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Tomorrow evening will feature the first game of the Detroit Red Wings season. This bold team of lovable* misfits will take to the ice against the hockey team from Ottawa–the name isn’t listed but they have some sort of classical footsoldier as a mascot so we’ll call them the Ottawa Hopelites. [maybe you should understand at least something about hockey before writing about it—ed.]
Anyway, even more exciting than the actual game between the Redwings and the Hopelites is the unofficial mascot of the Red Wings. In a post concerning mollusk mascots from around the world, alert reader Ryon Lancaster commented that we had overlooked the mascot for the Detroit Red Wings, a purple hockey-playing octopus named Al. Apparently the legend of Al started back in April 15, 1952, when fishmongers Pete and Jerry Cusimano decided to throw an octopus onto the ice at Olympia Stadium. The eight tentacles of the cephalopod were meant to mystically represent the eight victories required to win the Stanley Cup (the ice hockey championship trophy). Sure enough the magical mollusk brought the team to championship victory and ever since then fans have thrown deceased octopuses onto the ice at their home stadium—especially during playoff matches. As the Red Wings’ octopus tradition deepened, the purple mascot Al coalesced from fan art and from oral tradition. Al takes his name from a former building operations manager, Al Sobotka, who exhibited great elan whenever he removed octopuses from the ice. Apparently Sobotka had a special octopus twirling technique which whipped the fans up (albeit at the expense of distributing octopus particles onto the ice and the crowd).
As you might imagine, NHL officials have mixed feelings about this fan tradition. In 2008 hockey officials banned Al Sobotka’s octopus twirling and the duty of removing octopus corpses has fallen to linesmen and icegirls. The stadium itself added a large octopus prop during the 1995 playoffs. This huge octopus totem was ceremonially raised to introduce the team. Later on it was given glowing red eyes (which light up during goals), a number eight hockey jersey, and a broken tooth. Since it now requires winning 16 games to win the Stanley Cup, there are two Al the octopuses hanging above the ice at playoff time.
Naturally a number of other teams have tried to imitate the seafood throwing craze including San Jose, (where fans threw a shark), Boston (lobster), and Vancouver (Salmon). The only other team which appears to be establishing a continuing tradition of throwing deceased aquatic creatures on the ice is the Nashville Predators (why does Nashville have a hockey team?): predators fans have been known to throw large catfish onto the ice. A weary ice attendant, Jessica Hanley is reported to have said “’They are so gross. They’re huge, they’re heavy, they stink and they leave this slimy trail on the ice. But, hey, if it’s good for the team, I guess we can deal with it.”
*actual boldness and lovability may vary
Of all the animal posts on Ferrebeekeeper, by far the most popular is the post relating to the wombat, the stalwart marsupial grazer of Australia. I have since added a post dedicated the (sadly) extinct Diprotodon, a giant wombat which walked the world from 1.5 million to 40,000 years ago. However, it has been a long time since those posts and also a long time since we had a post concerning mascots, so today we once again visit the stolid burrowing quadruped–but this time as interpreted by consumer artists. Here is a short gallery of wombats used as logos or mascots.
When I am playing the best-selling video game Mortal Combat with friends, I have one friend who always calls the game Chortle Wombat in the same sonorous battle-voice used by the (dark-wizard?) narrator of Mortal Combat. Surprisingly, the joke is hilarious to me because I always imagine a troop of ninjas desperately trying to make a dour old wombat laugh.Perhaps the most famous of all wombat mascots is “Fatso, the fat-arsed wombat”, an irreverent spoof of the official Olympic mascots of the Sydney games. It took me a long time to find a printable picture of Fatso and the most charitable interpretation I can put forth is that the character was designed and popularized by larrikins (a word which seems to either denote puckish non-conformists or dirty anarchists) to shine a spotlight on the weight problems sweeping the developing world.
Finally there are a handful of schools and sports teams which feature wombat mascots, although less than I would expect for an animal which is, in its way, an unofficial mascot of Australia.
