Olympic mascots: Creative, cartoonish, at times contentious
BEIJING — The panda mascot of the Beijing Video games has been an enormous success right here within the Chinese language capital, the place followers have lined up for hours to purchase plush dolls of the spherical cartoon, Bing Dwen Dwen.
Then final week, the character appeared on Chinese language TV — and horrified viewers by talking with a grown man’s voice.
“I don’t think it’s cute anymore,” one commenter mentioned on Chinese language social media. “It’s just an old man.”
The incident was a minor blemish on the character’s recognition; by week’s finish, with the shut of the Video games approaching, the cult of Bing Dwen Dwen — one of many extra ubiquitous Olympics mascots of current years — was nonetheless going sturdy and drawing lengthy traces for purchases. But it surely marked the most recent comedian mishap in the pantheon of Olympic characters.
The notion of a personality as a consultant of — and a distillation of — a product or occasion has a protracted and wealthy historical past the world over. In Asia, the creativity is widespread: Packaged items are brimming with numerous colourful and cartoonish spokesanimals, spokesfoods and spokesfruits.
In an Olympics context, mascot characters are speculated to embody the tradition of their host cities and gas curiosity within the occasion by means of the merchandising of toys and different memorabilia. However they aren’t at all times a sure-fire hit. And at times, they have been been downright polarizing.
On the Sydney Video games in 2000, for instance, an unathletic character named Fatso the Wombat turned a rebuke to the healthful pictures of the official mascots. On the London Video games in 2010, a newspaper likened the one-eyed mascots to “Cyclopean nightmares.”
However essentially the most extensively ridiculed mascot could have been at the Atlanta Video games in 1996, which featured a cross-eyed blue character that was speculated to characterize “information technology” and town’s ambitions as a expertise hub. The creation was launched at the passing of the torch to Atlanta at the top of the Barcelona Video games, when a large costumed character ran onto the stage to awkwardly be a part of a dance routine.
“He’s in these light blue tights, and the blob body sits way up high, so there’s a lot of leg,” mentioned Sarah Dylla, who curated an exhibit of the Video games at the Atlanta Historical past Middle.
The character’s identify — “WhatIzIt” — deepened the viewers confusion as a result of it appeared like a query, however no person knew the reply, Dylla mentioned.
“It’s an embarrassment is what it is,” declared a assessment by Catherine Fox, an artwork critic at an Atlanta paper.
The character was subsequently tweaked and renamed Izzy. Regardless of the media mockery, Dylla mentioned Izzy proved widespread amongst kids and that his nonsensical being might need paved the best way for different cartoon characters, together with one other divisive mascot: Wenlock, from the London Video games in 2012.
In response to Olympic organizers, Wenlock was speculated to be constructed from the metal used to construct London’s Olympic Stadium, and the enormous eye on his face was the “lens of a camera, filming everything he sees.” Some discovered the looks unsettling; the Guardian known as Wenlock and his look-alike mascot for the Paralympics “by far the worst mascots of any Olympics.”
Choosing extra standard characters hasn’t assured success both, nonetheless.
After organizers of the Sydney Video games in 2000 chosen a trio of cartoon animals representing Australia, the mascots ended up being outshined by a big-bottomed character named Fatso the Wombat that rose to recognition on an Australian comedy present.
Fatso obtained so widespread that athletes carried him to the rostrum at medal ceremonies, and Olympic officers have been requested at a press convention whether or not he was “stealing the show” and in the event that they have been shifting to ban him.
“I’m not aware of banning Fatso,” an Olympic official responded.
Regardless of the embarrassment they will typically trigger Olympic organizers, mascots have however develop into an necessary manner for host cities to place their stamp on the Video games and widen the enchantment of the occasion.
And although the mascots sometimes vanish quickly after the Olympics finish, it is their non permanent existence that may gas shopping for frenzies for souvenirs, significantly amongst attendees who need mementos of their expertise, mentioned Keith Niedermeier, a advertising and marketing professor at Indiana College.
“They’re wildly collectible,” he mentioned.
That has been true of Bing Dwen Dwen, which (not who!) has gotten a giant publicity enhance at medal ceremonies the place athletes are given a doll of the bear to carry on the rostrum. But the celebrity panda didn’t get by means of the Video games unscathed.
Throughout a information section on Chinese language state TV final week, the mascot was seen bouncing round whereas interviewing a Chinese language free skier. The voice that emerged from the bear was of an grownup man, making a jarring impact. A reporter was later proven rising from contained in the costume, however the backlash on Chinese language social media was swift.
“It was a middle-aged man inside Bing Dwen Dwen. I’m horrified,” one consumer wrote.
The hashtag “#BingDwenDwenHasSpoken” started trending, prompting Chinese language officers to ban it, as they usually do with grassroots expressions with any whiff of controversial sentiment. Beijing Olympic organizers clarified on their social media account that the character on TV was an impostor — and clarified in an e mail that the “real” Bing Dwen Dwen isn’t capable of communicate.
The episode doesn’t seem to have dampened the panda’s recognition. On Saturday, the wait to get into the store promoting Bing Dwen Dwen toys in the primary media heart was nonetheless hours lengthy.
AP Researcher Chen Si contributed to this report. Extra AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/winter-olympics and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports.