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Why the Olympic mascots aren’t a good omen

May 21, 2010

The launch of the Olympic mascots for the 2012 games doesn’t bode well.

Not because I consider the designs to be flawed or subscribe to the view that children might find them “creepy” but instead because the negative reaction gives us a taste of how the run up to the games will be in 2012.

All this gleened from just looking at them.

And yet the ignorant dismissive tone is all too delicious for the media to ignore.

Take this line from the Daily Mail

… the duo, launched with much fanfare last night on BBC1’s The One Show, require a certain amount of explanation before they begin to make any sense …

There’s nothing wrong with them to my mind. In fact, just like 7reasons.org say, the accompanying cartoon gives the two characters – Mandeville and Wenlock – some context. The movement of the characters is fluid. They don’t speak, instead imitating the world around them. They are peculiarly and inexplicably British as well as reaching out to a global audience at the same time. Most important of their actions make me laugh.

They’re genderless and raceless. Fashioned from cast-offs from the molten steel used to build the stadium, they are ‘of’ the Olympics. They imitate sporting prowess, in turn inspiring the two kids in the film to imitate them. The characters are promoting sport – in a very loose sense – amongst the younger generation. That’s a good thing.

For my money, there’s a bedding-in period with these little characters.The photographs of the lifesize costumes don’t do them justice – no surprises the Daily Mail used those shots – like the animation cells do. Moreover, it is the cartoon which brings them to life (literally) and gives them some character.

But of course, most people won’t see that cartoon or the ones which are to follow in the run up to the games. Two days after launch the cartoon stands at 170,000 views – hardly a overwhelming endorsement.

That’s reflected in an industry poll conducted by EMR showing that over 51% provided a negative response to the mascots, 22% describing the design as “dreadful”.

But that’s what journalism about mass-appeal topics needs. It needs extremes – and ideally negative extremes – to make people read. Negativity drives traffic. Even mild satire registers page views. And if there’s just a handful of people around who may not immediately get exactly what they’re meant to be without a detailed diagram (go on, just go out on the street and ask the man with the dog whether he likes them, that’ll be enough) that’s enough to imply criticism of the work.

And that’s only going to get worse in the coming months, with everything. We’ll read more about how things aren’t working, how deadlines are being missed, how we’ll never make it in time. That’s because journalists need tension in order to tell stories.

Any failure of the mechanisms relied upon to bring what high-class sporting events to the mainstream who may not consider engaging with sport, and the entire enterprise will be deemed a failure. That’s the Olympics biggest challenge: selling the idea of the Olympics to people who had no say in hosting them. The same people who are all required to pay for them, the majority of whom don’t have an interest in either participating in sport or indeed watching any more than the opening or closing ceremonies.

So the easier point to make will be focussing on what most people understand: cost and return on investment. And the result of the inevitable negativity will be a further nail in the coffin of our collective identity. Another example of how the UK is quite crap at most things. It won’t necessarily be fair or justified. It will just be convenient. And it will get worse until the Games are over.

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2 Comments
  1. cyberguycalif permalink

    I will say they did look better once color was added to them. But either way the one that we saw on the left with the pointed legs made it look like a tooth with its roots as legs. I can’t say much about them, but I’m not sure I would want the world to see them as representing my country. But look back at some of the mascots other countries have used, who’s to say if one is really better then the other.

    If you have to spend so much time explaining to people what they are and represent, maybe something is lost between the designers mind and what the average person sees. Why do Olympics have a mascot anyway?

  2. Yeah, you are right, they are very british. The two eyes of big brother standing side by side =)
    This context was what creeped me out. Children are mostly oblivious to it, but for an adult who sometimes reads and watches news, this is REAL Britain of 2010 =)

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