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Today’s news was filled with bluster and foolishness to such an extent that I am just going to disregard it all for the moment and write a throw-away humor post about consumer goods. Presumably we can work on restoring science, democracy, and art to humankind at some later point when I am less tired from work.
It has been widely noted that honeybees have been disappearing from the world. Although this problem was exacerbated by climate change, invasive varroa mites, and disease, the main problem is the overuse of neonicotinoid pesticides, which take a terrible toll on hymenopterans in general and are especially hard on eusocial bees (which extensively rely on elaborate organization, communication, and teamwork).
This past week, General Mills, the maker of Cheerios decided to cash in on this tragedy, with a marketing campaign in which “BuzzBee” the cartoon bee who is the mascot of HoneyNut Cheerios has likewise gone missing. The firm is distributing packets of “wildflowers” with their cereal so that children can help out our beleaguered insect friends by planting bee friendly gardens. It is a bit unclear how wisely or carefully the flowers in the packets were chosen, but I am generally a fan of flower gardening and this sounds like a potentially fun promotion (although I have a suspicion there will be a lot of people who end up disappointed by the “Diving Dolphin” nature of cereal box seeds).
Although he comes from a rogues’ gallery filled with monsters, addicts, and leprechauns, the Honey Nut Cheerios bee was a fairly amiable cereal mascot: he was sort of good-natured and slightly anxious bee who wanted you to experience “one honey of an O” with his delicious sugary cereal (which really is pretty good).
Yet I tend to regard BuzzBee not as a victim of colony collapse disorder as of poorly thought-out branding. He seems like he was created by a room full of MBAs without a particularly good grasp of hymenopteran life cycles. Notably, the honey nut bee was clearly male—even though male honey bees are stingless drones of limited utility to the hive. It seems unlikely that he would ever obtain reproductive success hanging around human kitchens (fertile queens tend to be found and courted in harrowing aerial circumstances), however people also do not tend to use agricultural pesticides in their kitchen, so Buzz most likely did not die of neonicotinoids: more likely he was a victim of starvation, winter, or possibly a bee-eating predator such as a lizard or a bear.
And if Buzz did manage to get his act together and find an unfertilized queen, then we will certainly never see him again! Reproductive consummation proves fatal to drones.
No doubt, General Mills is hoping to bring Buzz back in the style of Coke Classic with much fanfare and, um, marketing buzz, however, I hope that when they do so, they stop and think about actual bees. To my mind, a honeybee mascot would be much more powerful if it was a formidable queen bee or, even better, a group of terrifying clone sisters who all speak the same thoughts in the same hive voice. That would truly be an appropriate image for the group-think world of brand marketing. Also it would leave an indelible impression on the mind of today’s youth, the same way “Crazy Cravings” scarred a group of children with his disturbing need for Honeycomb. Crazy Craving taught all of us how giant corporations would like us to be, maybe the fact that GM is so willing to disappear the friendly face of its sugar cereal for a bit of tawdry publicity will remind us afresh of the world they are trying to build.
It has been far too long since we have featured a mascot themed post. Chicken week (which honors the year of the fire rooster) is an ideal time for such a celebration. Ferrebeekeeper has already featured my favorite chicken-themed business (the amazing South Chicago chicken franchise “Harold’s Chicken”) but there are plenty of other famous chickens out there.
WordPress has stopped giving me the ability to caption things effectively (if there are any passing site admins could you guys look into this) so I am going to just open up the floodgates and set out a flock of weird chicken men.
This open post has the disadvantage of opening up a world of sheer craziness with no effective explanations (as if this had an explanation anyway) but it has the advantage of letting us contemplate just how strange and multitudinous our culture of cartoon images, corporate shills, and brands really is.
Look at all of these dead eyed roosters and sad felt cockerels! This is the first thing that has made me feel the most remote stirrings of job satisfaction since the new year. It may be bad but at least I am not this guy.
Then and again, all of the chicken mascots indicate that chickens are popular and get noticed. And, judging by the news, there is no force in the social world which outshines attention.
Maybe the rooster is a more fitting symbol for society than I initially thought. They say you are what you eat, and we mostly eat chicken. Let’s hope that just means we are truculent attention-seeking braggarts and not that we are yellow!
Uh…not that there is anything wrong with the color.
Here in the northern hemisphere, we’re moving to the darkest time of the year. I don’t have any white robes or giant megaliths on hand to get us through the solstice, but I thought I might at least cheer up the gloomy darkness with some festive decorations! As in years past, I put up my tree of life filled with animal life of the past and the present (see above). This really is my sacred tree: I believe that all Earth life is part of a larger cohesive gestalt (yet not in a stupid supernatural way–in a real and literal way). Looking at the world in review, I am not sure most people share this perspective, so we are going to be philosophizing more about our extended family in the coming year. For right now though, lets just enjoy the colored lights and the Christmas trilobite, Christmas basilosaurus, and Christmas aardvark.
I also decorated my favorite living tree–the ornamental cherry tree which lives in the back yard. Even without its flowers or leaves it is still so beautiful. I hope the shiny ornaments and toys add a bit of luster to it, but really I know its pulchritude is equally great at the end of January when it is naked even of ornaments.
Here are some Javanese masks which my grandfather bought in Indonesia in the 50s/60s. Indonesian culture is Muslim, but there is a deep foundation of Hinduism (the masks are heroes from the Mahabharata and folk heroes of medieval Indonesia). Decorating this uneasy syncretism up for Christmas is almost nonsensical–and yet look at how good the combination looks. Indeed, there might be another metaphor here. We always need to keep looking for beautiful new combinations.
Finally here is a picture of the chandelier festooned with presents and hung with a great green bulb. The present may be dark, but the seasons will go on shifting and there is always light, beauty, and generosity where you make it. I’m going to be in and out, here, as we wrap up 2016 and make some resolutions for 2017. I realize I have been an inconsistent blogger this year, but I have been doing the best I can to keep exploring the world on this space and that will continue as we go into next year. I treasure each and every one of you. Thank you for reading and have a happy solstice.
One theory of aesthetics asserts that every human-manufactured item provides profound insights into its makers and their society. In college, we had endless fun (or some reasonably proximate substitute) by grabbing random kitschy mass-produced objects and deconstructing them so that all of the peccadillos of wage-capitalism in a mature democracy were starkly revealed. Alone among college endeavors, this proved useful later on, when I worked at the National Museum of American History (where the staff was employed to do more-or-less the same thing). Seemingly any item could provide a window for real understanding of an era. Thus different aspects of our national character were represented by all sorts of objects: harpoons, sequined boots made in a mental asylum, an old lunch-counter, gilded teacups, or miniature ploughs…even a can of Green Giant asparagus from the 70s [btw, that asparagus caused us real trouble and was a continuing problem for the Smithsonian collection: but we will talk about that later on in an asparagus-themed post]. The objects which were significant were always changing and things regarded as treasures in one era were often relegated to the back of off-site storage facility by curators of the seceding generation, but a shrewd observer could garner a surprisingly deep understanding of society by thinking intelligently about even apparently frivolous or trivial objects.
Anyway, all of this is roundabout way of explaining that Ferrebeekeeper is celebrating the Day of the Dead by deconstructing these two skull-themed items. At the top is a skull-shaped candle holder with a bee on it. At the bottom is a skull shaped lotion-dispenser. One dispenses light while celebrating the eusocial insects at the heart of agriculture; the other dispenses unguents and celebrates the reproductive organs of plants. But of course, when we look at these items more closely, there is more to them than just a decorated lamp and a cosmetics container.
The Día de Muertos skull already represents a syncretic blend of two very opposite cultures: the death-obsessed culture of the Aztecs who built an empire of slavery and sacrifice to make up for dwindling resources at the center of their realm, and the death-obsessed culture of the Spaniards who built an empire of slavery and sacrifice to make up for dwindling resources at the center of their realm. Um…those two civilizations sounded kind of similar in that last sentence, but, trust me, they were from different sides of an ocean and had very different torture-based religions.
Beyond the obvious cultural/religious history of Mestizo culture, the two skulls have bigger things to say about humankind’s relationship with our crops. The features of the death’s head have been stylized and “cutened” but even thus aestheticized it provides a stark reminder of human mortality. We burgeon for a while and then pass on. Yet the day of the dead skull is a harvest-time ornament. It is made of sugar or pastry (well not these two…but the original folk objects were) and covered in flowers, grain, and food stuffs. The skulls portray humankind as a product of our agricultural society. The harvest keeps coming…as do seceding generations of people…just as the old harvest and the old people are used up—yet they are always a part of us like a circle or an ouroboros. Each generation, a different group of people comes to work the fields, and eat sugar skulls and pass away–then they are remembered with sugar skulls as their grandchildren work the fields etc…
Lately though, things have started to rapidly change. Although agriculture is the “primary” economic sector which allows all of the other disciplines, most of us no longer work in the fields. Instead we partake of secondary sector work: manufacturing things. In this era we are even more likely to be in the third (or fourth) sector: selling plastic skulls to each other, or writing pointless circular essays about knickknacks.
