London Olympics: Making sport of mascots Wenlock, Mandeville
That giant, vaguely Orwellian eye. That cold, impassive steel.
What’s not to love?
As the Olympics kick off in London, many spectators have been baffled and spooked by mascots Wenlock and Mandeville, billed as bits of Olympic stadium steel enchanted by a rainbow. The curious creatures, named for a Shropshire town and a hospital with historic ties to British athletics, are each equipped with a single enormous eye and a taxi headlight atop a toddling metallic body.
Wenlock, streaked with orange, is the Olympic mascot; blue Mandeville welcomes the Paralympic Games.
"It’s hard to imagine a mascot more in tune with the times … Wenlock and Mandeville will prove a winning formula -- a solid coalition that will capture our imagination and help build a lasting legacy for our fabulous Games," London Mayor Boris Johnson said when the mascots were unveiled in 2010.
But rather than inspiring a chorus of delight, the creatures have become the butt of endless jokes in Britain and beyond. Each peering eye, officially described as a camera to "record everything," has conjured up shades of Big Brother in security-obsessed London. On the Amazon website, customer reviews of a Wenlock figurine outfitted as a British policeman have become a comedic free-for-all.
"Also known as 'My Little Drony,' this plastic Beelzebub all-knowingly looks into my very thoughts like the Eye of Sauron in a hat," one reviewer joked.
The mascots have been branded as a cross between a Teletubby and a Cyclops, a cellphone and a "Yo Gabba Gabba" character, even the one-eyed aliens Kang and Kodos from "The Simpsons." When they were unveiled two years ago by the London design firm Iris, design critic Stephen Bayley derided them in the Telegraph as "appalling computerized Smurfs for the iPhone generation."
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution crowed that the dumbfounding duo made the Olympics mascots from its own Games, a blue something-or-other named Izzy, look good.
But not everyone is put off by the peering Olympic emissaries. Web surfers have created more than 105,000 personalized versions of the mascots through the Wenlock and Mandeville website, according to the Associated Press, and soft incarnations of the creatures seem to be selling smoothly.
"Both are clearly of the digital age. And we have to say, we think they look rather good," the Creative Review blog wrote, crediting them for "just the right balance of digital zeitgeist and cheeky playfulness."
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: Olympic mascots Mandeville and Wenlock are pictured as they welcome athletes at Heathrow Airport in London on Monday. Credit: Will Oliver / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images