London Olympics mascots: menacing or magic?
LONDON -- Sinister. Disturbing. Creepy. Frightening.
The official mascots of London's Olympic and Paralympic Games -- Wenlock and Mandeville -- have been called all of those things, but organizers are hoping to tack on a more positive title: merchandising magic.
The futuristic-looking pair have popped up all over London, casting their one-eyed gaze at tourists and locals alike from posters, statues and a slew of Olympic merchandise ranging from key chains to cutlery.
Bloggers and other commentators, however, have been skewering the duo for scaring children and projecting a creepy surveillance-state image of the Olympic games.
Wenlock -- named after an English town in Shropshire that helped inspire the modern Olympic games -- and Mandeville, whose name pays tribute to the hospital considered the birthplace of the Paralympic Games -- look more like surveillance robots than humans or animals.
In place of a face, each have one large, staring eye -- a camera, according to Olympic organizers, to let them "record everything."
They have legs, but no feet; arms bearing "friendship bands" in the colors of the Olympic rings, but no fingers. Both of their heads have "taxi light" in the middle, a tribute to London's famous black cabs.
Wenlock's head is round, while Mandeville has ridges atop his noggin. They peer out of official London Olympics snow globes, adorn backpacks and towels, decorate magnets and mugs.
Olympic mascots over the years have raised the question: What were they thinking? (Turin's humanized snowball and ice cube in 2006, anyone?) But even Sydney's spiky echidna managed to look cute and cuddly, while a barrage of critics say Wenlock and Mandeville are anything but.
"It's not so friendly," said Jenny Zhang, looking at a Wenlock while in London from China for business. "We don't see a smiling face, it's not a friendly eye. It's just watching you."
Since they were selected as the official mascots back in 2009, detractors have had a field day with the pair, questioning how faceless monsters fashioned out of "drops of steel" -- the duo's creation story -- won out over 100 other designs by artists and agencies.
Their watchful eyes -described in many forums as toy versions of London's omnipresent CCTV lenses -- seem to have caused the most discomfort, drawing Orwellian comparisons and references to surveillance states. Wenlock figurines in police gear have come under fire from dozens of online commenters decrying the "fascist playthings" and "totalitarian toys."
Actor Ewan McGregor tweeted his disappointment Friday after seeing plastic mascot statutes in London's Regents Park: "With this country's artistic heritage this one eyed joke made me sad."
Despite the vocal backlash, mascots are proving to be an important part of the London 2012 product range, according to the city's Olympic organizing committee. It said in an email that soft toys of Wenlock and Mandeville were a "consistent best seller."
Organizers would not provide a breakdown of sales so far, but said Wenlock and Mandeville items make up around 20 percent of the total London 2012 licensed merchandise, which is expected to generate more than 1 billion pounds ($1.6 billion) worth of sales.
Despite the ever-present mockery, visitors to the mascots' official website have created more than 105,500 personalized avatars, and mascot statues in London seem to be inspiring more curiosity than criticism.
On a recent afternoon, some tourists gawked at the life-size statues while others hung off them for photos.
Six-year-old Nimaran Sandhu's face lit up when she saw a Wenlock statue.
"It hasn't got a face and I think it's funny," she told a reporter, adding with a giggle that Wenlock looked "fat."
Alessia Goldthorpe, 5, rattled off facts about Wenlock and Mandeville to her father in the same park before declaring that she likes Wenlock.
"He's happy!" she exclaimed.
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press
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