Marketers have inadvertently built additional poignant juxtapositions into these two skull ornaments. The skull at the bottom is a lotion or soap dispenser. It is meant to squirt out emollients so that people can stay clean and young and supple in a world where old age still has no remedy. The irony is even more sad in the skull on the top which shows a busy bee: the classical symbol of hard work paying off. Yet the bees are dying away victims to the insecticides we use to keep our crops bountiful. Hardwork has no reward in a world where vast monopolistic forces set prices and machines churn out endless throw-away goods. Indeed, these two objects are not beautiful folk objects…they are mass-produced gewgaws meant to be bought up and thrown away. In the museum of the future will they sit on a shelf with a little note about bees or lotion or crops written next to them, or will they join a vast plastic underworld in a landfill somewhere?
Or maybe they are just endearing skulls and you aren’t supposed to think about them too much. But if a skull does not make the observer think, then what object ever will?
OK, I’m not going to sugarcoat it, my idea for today’s blog post did not work out. I was going to write about Gothic mascots—a perfectly serviceable mashup of two favorite Ferrebeekeeper tags—but, when I got home from work and started researching gothic mascots the pickings turned out to be exceedingly slim—a Simpsons gag (the Montreal vampire), a bunch of troubling Lolita cartoons, and those godawful “Capital One” barbarians who are trying to sell you some sort of credit card (are they even Visigoths? Is “Capital One” even really a real credit card?). Apparently nobody wants any sort of gothic mascots except for predatory lenders.
Oh no!–what if Capital One destroys my credit rating for making fun of them? [collapses laughing]
So I ended up looking with increasing desperation at past mascots for anything of any interest and this line of inquiry lead me back to that Simpson’s joke about the Montreal vampire. Montreal is a francophone city—beautiful and evocative—yet prone to making choices which are different from the market-driven choices of other places. What was the mascot of the 1976 Montreal Olympics? And, Bingo! suddenly I had today’s blog post.
This is Amik the beaver. Amik means beaver in Algonquin—so this character (which looks like it was designed by somebody who just spilled an entire bottle of India ink) is really named “Beaver the beaver.” Anik appears with a red stripe with the Montreal Games logo on it or sometimes with a pre (?) pride rainbow strip.
I am making fun of poor Anik because I don’t think beavers lack faces. Nor are they the unsettling pure black of absolute oblivion. Maybe I found my Gothic mascot after all—in the most unlikely of places—Montreal, 1976! I will write a better post tomorrow. In the meantime enjoy the strange juxtaposition of nihilism and naivete which was seventies design.
Ahh mascots…It has been too long since we peaked into the strange representational world of symbolic characters. A mascot is meant to bring good luck…and what could be luckier than a pigeon (which, after all, live virtually everywhere and tend to be in robust health). When it comes to living in a city, no mascot (except maybe the rat or Joan Rivers) could be more appropriate. Therefore here is a little gallery of pigeon mascots. Sadly Samsung has not mastered iridescent monitor technology so you will have to use your imagination to add the glossy feathers and cooing.
This one is by Jamie Sale, who will design a mascot for you if you find him on the internet and properly incentivize him (look the pigeon is drawing mascots!)
I don’t know if it counts, but here is a stunning Louis Lejeune Hood Ornament.
Some of these guys look a little bit like they came from a really dirty episode of “Family Guy”or maybe escaped from mascot jail… but urban birds are a bit gritty so perhaps that is as it should be. At least they gloriously encapsulate pigeon pride
The 2016 Olympics are fast approaching and they have the potential to be all too interesting. The Brazilian government has been mired in a serious executive political crisis. The Brazilian economy is melting down. There is a crimewave in Rio AND the beautiful tropical city is at the epicenter of the Zika crisis. Pundits are predicting disaster, but I am still hopeful that Brazil can pull it off. My cautious optimism stems partly from love of international sports; partly from the desire to see tropical dance spectaculars featuring samba dancers & bizarre floats; and partly from morbid curiosity.
