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Back when I was a toymaker, I used to attend the annual “Toy Fair” trade show in New York’s Javits Center. As you might imagine, the fair was filled not only with fine toys from around the world, but also with weird characters, strange products, peculiar has-been celebrities (Jaimie Farr at booth 1312?), and MASCOTS. A lot of these capering stuffed shills were selling recognizable dolls, plush animals, or action figures, but my favorite was an anonymous and poorly executed bear mascot with a neutral expression, dead eyes, and a bright blue shirt that said “Hong Kong Fun!” For some reason, I could not find a picture of this defunct character (bear-acter?) and so I have approximated the experience with this stock photo (even if it is a bit less anonymous than the original).

Apparently Chinese factory owners were incensed that American manufacturers were (and still are) designing and selling most of the toys made in China. They hoped to eliminate the middle man by manufacturing their own toys and selling straight to American retailers. Hong Kong Fun Bear was a branding tool in this mission. But Hong Kong Fun Bear not only looked janky, he also had a Chinese minder to keep an eye on him. If you tried to talk to Hong Kong Fun Bear, this apparatchik would sternly explain that Hong Kong Fun Bear was prohibited from speaking. Fun! Near the end of the fair, I noticed that Hong Kong Fun Bear had escaped his PRC escort and was outside having a cigarette with his head removed (inside the bear suit was a scrofulous and wan Chinese acrobat with an incredibly sad face).

Anyway, I tell this story to contextualize the current news from China, where Bing Dwen Dwen the famous and beloved Panda mascot of the 2022 Olympics is mired in controversy (maybe he really does exemplify the 2022 Olympics). According to the South China Morning Post, the beloved mascot appeared on a news program to question a skier and spoke with a deep manly “uncle voice” and a pronounced northeastern Chinese accent. The article (which you should read because it is amazing) describes the unhappy reaction which this breach provoked: “‘People don’t want to know that when they hug Bing Dwen Dwen, they’re holding a strange man,’ [one] outraged person commented.”

Apparently Bing Dwen Dwen is subject to binding contractual agreements between the PRC and the IOC which prohibit him (her? it?) from talking and specify that the character is gender neutral. It sounds like Hong Kong Fun Bear was smarter than the average bear to keep his mouth shut (although, thinking back, I am not sure Hong Kong Fun Bear even had a mouth). All of this is good fun of course and South China Morning Post has already published an article about the delight which Bing Dwen Dwen brings to workers (which also details the Cabbage Patch Kids style shortages of the panda figurines and merchandise). A party spokesperson pointedly noted that there are plenty of figurines of Shuey Rhon Rhon, the unloved lantern mascot of the paralympics.

Here seen standing forlornly in a strange public room

All of this suggests to me that Los Angeles had better start getting its mascot game together before the 2028 Olympics. Pandas drive people into buying frenzies, but if California rolls out a lame star or some kind of grizzled grizzly, South China Morning Post is going to be talking all sorts of trash about us. Just ask Hong Kong Fun Bear.

or Bing Dwen Dwen, if you can separate him from his new army of minders
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What with all of the excitement over nine sided Venetian citadel-cities and neutron stars, we have been ignoring a big fuzzy lovable (and carefully-orchestrated) component of contemporary life: mascots.  Fortunately, the planners of the upcoming Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics have made no such oversight and today (or yesterday in China?) they unveiled the Olympics mascot for 2022–a roly poly panda named Bing Dwen Dwen (pictured above).

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Of course a professional ursologist (which is hopefully someone who studies bears and not just some sort of hissing urologist) might be perplexed by Bing Dwen Dwen’s oblong shape and strangely albescent color.  This is not because he is a mutant bear or incorrectly rendered: Bing Dwen Dwen is encased in a full-body carapace of hardened ice (presumably to represent how cold and hard winter sports are).  Likewise, the blood-colored heart on his paw is not to remind you that even the most adorable panda can be dangerous (which is true, by the way), but rather to represent the hospitality and bighearted generosity of the People’s Republic of China.  Awww!  Bing’s face is wreathed in fine lines of pure color which represent racers whipping around a track and advanced digital technology.  To quote the official Olympics website, “The newly launched Olympic mascot resembles an astronaut, embracing new technologies for a future with infinite possibilities.”

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Oh my goodness, how can it be SO cute?

The Olympics website also generalizes that pandas are deeply loved by people from all over the world…which is surprisingly true, actually.  I think China made a good choice by selecting a supremely popular animal which is the exemplary archetype of all things Chinese. Leave the alien metal blobs for confused and divided nations.  Let’s give an enthusiastic round of applause to the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts and Jilin University of the Arts, which chose Bing from a vast pantheon of 5800 aspirant mascots.  These Olympic mascot contenders were submitted by designers from around the world who hoped to participate in the Winter Olympics without sliding face first down an ice mountain.  I wish I had known about the mascot contest: what could be more representative of winter sport than an armless flounder?  But I guess I will save that idea for when the winter games are held in Antarctica (which may soon be the only place cold enough for winter sports).

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