Today is December 1, 2010. It is now the last month of the last year of this decade (and good riddance to the “aughts”). As the calendar winds down, one’s thoughts invariably turn to timekeeping. Although the dominant calendars of history–the Jewish calendar, the Chinese calendar, the Moslem calendar, the Aztec calendar (!)–are each fascinating in their own right, I thought today I might feature a calendar which I admire for its tremendous poetry. It is also remarkable for its epic stupidity. I mean of course the calendar of the French Revolution aka “the Republican Calendar”.
This calendar was introduced in 1793 to bring rigorous standardization to what the leaders of the Revolution regarded as a slipshod artifact of the aristocracy. The makers of the new calendar wanted to purge the year of its religious associations and bring an enlightenment (and Roman classicist) frame of reference to the months and days. They did this by reinventing everything wholesale.
To quote a whole page from Wikipedia:
The Republican calendar year began at the autumn equinox and had twelve months of 30 days each, which were given new names based on nature, principally having to do with the prevailing weather in and around Paris.
- Vendémiaire in French (from Latin vindemia, “grape harvest”), starting 22, 23 or 24 September
- Brumaire (from French brume, “fog”), starting 22, 23 or 24 October
- Frimaire (From French frimas, “frost”), starting 21, 22 or 23 November
- Nivôse (from Latin nivosus, “snowy”), starting 21, 22 or 23 December
- Pluviôse (from Latin pluvius, “rainy”), starting 20, 21 or 22 January
- Ventôse (from Latin ventosus, “windy”), starting 19, 20 or 21 February
- Germinal (from Latin germen, “germination”), starting 20 or 21 March
- Floréal (from Latin flos, “flower”), starting 20 or 21 April
- Prairial (from French prairie, “pasture”), starting 20 or 21 May
- Messidor (from Latin messis, “harvest”), starting 19 or 20 June
- Thermidor (or Fervidor) (from Greek thermon, “summer heat”), starting 19 or 20 July
- Fructidor (from Latin fructus, “fruit”), starting 18 or 19 August
(Thanks Wikipedia! Good luck with your donation drive!)
All of this was rightfully pilloried by the English who (somewhat brilliantly) characterized the Republican months as “Wheezy, Sneezy and Freezy; Slippy, Drippy and Nippy; Showery, Flowery and Bowery; Wheaty, Heaty and Sweety”. Of course years are longer than 360 days, so each Republican year ended with five holidays (or six, on leap years) dedicated to heroes of the revolution. The calendar abolished the Babylonian week in favor a ten day week confusingly known as a “decade.” Familiar 24 hour chronology was replaced with decimal time–concerning which, the least said, the better (if you really want to know about this abomination click here). The years were recorded with Roman numbers. By Republican reckoning today would therefore be 11 Frimaire an CCXIX.
This is all baffling to good Gregorian thinkers like ourselves. In fact it was always confusing to everyone–even the most dedicated Jacobins. After 12 years, during which the French did not know what day, or month, or year, it was, Napoleon finally abolished the Republican calendar on 1 January 1806 (aka the day after 10 Nivôse an XIV).
The brilliant and beautiful part of the Republican calendar lay in the agrarian poetry of the individual days. During the Ancien Régime, the days of the year were each associated with a saint or a religious festival. With Enlightenment zeal, the Republican calendar did away with this and each day was associated with either an animal (for days ending in “5”); a tool (for days ending in zero), or a plant/agricultural product (for all other days). Today 11 Frimaire is “Cire” which means honeycomb. Yesterday was “Pioche” (Pickaxe) and tomorrow will be “Raifort” (Horseradish). The plants, animals, and items were all chosen to be synchronized with the rhythm of the year. For example the animals characteristic of Floréal (which roughly corresponds to May) are the nightingale, the silkworm, and the carp.
This all sounds goofy and it is, but just look over this chart of the days of the Republican year with their individual associations. If you bring a poet’s imagination I guarantee you will be charmed.
Thanksgiving is next week! I have already bought a big aluminum platter and some oven bags for the great feast and my hunger is growing sharp…. In the mean time though, I continue to salute the majestic turkey bird–the glorious figure the whole holiday focuses around (albeit in an uncomfortably primitive sacrificed-and-devoured kind of way).
Today’s ambiguously conceived tribute takes the form of a gallery of turkey mascots and logos. It seems quite a lot of them are “Turkey Trot” promotions (apparently that’s some sort of Thanksgiving Day ceremonial run), processed food advertisements, whiskey labels, or creepy sports mascots. In this last category, pride of place certainly belongs to the HokieBird, the fighting turkey mascot of Virginia Tech, my sister’s alma mater. Here he is, first in a formal logo, then below that in a portrait, and finally in a candid shot, horsing around on the sidelines:
I’m never sure how to feel about Virginia Tech (sad, angry, confused, affectionate?) but I love the mascot and I salute their bold choice! Here are some other Turkey Mascots that didn’t necessarily work out as well and then some anonymous turkey costumes.
The following are food labels/brands. I really like the first one—a turkey trying desperately to sell tofu substitute:
I know I mentioned wild turkey before but I had to include it again because of the dazzling realism.
Here are some random Turkey images–cartoons, and logos from all sorts of different sources (especially “turkey trot” races around the country):
I’m closing this grabbag of images with a picture of the national bird of the United States getting angry and jockeying for pride of place with the turkey. Next week I’ll finish listing the different strains of domestic turkey and write some closing thoughts about this national obsession.
In the Greek view of the world, there was a tranquil garden of perpetual rosy twilight which was found at the sunset edge of all lands–so far west that the west came to an end. The garden was inhabited by three nymphs of peerless beauty whose special task was to tend an apple tree in the middle of the garden. The golden fruit of the tree would confer immortality upon anyone who ate one. But of course there was a catch.
This was the penultimate labor of Hercules: to bring back three of the apples of the Hesperides. The tree was in the private garden of Hera herself and the apple tree was a wedding gift from Mother Earth to the queen of the gods. Plucking the apples from the tree would bring instant death to any mortal, but the biggest problem of all was the garden’s true guardian, the dragon Ladon who was coiled around the apple tree. As you might imagine, Ladon was one of Echidna’s offspring. He is sometimes shown as a great python, other times as a more traditional dragon, and occasionally as a hundred-headed uber-dragon.
Although dragons abound in Greek mythology, the snake-dragon curled around a sacred tree, seems to have arrived in Greek mythology from another canon altogether. Scholars believe Ladon’s original form was the Semitic serpent god Lotan, or the Hurrian/Hittite serpent Illuyanka. In fact, serpents/dragons wound around fruit trees are well-known in the three great monotheistic faiths of the present. In Greek mythology, Ladon only plays an active role in the story of Hercules 11th labor (and even then, the dragon’s role is curiously ambiguous).
Hercules traveled through the Greek world having adventures, killing giants, and seeking the garden’s location. It was during his search for the Garden of the Hesperides that he slew the Caucasian Eagle and freed Prometheus (who, in gratitude, told him what to expect at the garden of the Hesperides). In order to obtain the apples, Hercules solicited the aid of the titan Atlas, who holds up the firmament. Hercules assumed the burden of the heavens while immortal Atlas collected the apples. When Atlas betrayed Hercules and left the strongman holding the heavens, Hercules pretended to accept his fate–but he asked to adjust his lionskin first. Once Atlas was holding the heavens again, Hercules picked up the apples and took them back to Eurystheus (who was rightly afraid of them, and gave them to Athena). The fate of the dragon is a bit unclear. In some versions Hercules kills him for good measure. For example, in the story of Jason and the golden fleece, Ladon’s corpse is spotted by the Argonauts—the creature’s body is still heaving and trembling years after death while the heartbroken nymphs sob. In other stories the dragon survives and, together with the nymphs, continues to look after the tree of life.
