The shame of Olympic mascots

posted at 2:15 pm on July 24, 2008 by Ed Morrissey

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?


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I see their bellies are gray, probably from all the smog in beijing.

lorien1973 on July 24, 2008 at 2:18 PM

A local hockey team used to be called the Trashers (owned by the head of a sanitation company) and their mascot was a skating trashcan…

The team is no longer the Trashers, as the owner was indicted on criminal charges. Not sure what they are now, or if they even exist.

PamM on July 24, 2008 at 2:20 PM

You think the Olympic ones are bad; the Spanish had this for the World’s Fair!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curro_(mascot)

Dale in Atlanta on July 24, 2008 at 2:22 PM

More shame here:

Origins Of Beijing Olympics 2008 Logo

wise_man on July 24, 2008 at 2:22 PM

I have never understood teh ghey mascot thing.

HawaiiLwyr on July 24, 2008 at 2:23 PM

The Fruity Oatie bar…nice tie in Capt…

Dale in Atlanta on July 24, 2008 at 2:24 PM

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?

You’re right! Let’s just hope River doesn’t turn on the tv in August…Or maybe they’ll help her win a gold medal in judo or one of the other martial arts sports.

Yossarian on July 24, 2008 at 2:25 PM

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?

Same principle as cowbell. You can never have too much cowbell.

Cicero43 on July 24, 2008 at 2:25 PM

Yeah, the commercial sucks, but you gotta admit, those Fruity Oaty Bars are delicious!

SteakRules on July 24, 2008 at 2:25 PM

Wonder what happened to Seth Stevenson to make him so bitter about the Atlanta games. Backwater of a town? Terrorist attack? Little bit of overkill there for a story about mascots, of all things.

Ferris on July 24, 2008 at 2:28 PM

Why do they remind me of a cross between Teletubbies and Pokemon?

carbon_footprint on July 24, 2008 at 2:31 PM

They ain’t got nuttin on The Dumples.

- The Cat

MirCat on July 24, 2008 at 2:31 PM

P.S. Ed just wanted to post that fight scene.

MirCat on July 24, 2008 at 2:32 PM

What demented mind conceived the Philly Fanatic?

Oh no you di-idn’t!

World B. Free on July 24, 2008 at 2:34 PM

The Fruity Oaty Bar commercial featured (among other things) an octopus climbing out of a woman’s cleavage. I doubt we’ll see that featured in an Olympic mascot any time soon!

NeighborhoodCatLady on July 24, 2008 at 2:34 PM

Don’t forget the one and only mascot. The only Disney character allowed as such.
He just has a quick temper

right2bright on July 24, 2008 at 2:34 PM

(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.)

Who does this guy think he is? A backwater of a town? The Atlanta Olympics had a lot of problems, but it did great things for our city as an international city.

warrenmr on July 24, 2008 at 2:34 PM

Thanks for the refreshing Summer Glau break

Dirthead on July 24, 2008 at 2:35 PM

Serenity, the best sci-fi move since Star Wars and Blade Runner.

Pcoop on July 24, 2008 at 2:36 PM

Turn them around and they have T-72 track marks up their backs.

Limerick on July 24, 2008 at 2:36 PM

Ferris: Everybody involved with the Olympics pissed on Atlanta, especially that tool Samaranch. I guess the city didn’t pay enough of a bribe to the powers that be. Who cares anyway? I don’t know anyone who is excited about the Olympics. I’m personally polishing up my Netflix que.

fleiter on July 24, 2008 at 2:37 PM

I kinda expected to see Hello Kitty using the Dali Lama’s skull as a litter box.

RobertInAustin on July 24, 2008 at 2:38 PM

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.

Uga is dead, he is no longer cute, I assure you.

Albert the Alligator, now that is a fine mascot, particularly when he was a no foolin alligator.

Squid Shark on July 24, 2008 at 2:39 PM

mascots are almost intentionally lame

With some, you can drop the “almost.”

calbear on July 24, 2008 at 2:41 PM

So Ed, what’ll it take for you to give us a Jewel Staite break.

Gotta love Kaylee.

Pcoop on July 24, 2008 at 2:41 PM

Best mascot evah!

RobertInAustin on July 24, 2008 at 2:41 PM

RobertinAustin:

Hello Kitty is Japanese….

Dirthead on July 24, 2008 at 2:42 PM

While the Atlanta games did suffer from major organization problems, (Felon mayor Billy Campbell made sure every one of his cronies got a piece of the pie……), what makes those “25 Chinese cities” more “cosmopolitan” than our city?

Our bribe check must not have cleared.

Probably the fact that they are located in the “mysterious Far East…………”

Techie on July 24, 2008 at 2:42 PM

RobertInAustin on July 24, 2008 at 2:41 PM

nothing like a mascot whos name is derived from a bad student prank.

