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Wenlock and Mandeville are being called a lot of things, but “a success” isn’t on the list just yet. They are the one-eyed mascots of the London 2012 Olympic Games. The Huffington Post used words like “sinister,” “disturbing,” “creepy,” and “frightening.” The daughter of Stephen Bailey, art critic and founder of the Design Museum, likened them to “rubbish earrings.” Bailey himself said they looked like “computer-generated Smurfs,” though I’d like to point out that Smurfs have actual hands and feet, plus they have twice the eyes. Plenty of thought went into each aspect of these characters, so why are they such a miss? Does the odd duo have any hope of success?
The story behind the strange pair is that they were formed from the last drops of steel used to make the final support beam for the Olympic stadium. Each has a taxi light on top of their heads to pay homage to London’s black taxis. Their eyes aren’t really eyes; the official descriptions says that they are cameras that record everything. The three spikes on top of Wenlock’s head represent the three medals won in each sport, and he wears friendship bands on his arm that bear the colors of the Olympic rings. Mandeville’s head is shaped like an aerodynamic helmet and bears the colors of the Paralympics, and he has a “personal best” timer on his wrist. The names come from geographical locations in the United Kingdom with ties to the Olympic Games: Wenlock was derived from the Shropshire town of Much Wenlock. The games held in the town became the inspiration for the modern Olympics. Mandeville’s name came from the Stoke Mandeville Hospital, considered the birthplace of the Paralympic Games.
Critics say that the mascots’ cameras in place of eyes is a reminder of the surveillance state, with surveillance cameras capturing the throngs of people descending on Olympic Park. Wenlock happened to photobomb the Belgian royal family as they walked down a street in London, making the connection to surveillance even creepier. You can see the photo here via Jezebel
Organizers are hoping that sales of mascot merchandise will make up 20 percent of all Olympic merchandise sales, which are hoped to be over one billion pounds, or $1.6 billion U.S. Retail experts doubt that number will ever be reached, and some retailers marked the high prices down even before the opening ceremony. One store owner interviewed by The Hollywood Reporter noted that the Olympic t-shirts, ringing in at £20 or $31, are twice as expensive as nearly every other t-shirt in his store. No sales numbers have been released yet but the London Olympic Committee says that sales are on track. Since the public doesn’t seem to be embracing the mascots, one would think that the overpriced merchandise wouldn’t sell at all. Maybe the target audience is still interested in it.
The Huffington Post reports that bloggers and commentators are complaining that the mascots are creepy and scare children, but do they actually frighten kids? One six-year-old the Post interviewed said of Wenlock, “It hasn’t got a face and I think that’s funny.” She also noted that Wenlock was fat. A five-year-old declared that she liked Wenlock because “[h]e’s happy!”
Kids are the ones who will be throwing fits for the toys they want, so they may be the best judge of the mascots’ success. We’ll have to wait until after the Games to see how many stuffed Mandevilles and Wenlocks are left in the clearance section, but I can make one conclusion already: these mascots have nothing on Quatchi, the adorable sasquatch mascot from the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games.