…life on the synaptic firing range

Location: Los Angeles, United States

Bent but unbroken Southern California native seeks understanding, companionship, and resonance along and off the beaten path. Teresa plays well with others and makes every effort to perform to her potential. Usually. *processed in a facility that processes nuts and nut products

Thursday, February 16, 2006

behold the friendlies

My partner mentioned the mascots of the Turin Olympics in her blog and I realized that I’d seen neither hide nor hair of them despite a fair amount of Olympic viewing. Thinking back to the Los Angeles Games in ’84, Sam the eagle was everywhere—couldn’t get away from the freakin' jingoistic bird—but this Turinese pair Neve and Gliz I wouldn’t recognize were they to jovially greet me in the middle of a well-lit piazza.

At first glance, and even several glances later, Neve and Gliz look like they would be quite at home on a marshmallow package, such is the mystery of their white heads and decided lack of edge. It’s only in reading about them that we discover their true nature: Per the official ’06 Games site, Neve is a “soft, friendly, and elegant snowball,” while Gliz is a “lively and playful ice cube.” Could they be related to the Wonder Twins? “Form of: an elegant snowball!”

I far prefer Neve and Gliz's Paralympic friend, Aster the handicapable snowflake.

Aw, give ’em a break, you might say. Maybe the Turinese were so busy pulling together those opening ceremonies—constructing the fake ice-skating cows, disembodying all those shapely legs for the upside-down laterally bifurcated chorus line, learning how to set skaters on fire just so without immolating them—that they hadn’t any time left to create mascots. Except that the choosing of the official mascots, according to the site, commenced in May 2003 with 237 submissions. Wow! There were 236 proposals suckier than Neve and Gliz? Actually, to be fair, there were 236 rejected proposals; hard to say whether they were kicked because they were sucky or because they failed to adhere to the Olympic criteria for mascots: “They must be appreciated and usable all over the world considering different cultural contexts; they must express the values of the Olympic Movement, of participation, loyalty, respect and brotherhood; they must be easy to use commercially and be flexible for a variety of two- and three-dimensional applications.” Bearing all this in mind, Neve and Gliz seem like a gimme: Marshmallows are internationally appreciable and culturally inoffensive. Marshmallows are incredibly virtuous, embodying the very essence of the Olympic Games. And, finally, they’re way marketable—everybody loves marshmallows!

Olympic mascots have always seemed like a bit of an afterthought, never achieving the visibility of those shameless shills for college and professional sports franchises. We’re only likely to see Olympic mascots if we live in the host city, or are Olympic pin collectors, or make a concerted effort to look them up—as I did this morning at Remember Magique, the snow imp of Albertville ’92? How about Hidy and Howdy, the ’88 Calgary polar bears? You may remember Izzy from Atlanta’s 1996 Games, but only because he was the most confoundingly unappealing official mascot ever. (Schuss, the 1968 Grenoble Games’ little skier with the tumorously large and oddly inexpressive head, while less appealing, was technically an “unofficial” mascot, with official mascots first coming into play four years later in Munich.)

By the way, I haven't seen the film “Munich” yet, so naturally I’m wondering, did Waldi the dachshund, mascot of the 1972 Games, make it into the movie?

Izzy, which describes as an “amorphous, abstract fantasy figure,” was so unlovable from the get-go he began to morph immediately following his debut at the closing ceremonies of the 1992 Games, where he wrested the torch from Barcelona’s Cobi, a reasonably charming cartoon dog. Says of Izzy, “Over time he grew a mouth where only lips had existed, he added stars in his eyes, bulked up and gained muscles in his previously spindly legs, and eventually sprouted a nose.” No wonder Izzy won the mascot gig—clearly the big freak had supernatural powers. (It’s worth noting that I was briefly acquainted with the media voice of Izzy, and he was a lesbian.)

We have Izzy to blame, I think, for the proliferation of mascots. Since the Atlanta Games no host country has chosen but a single entity to represent their Games. Hate one mascot? How about three? Or four? Sure, a couple of previous Games had offered up pairs of mascots—the aforementioned Hidy and Howdy, plus Lillehammer ’94’s Haakon and Kristin—but those early aberrations were more likely nods to gender equality than any attempt to hedge bets. The real bet-hedging began in 1998 at Nagano with the introduction of Sukki, Nokki, Lekki, and Tsukki—because one snow owl is never enough. reports that the snow owls were slow to grow on people but that halfway through the games “all of Japan fell madly in love with them.” (Anyone who doubts the mad love of the Japanese need only consider the strange case of Hello Kitty.)

