All mascots are created equal, but some are more equal than others!
While surf- er, researching today, I found the official Olympic listing of all former mascots, via this pro-Fuwa slate.com article. Let me tell you, some countries are much better at this mascot thing than others. Witness this monstrosity:
Seriously, would you want your kids playing with Vuchko, the wolf from Sarajevo? He's not even cute - these real wolves look cuter! Instead, he looks more like one of those harassed canines in the zoo who put up with annoying kids yelling and throwing stuff at the cage and all the while they long desperately to tear their tender little heads off and consume them in a bloody, vicious massacre. Sadly, he knows he can't and this has made him grumpy and crotchety. Poor Vuchko, I'm not going to play with you.
The Albertville Winter Olympics in 1992 proved to us exactly why human shaped mascots are wrong, wrong, wrong. This is supposed to be a star-shaped person, and it is. But it doesn't evoketwinkling stars or any person I want to know. It looks fat and squishy and not like anything I'd think of when I think of the Olympics. This star dude is no athlete. Look, it's even wearing a dunce cap, and that can't be a good sign.
Cobi, the Barcelona Summer Olympic mascot is pretty awful also. He's a dog - can you tell? I couldn't. He looks like a businessman with a large wen on the side of his face to me.* I thought,that I would learn to find it cute since it has a vague Wallace and Grommit-esque vibe to it but I've never gotten over the fact that this looks like something an artsy-fartsy witty person trying to be cute would draw. No kid is begging to have this. It's not as overtly frightening as poor Vuchko, but he's disturbing in a move vague, unformed way. Supposedly his creator was stoned at the time of his conception. That explains a lot.
Hodori isn't half bad as far as Olympic mascots go. On the plus side his species something about the location where the games were held, and most importantly does not creep me out. There's nothing sinister or weird about him. I don't have nightmares about Hodori coming to life and chasing me through my apartment with a stiletto. My only complaints are that it's a little too busy with the hat and the medals, and more importantly that while the tiger itself represents Korea, the design doesn't. It's a pretty generic cartoon tiger that could have come from anywhere. On the other hand, while I know lots of people hate it, check out how distinctively Korean the new Seoul thingamabob looks.
On the other hand, my love for Waldi is complete and total. The Munich native I think hits exactly the right note: colorful and charming and simple. Oh, and immediately identifiable. No one needs to ask what kind of animal Waldi is, or even what breed. That there be a dachshund! It's cute without being cutesy, so adults won't feel ridiculous toting this thing around with them. He's kind of like an Ikea product in the good sense that he's clean, simple, and adorable (but needs no assembly, praise God!) I really, really, really want to have this plush doll. Plus, it reminds me of Balla's "Dynamism on a Dog Leash" which is a pretty cool thing to visually reference.
USA! USA! USA!
No talk of Olympic mascots could be complete without mentioning the very worst mascot of all: Izzy. The first computer-designed mascot, he's supposed to be an "amorphous abstract fantasy figure" and hence the name, derived from "What is it?" I think he's the graphic representation of pure evil. This is the end result of American ingenuity? A blue sperm-like figure wearing sneakers? I say we blame him for everything that went wrong in that particular Olympics.
Of course, I'm skipping many a mascot: The graphically pleasing but unidentifiable Algonquin beaver Amik from Montreal, the so-American-it-hurts "Sam the Eagle" (the real Sam should sue for defamation, but I guess he's too busy as the mascot for the American Mens' Soccer Team), the Gibli-esque cutesy-creepy Nagano snowlets, and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man's bastard child from Innsbruck . . . you can find them all at the official Olympic site (where I stole all these wonderful pictures.)
And this year's mascots, the Fuwa? I love them! First, they're very well designed - bright and graphic and easily recognizable. They're also pretty damn Chinese looking. They're cute, but not so much I want to gag (I'm looking at you, Calgary!) and with five, kids have more chances to fight over who gets the red one and who gets stuck with the fish. Also, there's something extra fun about cursed mascots, don't you think? Not to diminish the tragedies in China this year, but hey! at least they have something cute and fuzzy to take the blame! People outside of China though have really taken to them, and started using them in new and hilarious ways. These are the ultimate mascots! I am waiting with baited breath for them to become more and more subversive, too - I hope the Tibetan independence movement steals Yingying for their own, and has him use his horns to gorge and slash his way to freedom.
And for the complete geeks among us, I strongly recommend taking a look at the Olympic pictograms. It's an absolutely fascinating collection.
*when I was in elementary school I read a folktale in which a Japanese woodcutter with a huge wen dances with a bunch of demons who like his dancing so much they decide keep his wen as collateral so he'll come back and do it again the next night. He tricked his evil neighbor into going in his stead, who got stuck with the wen. Query: Why are there so many woodcutters running around in folktales? Query: Why isn't the considered the evil one for tricking his neighbor? I think the story said that the neighbor was greedy or some such, but really, is that any excuse for sending a fellow village person to get danced around by demons and then given a facial deformity?