But before we get to the 2016 Summer Olympics there is business to discuss concerning the 2018 Winter Olympics. Ferrebeekeeper tries to stay abreast of mascots because there is larger symbolic meaning in these cartoonish corporate figureheads. Behold “Soohorang,” the white tiger mascot of the 2018 Winter Olympics to be held in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Real tigers are magnificent, stately, adorable, and terrifying–so they make good mascots. The last Korean Olympics, the Seoul Summer Olympics of 1988 had an orange and black Amur tiger mascot “Hodori” (below) who was pretty endearing. Unfortunately Soohorang is a bit too digitally rendered to look like anything other than the output of a committee and a graphics design team.
According to the June 2nd press statement at Olympics.org,“In mythology, the white tiger was viewed as a guardian that helped protect the country and its people. The mascot’s colour also evokes its connection to the snow and ice of winter sports.” I guess white tigers are special in Korean and Indian mythology, but in Chinese mythology the white tiger is a monster which symbolically represents the west and death.
Now that a mascot has been chosen, we can start looking forward to the 2018 winter Olympics in the north of South Korea (somehow the Olympic committee found the one place that is the focus of even more socio-political tension than the Black Sea). In the mean time the Summer Olympics is fast approaching. Why not sit back and pour yourself a Cachaça, read about the Brazilian mascot “Vinicius” (pictured at the top of this article, playing on and around a cable car in an unsafe manner) and start preparing for the games.
Here’s something from the hinterlands…The Fort Wayne Mad Ants are a minor league basketball team (which is evidently a thing) in Fort Wayne, America’s 77th largest city located in Iowa or Texas or Indiana or something. The Mad Ants have not always had the most glorious record in basketball…but who cares? Look at their glorious mascot!
This 90s-looking abomination is appropriately known as “the Mad Ant.” According to his website, he is 6’1” tall and his favorite food is “anything at your picnic.” I say “he” because that is how he self-identifies on the internet (although male ants should have wings…so I suspect he is really a female drone).
The Mad Ant is pretty busy rooting for Mad Ants basketball and helping out at local charities, but big parts of his year are fairly empty, so if you want to book him at your party there is a link.
Chartreuse Cloud Monster (Wayne Ferrebee, 2016, cardboard and paint)
Hypothetically, sometimes, at one’s day job one has a pushy colleague who loudly demands things and stridently lobbies for oh say…all new office furniture. It is a conundrum whether to simply bow to the wishes of the assertive colleague who demands a credenza from the internet, or whether one should go to one’s superiors and assess whether this is the right use for the office credit card. One could potentially be caught between bickering superiors fighting over a cheap credenza. Hypothetically.
In unrelated news, office credenzas come packed in extremely heavy cardboard boxes. This cardboard seemed perfect for building something, so instead of throwing it into a landfill, I cut it out and brought it home to build into strange new life (thereby erasing any unpleasant office politics which may or may not have been involved in its acquisition).
Tawny Elder Monster (Wayne Ferrebee, 2016, cardboard and paint)
Last year I crafted a three-dimensional anglerfish/horse type monster in bright fluorescent colors to go with the blooming cherry tree. This year I decided to build three ambiguously shaped blossom monsters out of the heavy cardboard from some, uh, office furniture. The first monster (chartreuse, at the top), was meant to represent the life giving power of spring clouds. He is a cloud creature squirming with tadpoles–or maybe Yin/Yang spirit energy…however the guests at my party thought he was a three eyed camel with sperm on him (which I guess is also true, from a certain point of view). I wonder if Henry Moore had to deal with this sort of rough-and-ready interpretation of his abstract sculptures.
The second statue, which may be the best, is an orange figurine somewhere between a wise bird and a tribal warrior. It has the cleanest lines and the best paint job and it is only marred by a slight tendency to curl up (there is always something! Especially if one is dealing with cardboard sculpture).
Pink Sphinx Figure(s?) (Wayne Ferrebee, 2016, cardboard and paint)
Finally I made a sort of pink octopus/sphinx with a glowing pink interior. Again one friend looked at it and said “It’s a Pierson’s puppeteer!” (this being a meddlesome three-footed, two-headed extraterrestrial super-being from Larry Niven science fiction novels).
Another friend looked at it and said “Why is it so explicit? I can’t believe you would show such violent erotic ravishment at your cherry festival!”
So, I guess my blossom monsters are more evocative and more ambiguous than I meant for them to be (I was sort of thinking of them as a cross between Dr. Seuss and African carvings). Please let me know what you think! Oh and here is a colored pencil drawing of the orange one cavorting beneath the cherry tree!
Blooming Cherry Tree (Wayne Ferrebee, 2016, colored pencil and ink)