by Chris Bodenner
Just when you thought we covered everything:
I can’t believe nobody’s mentioned the Russian blue furry frog, Zoich. During the contest to pick the mascot for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, the government’s favorite entries were all cutesy pablum. The people’s choice came out of left field: it was a spaced-out amphibian, inspired by the Hypnotoad from Futurama. Zoich is a depressed-looking frog without arms, covered in blue fur, with Olympic rings instead of pupils and a ski pole in its mouth. Drawn by a well-known member of the Art Lebedev design studio, it instantly became the most popular symbol of the Russian Olympics. It looked subversive, weirdly funny, and indifferent to Olympic euphoria and boosterism. (The name comes from the date “2014,” which can be read as a mixed Latin/Cyrillic word “ZOI?,” pronounced Zoich. The fact that it sounds like the surname of a Jewish physicist adds to the deal.)
Despite popular love, nobody was surprised when the results of public polls were ignored and Zoich was passed over in favor of something more cutesy and derivative, although most expected only one mascot instead of a whopping three. The most dramatic twist, however, came last June.
It turned out that Zoich’s blue fur was actually Astroturf. The “people’s mascot” was, in reality, commissioned by the Sochi Organizing Committee as a guerrilla marketing initiative. The mascot is still clever, still popular, but there was a real sense of betrayal in the Russian blogosphere. In a country where print and television are controlled by the state, and the Internet is about to fall under censorship, finding out that even counter-culture is paid for by the government was demoralizing, to say the least.
Nick Gillespie also picked up on the weird mascot phenomenon and has some parting words:
Amidst the human perfection and striving represented by a two-week-long competition among the world’s greatest athletes, mascots such as Wenlock and Mandeville, Amik the Beaver, Whatzit, and the too-terrifying-to-mention Fuwa bring us all back down to Earth. The mascots of past Games and, one suspects, their yet-to-be born brethren of future Olympics, drive home the fact that however far we run and high we jump, we will, just like Olly, Syd, and Millie – and even Fatso! – fail completely in our quest to make something more of our efforts than abject, humiliating failure. If Olympic athletes remind me us of the best that we might be (especially when it comes to cheating on drug tests), then Olympic mascots function as a memento mori, a remembrance that we will die. And look bad doing it.
Update from a reader:
Do you think you might be overthinking this one, just a bit? How about a simpler kind of explanation for why you think Olympic mascots are so weird - they’re not for you. It’s a form of marketing to children, remember Joe Camel, only these won’t give you emphysema or lung cancer. If Olympic organizers can appeal to kids with a mascot, then they can slam the mascot on all kinds of merch and squeeze a few more euros, pounds, and dollars from parents around the world. Really, would you want to have a key chain in the likeness of Usain Bolt or Wenlock? Now, make a dangleborris key chain and you might be onto something.
And that excerpt you included from Nick Gillespie’s article should have been a Poseur Alert nominee.
I just don’t get it – don’t the Olympics already have a mascot? A spectrum of five interlocked rings? Why the need to “anthropomorphize”? Are they trying to appeal to kids? Because if I were still a child impressionable enough to be swayed by mascots, the impression from these things would more likely be a trauma scar that makes me reflexively avoid the Games in adulthood rather than throw my hard-earned money at them. I mean, if you want characters for kids to hug and people to take their picture with, aren’t there actual Olympians at the Olympics? I’d rather have my picture taken with Gabby Douglas than with walking nightmares, much like kids today would rather hug Justin Bieber than hug a tumorous leper; and like adults would rather shake hands with the President than with sperm covered in lint. Just ditch the things, IOC!