Friday, 20 January 2012

Wenlock and Mandeville - Olympic Mascot Fallout

Over the course of history, there have been some truly iconic duos: Romeo & Juliet, Laurel & Hardy, Bert & Ernie, Wenlock & Mandeville, and so many others. Wait, what’s that you say? You don’t know who they are? Your ignorance disgusts me. Oh, you meant Wenlock & Mandeville? Never mind then. They’re the Olympic mascots for 2012, and there's no reason you should know who they are.

Remember? These guys? No? Anyone?

No, you haven’t seen them around. Nobody has seen them around. See those little letters on their foreheads? That’s how you tell them apart. W for Wenlock, M for Mandeville. Wenlock is the angry-looking orange thing and Mandeville is the sad blue one.

More after the click!

Ever since the ‘Lisa Simpson giving a blowjob’ 2012 logo was released, the powers that be have been criticised for every design decision they’ve made. Poor Mandeville & Wenlock were no different at their release. Check out what the Daily Mail said at the time for just a flavour.

Since we were all made aware of the Lisa Simpson thing, it has been exactly what I see whenever I look at the logo. But it was years ago. I’m now totally immune to it, to the point where I don’t even compulsively masturbate over Olympic flags anymore. The sight of Lisa Simpson giving someone a blowjob is no longer funny.


Okay, okay, it’s still a little bit funny, but more importantly it’s no longer sexual. It’s like Liberty Leading the People, the Venus de Milo, the characters from Sailor Moon or Princess Leia’s golden bikini – they’re desexualised by being icons. Lisa Simpson giving a blow job is now just part of our national identity. It’ll be interesting to see what that does to our subconscious.

They had to power through the scorn because that was already the logo. The trouble with Wenlock and Mandeville is that they never stuck around. They presented the mascots to the bitter, spiteful, probably-racist British public, panicked when they heard a few criticisms and apparently decided to hide them forever. They might bring the duo back again nearer the actual Olympics, I guess, but with 6 months to go it’s getting pretty close. It would be a shame if they faded away forever, because I’ve come to the happy conclusion that I quite like these little buggers.
There’s a short film about their origin story:

When they started opening out that retirement banner, we were all expecting someone to die, right? Or is it just me. It looked like the beginning of a terrible tragedy. I’ve been trained by action film clich├ęs to never, ever retire, which is lucky because I have no pension or any savings. I might never be able to retire, but at least I won’t get shot when I’m three days from retirement.

Go back and pay attention to the first ten seconds, there. “A great rainbow arcs over Bolton”. Bolton? Okay, fine, whatever. It is where the girders are made, after all. Sort of makes sense.

Anyway, Wenlock and Mandeville are made of metal. That’s pretty cool, right? When the last girder for the last stadium was finished, two little blobs of metal were left over. A kindly old man took them home when he retired, like the most terrible of retirement presents. I know times are tough but this foundry just finished the damn Olympic contract! They couldn’t even spring for a weekend away in a B&B or a nice watch? Not even a damn card?!

But waste not want not, as the old saying goes, so he made them into dolls for his grandkids. He was up all night working on those dolls, shaping the metal… I guess with a file? It’s not like he melted the steel down and recast it in moulds. Then they’re presented in shoe boxes and the kids are overjoyed.

Dolls made of industrial steel? Wow, thanks grandpa! These are much cooler than a Wii

There’s some subtext here. Their parents are obviously absent, maybe even dead. Grandpa George has just retired from the foundry and probably worries how he’ll provide for his orphaned grandkids. Stiff upper lip and all that, though, eh? Make do and mend. He’ll be damned if he can’t provide them with at least something. Anything. Metal dolls. It’s very British.

Then… okay, then a rainbow comes and brings them to life. Whatever. Urgh. That’s why they have such awful textures once they’re alive. I mean, monstrously awful.

Looks like your rendering software threw up

They have quite cool names, too. They’re quirky and eccentric, taken from the history of the Olympics no less. They're not just appropriate, but also just about the only hint of personality they have.

Now we come to the problem. You can see just by looking at them that they’re not products of creativity, courage, vision and determination. Whatever they started out as, they’ve had everything stripped away. They’re a product of fear, committee decisions and (apparently even worse in the eyes of the public) diplomacy. They’re offensively inoffensive; too many special interest groups, conflicting cultures and touchy nations to consider. To me, that’s part of their unique charm.

You might say I’ve been obsessing over these guys, and you’d be right, because I’ve started seeing character where there probably isn’t any. I’ve even started seeing gender where there is none – Wenlock’s W could also stand for woman, and Mandeville’s M for man. Mandeville. I can even infer something of the nature of their relationship. Whatever their gender, Wenlock is clearly the butch and Mandeville the bitch. I’m not the only one who’s over-analysing them though:

Can’t we make them a little less shiny? Like, 20% less shiny?

I can’t help but think they’re reaching for some of these. Mandeville’s head makes sense, since he looks speedy, all aerodynamically shaped. He has a personal timer, and a pointier tail. Wenlock is more burly and rounded, like a shot putter. But those friendship bands are quite forced and there’s no reason for her to have three lumps on her head. Making their eyes into cameras doesn’t make much sense, but I suppose it’s a reflection of the media-saturated age we live in, or something. I don’t understand why they’ve made them seem so angry and sad. Even when Wenlock is capering around in the short film, she’s still got that frown, and Mandeville seems perpetually scared and/or depressed. Isn’t exercise supposed to be fun?

How do you make a Cyclops smile? Give them a present! Alternatively, here’s basic expressions 101: Anger is easy, because it’s an eye thing, right? You can do it with a frown. You might think sadness and happiness are all in the mouth, but you’d be wrong. The secret of a genuine-seeming smile is in the eyes. Mandeville and Wenlock are all eye, so they must have great smiles:

An incredible educational diagram

But no, for some reason Wenlock is furious even when she’s capering and enjoying herself.
I understand why they’ve got one eye, though. Sorry, one camera. They probably have a merchandising deal for dolls, so now they only need to invest half the amount in the eyes! And there’s no need for any other details like mouths, hair, clothes or even personality! That’s how merchandise production works, right? They’d charge extra for two eyes.

And yet there’s something about them. It might just be that whatever else they are, they’re also the Olympic mascots. Like it says at the end of the origin story, “They will meet again, in London, in 2012. They’ll be there. You’ll be there. The whole world will be there.” Gives me little shivers of excitement, every time.

On the other hand who even cares about any of this? Nobody remembers the Beijing mascots either:
Remember? Nope, me neither
Wait, there’s something…

Those empty, soulless eyes…

Oh god, it’s in my mind! IT’S IN MY MIIIIND!!


Henneth said...

Gotta say, these characters and the overall logo are just so crappy I can't fathom the hundreds of thousands that have been spent on them. They are so...shit.

Looking around the web, there are so many better concept logos that normal people at home have come up with.

Chris said...

Hmmm I'm trying to think of a past Olympic mascot that has actually been memorable now...

Anonymous said...

I've lived with these mascots (and the logo) for quite a while now and I can honestly say they are still bloody awful.
It's ironic to note that one of the characters has a taxi light on his 'head'. And London cabbies are rightfully up in arms as they're not allowed to use the Olympic lanes.
Anyway as usual, a lot of hard earned cash has payed for another set of design abominations.
Great design is not gimmicky. It is powerful, simple and (although difficult to originate) looks easy. These are none of those things.

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