures that the Knights take to prevent pranks.

Main Piece: During Rivalry Week, the Trojan Knights practice the tradition of Tommy Watch. Informant MF says that it probably started during the 40s, since that was the height of the prank war between USC and UCLA. Even after the prank war ended, there’s still a lot of tensions around Rivalry Week because “if someone’s gonna do something stupid, they’ll do it then.” During Tommy Watch, the Knights will set up a tent around the Tommy Trojan statue on Trousdale Parkway and cover him (as well as other prominent statues on USC’s campus) with duct tape to prevent anyone from painting or messing with him. They also build a dog house for the George Tirebiter statue to protect him since he’s on the edge of campus. 

The Knights will then guard Tommy Trojan and Traveler for the entire week. Knights take shifts so they can stay 24 hours a day for the whole week, and as a community students and faculty will bring the Knights on Tommy Watch food. To MF’s knowledge, Tommy Watch has always successfully stopped prank attempts during Rivalry Week, and so the tradition continues to prevent future pranks that might cost the school thousands in damages. 

Thoughts: I think that Tommy Watch itself is a good representation of the good that can come from heated school rivalries. While pranks are flashy, they’re also damaging and can easily go too far. Tommy Watch allows the USC community to work together with the Knights to protect the icons that USC maintains, thus furthering the feelings of school spirit between students. 

Trojan Knights: USC Mascots

Context: USC’s first mascot was the Fighting Methodists or Fighting Wesleyans because USC was originally a private Methodist institution. In 1947, the mascot was voted on and changed to George Tirebiter, a stray dog. In 1961, the mascot was changed yet again to Traveler, the white horse on which Tommy the Trojan rides. Traveler remains the school’s mascot to this day, but informant MF discusses the Trojan Knights’ role in changing the mascot, as well as the traditions surrounding them. 

Main Piece: From 47-61, the school mascot was a dog named George Tirebiter. He was a stray dog that was adopted by the Trojan Knights, and eventually USC ran a student vote for their new mascot. The student body dubbed him their official mascot, changing from the Fighting Methodists and Wesleyans. Tirebiter was a bit of a character, as MF says, and he was loyal to USC and the Knights that took care of him. There are several stories already posted in the archive which detail Tirebiter’s history and legends. One of the stories MF relayed to me was about a famous moment where Tirebiter bit the nose of UCLA’s mascot after the Bruin taunted him on the field. MF says that there have been four or five George Tirebiters over the decade that he was USC’s mascot, since the first Tirebiter was a stray and became too old after a few years. 

When it came time to move on from George Tirebiter as the mascot, the Trojan Knights once again influenced the choice and its traditions. The first time a horse was ridden around the stadium, it was actually a Knight. The knight was ridding the horse around the track field of the old Coliseum, which became a tradition that was eventually adapted by the university into Traveler. The tradition has historically been that a Knight will ride the horse around the Coliseum at the football games, even though currently the rider isn’t a Knight. Like George Tirebiter, every few years a new horse has been dubbed Traveler and acted as the school mascot.

Thoughts: I think that school mascots are a way of unifying the student body behind a character. Mascots, like statues shrines, give people a model to remember and a symbol to root for. USC often makes reference to the ideals of a Trojan, and the use of Tommy the Trojan and Traveler as symbols for the student body create opportunities to instill community values, even if they’re as simple as “Fight On!” The Knights’ role in creating these traditions, as well as their contributions to USC’s school spirit, make them irreplaceable as a historical organization for maintaining USC’s traditions.