Because I can not resist, here are links to a very short and delightful comic strip consisting of a first, second, and third panel. The drawings contain mild nudity (which differs from that found in Lord Leighton’s painting above only in that the strip is contemporary). The creator, M.L. Peters, tried to add a feeling of fin de siècle illustration so as to give the comic punchline a deeper resonance, and I feel he succeeded admirably. Additionally I love anchovies.
I was reading the accursed “Captivate Network” on the elevator today and, as usual, it had some feeble management hints—this time about how leaders can foster a sense of humor. It caused me to reflect that most of the good leaders I know don’t have much of a sense of humor. I believe this humdrum fact may contain clues about the nature of leadership and the hierarchical structure of human society.
Like many underlings, when I am at my day job, I have to work hard not to chime in with quips about the (many) ridiculous paradoxes and quirks of the workplace. Even if everyone else in the office enjoys a bit of clowning, humor sets the big boss on edge. Although he is too much of a politician to say anything, a careful observer can notice a moment of icy distaste settle on his face when anybody says something funny.
Part of this undoubtedly has to do with his agenda and his calendar. He runs a tight ship. Things must get done, and time constraints proscribe horseplay. Also the boss has to appear to be fair; and humor has an obvious power to unsettle and alienate. Looking back to middle school we all remember that the class clown could be a terrifying force of mockery and insecurity. A clever comedian can use jokes to exclude people from groups or shame them socially. Perhaps the boss needs to appear to be entirely above such things so he does not inadvertently slight someone or create a hostile environment.
But there are larger and more fundamental forces at play concerning bosses’ humorlessness than just good time management and coverage from liability. A comic sensibility is a wonderful tool for dealing with stress and uncertainty, however managers have even better tools for dealing with such things: namely us, their employees, who can be used like chess pieces to solve their problems. Additionally the boss has charisma, a forceful personality, a logical mind, self-discipline, and an extreme ability to organize things. What need hath he for laughter?
Also, as dog owners know, humor is a function of hierarchy. Lower status dogs are funny and amiable. They roll on their back and put their paws up in submission. They clown and cavort like puppies. Alpha dogs are more like wolves or bankers—serious, ruthless, and businesslike. Perhaps the boss becomes animated and fun when placed in a room filled with his superiors. Although, for the record, I have seen him “making rain” with wealthy individuals—and, although he was most convivial and used many humor-like turns of phrase, I don’t believe he was funny, nor did he particularly enjoy the jokes of others (even as he worked hard to produce an approximation of mirth).
Possibly too the boss could be holding his humor in reserve. In the Hornblower novels (a series of adventure novels about a great naval commander), the admirable captain conducted his life without humor or sentiment except in extreme situations. When everything was on the line, Hornblower’s subordinates were always shocked to find that their lofty captain was able to make jokes and be extremely affable. It allowed the sailors to get through the truly trying times–like when their frigate was being blown to smithereens or they were being sent to Paris for public execution. Perhaps in similar situations other emotionally-restrained bosses could pull off some big laughs.
Finally there is the nature of society. From personal first-hand accounts I know that the despised George W. Bush Junior was funny and amiable, with a knack for making people around him feel at ease. When he tried the same thing on cameras however it came off as shallow and uncaring. Any attempts to make fun of himself or the affairs of the nation (and both were frequently patently absurd) were derided by his enemies as callous and oafish. Lincoln apparently had a similar problem but was smart enough not to allow television cameras at official events (and brilliant enough that his witticisms were scintillating even on paper after 150 years). It seems like the current president suffers from such a problem too. He has certainly receded from being a mildly funny person whom people liked into a distant, dour technocrat. On top of that, even now, American society is still fundamentally puritan with a dislike of idle laughter in favor of good hard work.