Squid Shark on July 24, 2008 at 2:43 PM

Dirthead on July 24, 2008 at 2:42 PM

Yeah, but like everything else now a days she comes from China.

RobertInAustin on July 24, 2008 at 2:44 PM

nothing like a mascot whos name is derived from a bad student prank.

Squid Shark on July 24, 2008 at 2:43 PM

Perhaps the most plausible story was the one reported in The Daily Texan, the student newspaper of UT: “Through the 1900s and 1910s, newspapers ran a series of comic strips drawn by Gus Mager. The strips usually featured monkeys as the main characters, all named for their personality traits. Braggo the Monk constantly made empty boasts, Sherlocko the Monk was a bumbling detective, and so on. The comic strips were popular enough to create a nationwide fad for persons to nickname their friends the same way, with an ‘o’ added to the end. The Marx Brothers were so named by their colleagues in Vaudeville: Groucho was moody, Harpo played the harp, and Chico raised chicks when he was a boy. Mager’s strips ran every Sunday in newspapers throughout Texas, including Austin. In addition, the term ‘beeve’ is the plural of beef, but is more commonly used as a slang term for a cow (or steer) that’s destined to become food. The term is still used, though it was more common among the general public in the 1910s when Texas was more rural. The jump from ‘beeve’ to ‘Bevo’ isn’t far, and makes more sense given the slang and national fads of the time.”[9]

RobertInAustin on July 24, 2008 at 2:47 PM

UW Madison, “eff ‘em Bucky”, he does OK.

bbz123 on July 24, 2008 at 2:49 PM

Dude! The Arkansas Razorback is FAR from lame!

Al-Ozarka on July 24, 2008 at 2:50 PM

GE is using the Fuwas with their greening commercials online and elsewhere….. this is enough to make sure I don’t watch the “Olympics”

MNDavenotPC on July 24, 2008 at 2:50 PM

You just had to mention Serenity which caused me to again mourn the loss of “Firefly”, didn’t you?

Thanks.

Bishop on July 24, 2008 at 2:50 PM

The football team, maybe…but NOT the MASCOT!

Al-Ozarka on July 24, 2008 at 2:50 PM

carbon_footprint on July 24, 2008 at 2:31 PM

Same here!

becki51758 on July 24, 2008 at 2:51 PM

RobertInAustin on July 24, 2008 at 2:44 PM

They make Seseme Street toys in China now too..but that doesn’t make Cookie Monster a Chi-Com. Although I have my doubts about Elmo….

Dirthead on July 24, 2008 at 2:51 PM

Here in Minnesota we have the Gopher.

Nothing strikes more fear into an opposing team than to see a giant rodent roaring onto the field.

Bishop on July 24, 2008 at 2:52 PM

I can’t get the author’s desire to trash Atlanta.

If you want to object to American triumphalism, Atlanta couldn’t hold a candle to the LA games.

While Atlanta may be smaller than say New York, it’s larger than many other cities that held Olympics.

As for it being a backwater, nothing could be further from the truth.

I’m guessing the author got a ticket for speeding and has never forgiven the city ever since.

MarkTheGreat on July 24, 2008 at 2:57 PM

UMichigan. No mascot. Just the winningest football team evah!

ConservativeLawStudent on July 24, 2008 at 2:57 PM

I think Nintendo could sue them over the “triforce Link Fuwa” on the far right of the picture.

Does China really need to be reminded not to mess with the Japanese?

Heh.

Anton on July 24, 2008 at 3:00 PM

Bishop yeah what is up with that? When my alma mater … Penn State… joined I was upset because I thought the Conference was made up of mascots that were either road kill or plants. But now it seems my Nittany Lions, from time to time, choke on that road kill….lol

MNDavenotPC on July 24, 2008 at 3:01 PM

I work right across the street from the Gwinnett Arena where hockey and ice skating events happen regularly.

The town I live in (Lawrenceville) is a great city with lots of nice people, very good schools and plenty of parks, malls, electronics stores, etc. Raise my kids in Atlanta? Forget it.

You can have your big cities, I wouldn’t live in them if I had to.

DavidM on July 24, 2008 at 3:04 PM

Do they represent the 5 Great Ninja Nations?

Fire Country (Hokage “Fire Shadow”)

Earth Country (Tsuchikage “Earth Shadow”)

Wind Country (Kazekage “Wind Shadow”)

Lightning Country (Raikage “Lightning Shadow”)

Water Country (Mizukage “Water Shadow”)

————

ok, ok.. enough Naruto.. >:D

Chakra Hammer on July 24, 2008 at 3:04 PM

Yeah, but they’re in Michigan, they’ve suffered enough.

Techie on July 24, 2008 at 3:04 PM

BLUE SUN!

Scoreboard44 on July 24, 2008 at 3:08 PM

Turn them around and they have T-72 T-55 track marks up their backs.

Fixed it for ya.

pseudonominus on July 24, 2008 at 3:19 PM

The Shame of the IOC: IOC Bans Iraq From Beijing Olympic Games

The IOC accuses the Iraqi government of political interference in sports.

Yeah. Right. Like the Chinese government never interferes in sports.

ganeshpuri89 on July 24, 2008 at 3:19 PM

I just got back from Vancouver last week. They have all the 2010 Winter Olympics merchandise out and ready to buy all over the city, esp at the cruise terminals and airport. One of the mascots is obviously a sasquatch and another is some other sort of woodland creature. There’s a third one that’s black and white and has a shark’s fin on top of its head. For the life me, neither me nor my sister could figure out what the heck it was. It wasn’t ugly, but I didn’t think it was cute either. The woman at the cruise terminal told us it was a cross between a killer whale and a polar bear. WTF?

wherestherum on July 24, 2008 at 3:22 PM

I found a link if any of you want to see what they look like: http://www.vancouver2010.com/mascot/en/meet.php

wherestherum on July 24, 2008 at 3:24 PM

ok, ok.. enough Naruto.. >:D

No! Never enough “Naruto”! :D

Those all look like they’re from the “Hidden Sausage Village”.

Spanglemaker on July 24, 2008 at 3:26 PM

Like British royalty, Ugas are always succeeded by another. Uga VI will be followed by Uga VII before kickoff this fall. Uga is dead. Long live Uga.

rivlax on July 24, 2008 at 3:27 PM

With some, you can drop the “almost.”

calbear on July 24, 2008 at 2:41 PM

Oh yeah. Stupidest mascot ever.

And I’m not jes’ sayin’ that ’cause I went to Cal, either.

Oh way…yes I am.

Bob's Kid on July 24, 2008 at 3:34 PM

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 Crazy Crab was actually an anti-mascot, and would regularly get booed by Candlestick Park faithful during the 1984 season. Apparently the Giants owners preferred that the fans boo an anti-mascot rather than a last-place team that lost 96 games and would go on to lose 100 games the following year.

aunursa on July 24, 2008 at 3:44 PM

A local hockey team used to be called the Trashers (owned by the head of a sanitation company) and their mascot was a skating trashcan…

Danbury?

Big S on July 24, 2008 at 4:09 PM

Looks like I’m late to the game for comments on this article so probably no one will see this, but for those who are looking forward to the Olympics like my wife and myself, don’t expect to see the Iraqi team.

StlDad on July 24, 2008 at 4:21 PM

I don’t want to frighten anyone…but

The Horror…The Horror

It’s Japanese and not Olympic related, iirc…but some mascots are just pure nightmare fuel.

Asher on July 24, 2008 at 4:26 PM

Where are the TeleTubbies when you need them.

.

GT on July 24, 2008 at 4:30 PM

Ed, you get the “This video really is just being put in for randomness, but, it’s Firefly/Serenity, thus, this post is now 50% more awesome” award

Razgriez on July 24, 2008 at 4:46 PM

Lamest mascot is for U of D. The Blue Hens. Or, as 99% of slower-lower Delaware calls them, Blue Chickens. Because poultry is such a cool mascot.

The Olympic mascots are cute, they’re reminiscent of the five element theory of TCM. And yeah, the green one is a rip-off of Link. Still not watching the Olympics, though. I don’t support network tv or ChiComs.

Anna on July 24, 2008 at 4:47 PM

Let’s not forget the 1996 Atlanta mascot, known variously as

A HUGE EMBARRASSMENT TO Atlanta….

Branch Rickey on July 24, 2008 at 4:51 PM

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 Crazy Crab was actually an anti-mascot, and would regularly get booed by Candlestick Park faithful during the 1984 season. Apparently the Giants owners preferred that the fans boo an anti-mascot rather than a last-place team that lost 96 games and would go on to lose 100 games the following year.

aunursa on July 24, 2008 at 3:44 PM

Now the Giants’ mascot is “Lou Seal,” a reference to the old Pacific Coast League San Francisco Seals. And we do have seals in the Bay. Still. :)

March Hare on July 24, 2008 at 4:53 PM

The University of Georgia has their bulldog Uga, which is a real bulldog with some personality

Most people would like to live as well as Uga; but since he is the BEST mascot EVER! it’s o.k. ;D

P.S. “Izzy” was know in Atlanta as “Hey you, Izzy that your leftover toothpaste or mine on the sink?”

Branch Rickey on July 24, 2008 at 4:54 PM

held in a backwater of a town smaller than, I’m not kidding, at least 25 Chinese cities you’ve never even heard of.)

Hopefully elites will keep thinking this way and stop coming to Atlanta and messing up traffic! :)

Branch Rickey on July 24, 2008 at 4:56 PM

Wonder what happened to Seth Stevenson to make him so bitter about the Atlanta games. Backwater of a town? Terrorist attack? Little bit of overkill there for a story about mascots, of all things.

Ferris on July 24, 2008 at 2:28 PM

Who does this guy think he is? A backwater of a town? The Atlanta Olympics had a lot of problems, but it did great things for our city as an international city.

warrenmr on July 24, 2008 at 2:34 PM

Atlanta is in the South. For a Slate columnist, that is simply an unpardonable transgression. You could move Portland, or San Francisco, or even Paris itself to the South, leaving it intact, and it would be a “backwater”.

Lee on July 24, 2008 at 5:16 PM

No! Never enough “Naruto”! :D

Those all look like they’re from the “Hidden Sausage Village”.

Spanglemaker on July 24, 2008 at 3:26 PM

Sasuke!!! !!!! >:D

Chakra Hammer on July 24, 2008 at 5:26 PM

Ed, you get the “This video really is just being put in for randomness, but, it’s Firefly/Serenity, thus, this post is now 50% more awesome” award

Razgriez on July 24, 2008 at 4:46 PM

I’d like to thank the Academy …

Ed Morrissey on July 24, 2008 at 5:29 PM

tell me again about the part where jayne gets knocked out by a 90 pound girl because i can listen to that all day.

ttevolla on July 24, 2008 at 5:33 PM

Thank you for including the Uga exception, Ed.

marykatharine on July 24, 2008 at 6:04 PM

Hey, I know what Izzy was. He was a slug.

Dave_d on July 24, 2008 at 6:14 PM

NYU has a bobcat, which is fairly standard, but, it’s lameness is multiplied when you discover that we were the bobcats because of the BOBst library card CATalogue (BOBCAT) which is the library’s electronic lookup system.

We were better off as the Violets. It’s not like anyone cared about our sports anyway.

——————–

What I’d like to know is why there is the trend now to have mascotS and not just a mascot? Instead of 2-5 mediocre/crappy mascots, why not put the creative energy into 1 decent mascot?

JadeNYU on July 24, 2008 at 6:38 PM

They ain’t got nuttin on The Dumples.

- The Cat

MirCat on July 24, 2008 at 2:31 PM

The two best mascots (not the least bit lame, intentionally or otherwise):
1. Sparty
2. The Jolly Dumple

OneGyT on July 24, 2008 at 6:42 PM

Gumby.

whitetop on July 24, 2008 at 6:43 PM

Where are the TeleTubbies when you need them

Back in TubbyLand, turning those adorable fat bunnies into TubbyCustard…

GeneSmith on July 24, 2008 at 6:55 PM

What demented mind conceived the Philly Fanatic?

It’s the Phillie Phanatic, phool!

Via Forbes, everyone’s favorite sports resource: Phanatic the best mascot in sports.

viking999 on July 24, 2008 at 8:24 PM

Which one is the Gay one? I am guessing it is the orange one.

dentalque on July 24, 2008 at 8:50 PM

Which one is the Gay one?…

dentalque on July 24, 2008 at 8:50 PM

My collie says:

The flaming one.

Collie, haven’t I TOLD you to stop channeling Jerry Falwell?

CyberCipher on July 24, 2008 at 10:07 PM

Big S on July 24, 2008 at 4:09 PM

Yes, Danbury! Looked it up to be sure of what happened, and the owner was indicted for fraud for putting some players and players’ wives on the payroll of his trash hauling companies.

That was one stupid looking mascot.

PamM on July 24, 2008 at 11:06 PM

Ed, thanks for the silly post. It was a pleasant change of pace.

snaggletoothie on July 24, 2008 at 11:37 PM

Miranda

Maquis on July 25, 2008 at 12:46 AM

They look like the Power Rangers to me. Kudos for posting the Serenity clip.

Mrs. Happy Housewife on July 25, 2008 at 10:14 AM

Lamest mascot is for U of D. The Blue Hens. Or, as 99% of slower-lower Delaware calls them, Blue Chickens. Because poultry is such a cool mascot.

Anna on July 24, 2008 at 4:47 PM

Anna, I give you… Pomona College’s Cecil Sagehen!

“When Cecil Sagehen chirps,
We’re gonna fracture the foes of Pomona’s might,
When Cecil Sagehen chirps,
We’re gonna wail on their bods for the Blue and White!
Our foes are filled with dread
Whenever Cecil Sagehen flies overhead,
We’re gonna C, we’re gonna H, we’re gonna I-R-P,
When Cecil chirps his way to victory!
CHIRP!”

Great place to get edumacated, but as we were a Division III school, there wasn’t much to cheer about, athletically speaking. ;-)

Mary in LA on July 25, 2008 at 9:12 PM