Nagano’s originally intended mascot was a weasel named Snowple. His withdrawal remains unexplained, but I like to think he resigned in order to pursue other interests. The weasel’s agent probably reminded him that Olympic mascots are notorious flameouts, nothing but fodder for VH1’s “Where Are They Now?”

Sydney rang in the new millennium with Olly the kookaburra, Syd the platypus, and Millie the echidna, and though few people knew what an echidna was, the trio was cutish, winsome even, mascots you wouldn’t mind being stuck in an elevator with.

And our luck held through 2002, when Salt Lake City gave us Powder the snowshoe hare, Copper the coyote, and Coal the black bear—a happy little wildlife triptych anyone could get behind. Things were looking up in the realm of Olympic mascots.

But those four years of relative mascot fat were to be followed by a mandated minimum four years of lean, commencing with the arrival of Phevos and Athena, the ancient doll–inspired icons of the Athens Games. Of them the official 2004 Games site says, “Phevos and Athena are two children, simple and joyful, full of vitality and creativity, perhaps mischievous and hence lovable.” (I am perhaps mischievous, and I'm not sure it necessarily follows that I am hence lovable.) With P and A’s distorted faces, stumpy arms, and tremendous feet, less appealing mascots may seem impossible to imagine. They’re sort of Izzy times two. Neve and Gliz are admittedly a mild improvement over the Athenian kinderblobs, but they’re still squarely in the years of lean.

So, following these four years of prophesied lean, 2008 should bring great things, right? Oh, so wrong. Behold the Friendlies, the five official doll (Argh! Enough with the dolls!) mascots of the Beijing Games, unveiled in November 2005: Beibei the fish, Jingjing the panda, Huanhuan the Olympic flame, Yingying the Tibetan antelope, and Nini the swallow. THEY were chosen from a staggering 662 entries. Gawdelpus. Less appealing mascots than P and A are not only possible, they’ve foisted their scary-ass selves upon us. Avert your eyes. Save yourself.


Blogger sporksforall said...

Wow, very comprehensively disturbing. Thanks sweetie. A couple of bits to add: I know the woman who dressed up as Izzy in Atlanta and she was (at the time) an out-of-work Presbyterian minister. Vancouver (2010 Winter games) has not yet chosen its official mascots, the official site says the expect to "begin working on our plans for a mascot in 2007." Let's all play along! I'm hoping for a beaver. That said, I guess there's a push for it to be a marmot (which is beaver-like), an endangered species that could be extinct by 2010. How cool would that be--we tried to save the marmots by making them the mascot, but they died anyway. To which the Turin folks could talk about trying to save marhmallows and snowflakes. The latter task being and admittedly difficult one.

2:08 PM  
Blogger Slangred said...

A correction: marshmallows are not universally loved. Bryduck is not at all fond of them. Even without faces and the mantle of Olympic authority. They are highly entertaining in the microwave. You should try it sometime. Put a couple in for about 20 seconds and watch the fun. They blow up like balloons. Stick with the mini marshmallows, since I'm not sure how large the toasting kind might get. They do deflate once the microwave is finished.

10:06 AM  
Blogger sporksforall said...

If you want real fun, according to John Bishop, the documentary filmmaker, try Peeps in the microwave. He doesn't like 'mallows? How can he not like 'mallows?????

Sporks (who wishes she had gotten some of the Williams-Sonoma haute-mallows at Xmas time)

12:59 PM  
Blogger bryduck said...

Marshmallows? C'mon! I like my sugar sweet and obvious, not dressed up like some sort of pillowy madness.
So, it looks clear to me that the mascot industry took the truly tragic events of Munich to heart, vowing to "never forget" by leaving Waldi as the last mascot to be a cute real animal that you or I could actually have as a pet.

1:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

very hilarious blog, cyclist. From plastic pine trees to curling, it has certainly been a jaw dropping Olympics this year. Felini is rolling in his grave.
- hopskipjump from the forum (not THAT forum)

10:53 PM  
Anonymous ani said...

OMG, some of those are truly awful mascots. Forgettable. I am trying not to think where the tongue of Izzy is relative to the body of the person who is wearing his costume.

But you know, I think some of the Friendlies have cute hats. But five is too many. The entire set puts me in mind of the Teletubbies. They should have stuck with one or two.

1:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't speak for other Olympics but I have to disagree that the Mascots in Calgary were an afterthought. You did indeed find them all over the place during the games and the made many appearances in Sarajevo and in fact all over the world prior tothe olympics Calgary. The mascosts were created less than a year after Calgary was chosen for the games. I know a lot about this as a good friend of mine was one of the mascots before during and even after the games concluded. Anyhow thats my peice

1:11 PM  

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