I’m sorry to write such a dour and earnest essay concerning the (possible) humor of leaders. I know whole that whole species of comedy exist concerning how funny bosses are without meaning to be. I think that such entertainments, however, are aimed at bad bosses, whereas I like and respect my humorless boss as a superb and powerful leader [as an aside, I wrote the boss in this essay as an abstract figure—certainly not my actual bosses, business associates, or editors!]. I even kind of like and admire the hapless United States president (both this one and the last one) for earnestly struggling with the problems of the world night and day in a crazy media environment which usually prevents him from being very human and then requires him to emote like crazy every once in a while. In the final assessment of leadership and humor, though, I fear that, at least in contemporary America, the one usually precludes the other.
The Wahpper’s website informs us that “ same artist that created “Wahpper” also created “Salem Sue” – the World’s Largest Holstein Cow in New Salem, North Dakota.”
Wow, what a folksy post!
Once when I was on a long boring car ride from Rhode Island to New York, I began playing a hypothetical thought game with my friend Mike. I asked what sort of tree he would like to be. My old comrade did not respond by shouting out “purpleheart” or “bubinga” like a normal person, but rather, as is his wont, he asked a series of probing questions.
“Could I move around?” he asked.
“Of course not, you’re a tree,” I replied.
“Well, would I have the intellect of a tree?”
“No, you would have a human’s intellect and senses”
“Wait, could I do anything?”
“You could wave your arms–although it might be the breeze–and of course you could slowly grow…expand your roots deeper into the mountain, that sort of thing” I sagely relied. “I suppose you would be granted extremely long life though, unless you chose to be a…”
“Fie upon that!”* he interjected angrily. “I refuse to play your stupid game. I don’t want to be imprisoned for centuries in some sort of hell tree!”
So that was that. I still don’t know what kind of tree my friend would be (although, now that I think about it, that scenario does seem to be fairly dire). In hopes of enticing him to give me a better answer, here is a gallery of sentient, anthropomorphic trees I found around the internet. The one at the top of the post is a painting titled “General Sherman” by the disconcerting contemporary artist Mark Ryden from his 2007 “Tree Show” and the first one below is “the Brain Tree” a character from an online game who dispatches players on virtual scavenger hunts. As for the rest, I’m not sure. They were not properly attributed to the troubled individuals who designed them. I fear you will just have to let them wash over you without knowing who made them or why. So, without further ado, here are a bunch of anthropomorphic trees:
Wow, that…that got really creepy. It’s just possible (though unlikely) that Mike was right.
(*It should be noted that I have paraphrased this long-ago conversation–partly due to the distorting effects of memory and partly because of coarse language.)
In our continuing exploration of the uneasy world of mascots, it’s time to meet Wenlock and Mandeville, mascots for the 2012 London Olympics. Hmm, oh dear… They each have a camera for an eye, which seems eerily appropriate given England’s dystopian fascination with Orwellian surveillance equipment. They do not have mouths, probably so that they are unable to scream. Understanding their back story makes them no less disquieting: according to their creators, they are steel nuggets handicrafted by an eccentric grandfather and then given life by children’s love for sports.
“The mascot will help us engage with children which is what I believe passionately in,” London organising committee chairman Sebastian Coe told Reuters.
“The message we were getting was that children didn’t want fluffy toys, they didn’t want them to be human but they did want them rooted in an interesting story. “By linking young people to the values of sport, Wenlock and Mandeville will help inspire kids to strive to be the best they can be.”
Um, what? Toy designers know how easily children can be (mis)lead during marketing research. You have to watch their hands and eyes in order to find out their real answers. Or maybe I’m wrong and English children really do like mouthless, handless, soulless one-eyed robot-monsters.
Come on English designers! Just slap a bearskin on a bulldog and head for the pub. Everyone would be happy and you would have an enduring winner instead of the travesties which Wenlock and Mandeville so clearly are. As an added bonus, here are some alternate ideas for 2012 London Olympics mascots: