From punchline to political icon: Sociologist studies the rise of Gritty

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — A sociologist is devoting her scholarly attention to a true Philly phenomenon: Gritty. 

Dr. Carolyn Chernoff is perhaps best known for once teaching a course on the rise and fall of Miley Cyrus. But now, her focus is on Gritty. 

Co-opted images of the googly-eyed Flyers mascot have been seen at Philly protest marches and in countless memes.

“This is an unusual mascot,” Chernoff said. “It’s not just goofy. It sort of quickly has gathered this strong political story and that’s something that I’m really interested in.”

Chernoff has received a grant from Moore College of Art and Design to explore the emergence of Gritty into Philadelphia’s social and political consciousness.

When Gritty was introduced in September 2018, he was immediately trashed as creepy by Philly sports fans. But Chernoff said Gritty became a viral sensation once Philadelphians united to defend Gritty from national ridicule.  

“As soon as everybody else started jumping on Gritty, like most of the rest of Philly, I was like, ‘Oh no. You shut your mouth. Don’t talk about our mascot,’ ” she said.

Shortly after Gritty was unveiled, the Pittsburgh Penguins tweeted, “lol ok.” Chernoff said the bond between Gritty and Philadelphia was sparked by Gritty’s now-famous Twitter response: “Sleep with one eye open tonight, bird.”

“Because Gritty had a social media presence that understood and reflected the soul of Philly, which is basically, ‘Penguins, we will eat you!’ — that made a huge difference,” Chernoff said.

Chernoff said she noticed a surge in people dressing up in orange furry costumes the Halloween after Gritty’s debut.

“I suspected this was a little bit different from ‘I am a hockey fan and so I dress up as my beloved mascot,’ ” she said.

Chernoff's research will focus on how Gritty emerged as a social symbol and political icon. In addition to interviews, she’s studying Gritty memes, online groups, and even Etsy artists who sell Gritty creations. Chernoff said her research will likely take the form of a book-length project.​