This weekend, London and the world were reintroduced to what it is fairly safe to say are the summer’s highest-profile branded creations. I refer, of course, to Wenlock and Mandeville, the London 2012 mascot-cyclopses.
Well, I say cyclopses, but they’re not, really. In fact, there has been some casual debate in London recently, among those not au fait with the mascots‘ unveiling in 2010, as to what these two jaunty, physically awkward blobs are actually supposed to be. Sock puppets after a mutating chemical bath? Kang and Kodos at bedtime? The field had eventually narrowed as of Sunday afternoon to two options: Wenlock and Mandeville, it was mooted, were almost certainly either poos, or phalluses, or possibly one of each.
The truth, as is usually the case, proved to be so much better.
Ostensibly (this isn’t the good bit), Wenlock and Mandeville are drops of steel from the last molten girder to dry before the construction of the Olympic park, or something. (Apparently this fanciful whimsy comes straight from the technicolour imagination of beloved children‘s author and national treasure Michael Morpurgo. Keep up the good work, Michael!) As such, Wenlock and Mandeville, you will note, don’t have faces like you and I do. Instead, they each have a single, huge, never-blinking eye. The purpose of this single, huge, never-blinking eye, according to the Olympic organisers’ clarifying diagram?
To “record everything”.
So, then, to recap: the mascots of the London 2012 Olympic games are big, they’re brothers (they dropped from the same molten girder), and they’re watching us. Colour me relieved.
We can imagine the scene! Men in suits sit behind a long conference table under a banner reading “Iris Design Agency: London 2012 Big Idea Desk”. The responsibilities of these men are great. They have to represent the London Olympics in an image that will translate easily to all national cultures. They have to upstage their amazingly successful predecessors in Beijing. They have to sell a lot of plush toy merchandise. But what icon to use?
“Foxes!” says one uptight suit after an hour of silence. “Cute, furry, London’s known for ‘em.”
Everyone shakes their head.
“Phone boxes!” says another uptight suit after another hour of silence. “Cute, boxy, London’s known for ‘em.”
Again, everyone shakes their head.
Then slowly, one at a time, all the eyes at the table turn to Leroy, the mischevious cockney 8-year-old with the heart of gold who, they all know, can’t help but rise to the challenge of representing the London Olympics’ true spirit of excellence, community and good old-fashioned fun.
Leroy yanks down the brim of his newsboy cap. He removes his toothpick. He takes a deep breath. And he says, in his lovable twang:
“Giant walking lidless eyeballs whose stated purpose shall be to track and document all citizen activity.”
And he is lifted into the air by the suits as their jubilant cheering recedes into the background and Leroy is tossed up, slow-motion, his cap flying off his head, joy on his face.
In this context, then, I really must protest that the Associated Press’s complaint that cyclops mascots will “scare children” is just really awfully childish. I would also add that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with having the mascots drive around in a sketchy kidnapping van, leaping out to surprise citizens with their gargantuan camera-eyes.
No, for a city infamous for its CCTV abuses to design mascots that are essentially meant to be gigantic CCTV cameras, and then to mount these monstrosities around the city as “decoration” (like a painful reminder of the Toronto moose statues), is so phenomenally brilliant it almost qualifies as satire. If nothing else, it’s a clever complement to the ongoing desecration of the memory of the author whose very name has come to mean “pertaining to or characteristic of the totalitarian future described in his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four” by the very funny and irreverent joke that is installing 32 CCTV cameras within 200 yards of his former house (including two trained on what was literally old George’s backyard).
You can even buy Wenlock-as-Policeman dolls. True! Only Â£11.55. It’s so cutting-edge, even Forbes doesn’t get the joke, which is remarkable, considering their much-deserved reputation for being able to laugh at jokes just like a normal magazine can.
I’m not sure I can take mentioning that “surveillance” mascots also serve to remind everyone of the really entertaining and spectacular and generally awesomely implosive failure of the London 2012 security contractor, G4S, the world’s biggest security firm no less, to hire enough staff (10 staff, you say? 20? No — 3,500) or ensure that those who WERE hired wouldn’t just stay home and get chateaued on Carslberg.
Not to mention flagging up the unprecedented militarisation of these Games, involving the UK’s biggest warship and various missiles installed atop houses without the residents’ permission, all to varying degrees of outrage and scandal that, presumably, the organisers would wish to downplay.
But indeed, what else if not brilliant design loaded with contemporary cultural references should we have expected from the people who signed off on Lisa Simpson Giving a Blowjob?
Christopher Michael for Hawkblocker.