Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Olympics go Pokemon

The Vancouver Organizing Committee (Vanoc) for the 2010 Olympic Games unveiled the official mascots for the Winter Games today – a trio of Pokemon.

No, the mascots are not technically part of the Japanese children’s animated TV series/card game/video game/toy/etc mega-franchise. They just look that way. Much to the chagrin of many of us here in Greater Vancouver, BC, and across Canada. I wouldn’t be surprised if folks in other parts of the world are as disappointed as we local yokels. And if not now, they probably soon will be.

The three critters are representations of (inspired by? mockeries of?) figures from First Nations folklore here in BC. They are:

Miga – a sea-bear – a creature, as I understand it, that lives as an orca in the water but can come onto land where it then turns into a Spirit Bear (Kermode bear – a very rare, naturally white, non-albino black bear).

Sumi – an animal guardian spirit combining elements of the orca (represented by its hat), the thunderbird and the bear.

Quatchi – a Sasquatch (also known as Bigfoot) – who, incidentally, wants to be a goalie on a hockey team.

And if three A-line beasties aren’t enough, technically there’s four of them – they have a sidekick: Mukmuk, a marmot (a small animal, akin to a groundhog, eking out a living on the mountainsides of Vancouver Island and currently on the Endangered Species List).

I don’t have a problem with the Olympics gang borrowing their mascots from native folklore (I’d be interested to hear what our aboriginal people have to say about the matter though). What I do have a problem with is how these things were drawn. They don’t look like anything – or at least, they don’t look like anything outside of your standard after-school anime series battling monsters roster! To put it another way, one of my coworkers said she thinks they look like Hello Kitty characters. How is that unique? How does that in any way distinguish an Olympic Games mascot? How is unidentifiable artwork representative of BC or First Nations culture? How does the cheap drawing-style let us know what the hell these things are supposed to be?

Why didn’t the designers contracted by the Games actually stick to the original concepts as portrayed in native art? At least that way we’d be able to get a sense that Miga’s supposed to be a synthesis of whale and bear, rather than something that could be a penguin or a cat or Pepe La Peu’s surreal anime alter-ego!

I heard someone from the Vanoc crew try to justify the design today by claiming that the mascots had to be “cute”. Marketers will tell you the big push for the mascots is from 6 to 8-year-olds. If the kiddies want the mascot toys or want to see the things wandering around the Games venues in person, they’ll twist Mom & Dad’s arms to buy the merchandise (funding the Games) and/or to go to the actual Games (funding the event and increasing the positive optics of full stands and hopefully spreading hype). But that could be accomplished by mascots that actually look like something. Cute? There are hundreds, if not thousands of “cute” portrayals of animals, real and mythical, in art and TV and movies all over the world that actually look like recognizable animals. Bears? How about Yogi & Booboo, or Baloo? Any designer/artist actually worth their over-inflated Olympic-contractor salary could have taken a 5 second look at some original aboriginal art portraying these creatures and given us “cute” versions that would be original and worth looking at.

Thanks, Vanoc. You’ve blown my tax dollars on vaguely fuzzy-looking blobs. Hairy cat turds with smiley faces. They’re not just Pokemon, they’re lazy Pokemon-wannabe attempts.
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