Until yesterday, I did not know that the mascots of the Beijing Olympics had become the center of controversy. The “Fuwas” have apparently generated a lot of ridicule, which considering the more substantive issue of awarding the Games to the oppressive Chinese autocracy, might actually be a welcome diversion from topics like Tibet and slave labor. Seth Stevenson chides critics, reminding them that most mascots are just as lame:
Have we forgotten how lame most Olympic mascots are? The 1980 Lake Placid mascot was a live raccoon (which tragically died before the games even started). The 2006 Turin mascot was an ambulatory ice cube. The 1992 Barcelona mascot was an indifferently sketched dog, which the artist claimed he’d drawn while stoned.
Let’s not forget the 1996 Atlanta mascot, known variously as “Whatzit,” “Whatizhee,” or the shortened “Izzy.” To this day, I remain unsure what exactly Izzy was meant to embody. The Journal recalls that he was “derided as everything from a ‘blue slug’ to a ‘sperm in sneakers.’ ” (Izzy also represented perhaps the worst Olympics since Munich. The Atlanta games featured both a terrorist attack and a wave of nauseating Nike/Coke/America triumphalism and were held in a backwater of a town smaller than, I’m not kidding, at least 25 Chinese cities you’ve never even heard of.)
The deck is stacked against Olympic mascots from the start. They’re sort of purposeless. If they have a mission, it’s to sell more shlock. That said, compared with all these previous chumps, it’s hard to understand why the Fuwa would catch this much grief. The poor things can’t even count on their creator for support. Fuwa designer Han Meilin remains stubbornly wedded to his original conception and resents the Olympic organizers’ insistence that there be a panda in the mascot mix. “There had to be a panda,” the Journal quotes him saying, “even though you’d think the public would have had enough of them.” Enough of pandas? Never! One of my life rules is: When you have an opportunity to include a panda in something, a panda should be included. Really, who does not love pandas? Oh, that’s right: blackhearted Slate Editor David Plotz. No doubt also an anti-Fuwa-ist.
Why stop at the Olympics? Most mascots are lame, regardless of venue. What demented mind conceived the Philly Fanatic? The San Francisco Giants used to have a giant crab as a mascot, which at least had the charm of actually being a legitimate animal, even though it had nothing to do with baseball. The University of Georgia has their bulldog Uga, which is a real bulldog with some personality, rather than a foam-rubber creation brought to life by an underpaid student.
With a few exceptions like Uga, mascots are almost intentionally lame. Anyone above the age of 10 usually avoids them, and the Fuwas seem targeted to children anyway.
Having said all that, these did remind me of Serenity and the bar-fight scene with Summer Glau. Doesn’t this look like the critters in the ad that sets her off?