Last Saturday, Neil’s robotics team had its annual competition at nearby Gunderson High School. The theme for this year’s challenge was based on alternative energy: with their Lego robots, each team had to complete various tasks, including getting “uranium rods” back to home base, installing a solar panel on a house, and “harvesting” (ethanol-creating) corn. I drifted in to see Neil’s team compete in one of their three rounds, since neither Kelly or I are particularly fascinated by little gadgets completing the same task over and over. In the end, Neil’s team won eighth place and an award for the most innovative design, so chances are all too good he’ll be doing this again at the state competition some early morning in January.
When I joined Peter, he pointed out the team to watch, whom I only remember as team 19. They’d gotten a near-perfect score on their first round, and continued to do quite well. He also told me about another team, the not-as-good, but rather memorably scary team, who had actually, seriously named themselves “Al Gore’s Minions,” and wore matching white button-down shirts, like religious missionaries. Their banner was a circular picture of Al Gore’s face, big enough to be recognized at a distance. Most of the robotics teams do name themselves in accordance with the challenge, but they’re innocuous and cute, like Energy Dragons, or the Greenalicious Strawberries (to name two of the teams there.)
But to name your team for a politician, to identify as his syncophant, and to wave his picture from on high? The only leaders I can think of who have had minions proud to call themselves such, and to have had portraits of themselves hung and waved from high places, are not leaders I’m comfortable with. They’re the cult of personality types like Stalin, Mao and Kim Jong-Il. And frankly, their minions make me nervous, too. Perhaps the name was meant with touch of irony or humor, but if I don’t know you personally, you can’t expect me to get it. Maybe it’s a sly, inscrutable joke; or maybe you’re a wacko who’ll kill me for not being as fanatic as you.
So needless to say, Al Gore’s Minions’ choice of team name struck us as somewhat creepy, and I don’t think we were alone. The match announcer would call them “the Al Gore guys” or “the Al Gore team,” instead of their official name. It was just really weird. And I was just glad Neil was on a team that would never even have imagined calling themselves anything like that.