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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.
I really enjoyed the 31st Olympics…but then I have always really enjoyed the Olympics. I was raised in rural America during the end of the Cold War and I love the United State of America with all my heart. I remember the glow of pride when the Star-Spangled Banner would play as the gleaming American stood atop the podium while the glowering Russian looked up from the step below. Not only was it great drama, but it was a bonding event as well. My family would watch the games together—and everyone else in the community would be following the international spectacle too. In the middle of the country, the Olympics reminded a sports-crazed community about different sorts of people who we didn’t see too often in rural Ohio. These days I live in heterogeneous libertine New York—plus I have been around and seen some things—but I still love America and I still feel exactly the same way about the Olympics. Indeed, perhaps the Olympics are even better now that they are untainted by Cold War posturing and now that my experience of the world is broader.
Growing up, the sports which the neighbors loved were the big 3 professional sports: basketball, baseball, and, above all, American football. These are large institutional sports with lots of expensive equipment and pettifogging rules. They seem to mostly benefit a bunch of state college administrators and arrogant millionaires. As a child, I found them dull (although I later learned to enjoy them as a beer-swilling observer).
The Olympics however was a rare window to a much finer world of amazing sports! There are sports of true martial prowess: archery, shooting, judo, and fencing. There are sports with horses and sports with boats. There are sports for rugged individualist and sports for teams. All sorts of athletes of tremendously different sizes, shapes, and agility compete and their very different attributes are a source of collective strength. The little 1.3 meter (4 foot 6 inch) gymnast can do amazing things that the juggernaut 2 meter (6 foot 8 inch) shotput thrower who weighs as much as a gnu cannot…and vice versa. The freak with a muscular noodle for a torso and huge flippery feet metamorphoses into a dolphin in the pool. The slender diver morphs into a falcon. It should go without saying that America’s athletes, like Americans, are from every different ethnic backgrounds and walk of life. That tremendous range is a huge advantage in the Olympics…not just because it gives the nation a pool of athletes with lots of different body types and strengths but because it provides people who have lots of different perspectives on hard work and success.
The self-discipline of the athletes is evident not just in their chiseled bodies or lightning speed, but in the intensity of their expressions. And, when they win, the champions typically don’t talk about their “yuge” victories but instead talk about minute differences of grip or stroke or technique …then maybe they enthuse about their families and loved ones. It is very refreshing in our age of PR blitzes and self aggrandizement.
We need to hold these memories in our heart this year, as politicians and effete taste-makers work hard to divide us. The nation needs to remember our original motto: “e pluribus unum”.
America needs to be work harder to be worthy of our hard-working young athletes. The Olympics remind us that we are all on the same team—the Christian fundamentalist divers, the Islamic swordswomen, the atheists, the city kids and country kids, the team players and the rugged individuals, black, white, Asian, Indian, Native American, gay, straight…everyone is so different but they are all working together to tally up all of those medals.
Anyone who aspires to national leadership needs to recognize that, just as team USA needs little gymnasts and huge weight-lifters and all sorts of people in between, the real team USA– the nation itself–requires ever so many more different sorts of folks. We need both the sharp-eyed riflemen from Kentucky and the shrewd-minded accountants from Montclair. We need Jews and Gentiles, Mormons and Taoists, black folks and white ones. We need number people and word people and image people. We need people we don’t even know we need. The people of the United States are heterogeneous but we stand beside each other through any crisis–structural, cyclical, or natural. We are not the “Fiscally Independent and Selfishly Aloof States of America”. Our name is much finer than that.
As you have probably guessed, all of my posts this week have been about Brazil because I have been fixated on the Olympics, the worlds’ foremost sports competition. The 2016 Brazil Summer Olympics are the 31st Olympics (or I should maybe write “XXXI” Olympics) of the modern era. That last phrase is significant. There were Olympics of the ancient classical past and today’s Olympics were deliberately created in homage to these Greco-Roman games. The ancient Olympics were held every four years at the sanctuary of Zeus in Olympia Greece. According to myth, the Olympics were founded by Heracles in honor of his father Zeus. After he completed his twelve great labors and thus freed himself of the taint of murder and madness, Heracles built a beautiful stadium in honor of his father, the king of heaven. He then walked 200 heroic paces and proclaimed this distance to be a “stadion” one of the principle units of distance in Greek society. The Panhellenic games were held every four years (a unit of time known as an “Olympiad”). Although the origins of the games are shrouded in epic myth, the games basically lasted from 776 BC until 393 AD–when they were suppressed and ended by Theodosius I in a bout of anti-pagan Christian fundamentalism.
The ancient games featured running, jumping, discus, javelin, wrestling, pentathlon, boxing, pankration (a nightmarish no-holds barred ultimate fighting event), and equestrian events including riding and chariot races. Art and poetry competitions were also held at the Olympics—a notable difference from these modern games!
The athletic events were held in the nude with a few notable exceptions (which I will get to shortly). Only freeborn Greek men were allowed to participate. Some of the greatest athletes of the ancient games are still remembered to this day: Varazdat, the peerless Armenian boxer; the famously handsome Melankomas; the jumper Chionis of Sparta whose distance records held until the modern Olympics; Milo, the greatest wrestler of history (who was also a poet and mathematician); and, perhaps greatest of all, Leonidas of Rhodes–champion runner of 4 Olympiads.
Leonidas of Rhodes competed in four successive Olympics games (164BC, 160BC, 156BC and 152BC). He was peerless at sprinting the stadion (which was about 200 meters). Leonidas was also gifted at running the fast “diaulos” which was twice as long as the stadion. Both of these races were fleet nude foot races which would be more-or-less familiar today (although modern athletes must wear little loincloths or smallclothes and sundry plastic placards branded with the name of rich patrons and sponsors). Leonidas was the victor at the stadion and the diaulos in each of the four Olympics he attended (in the classical Olympics, the winner of an event received a crown made of laurel and there were no silvers and bronzes). What set Leonidas apart from other great runners was that he could also win the hoplitodromos—the race in armor!
The hoplitodromos was a long distance race meant to approximate the rigors of classical infantry maneuvers. Participants raced in 50 pounds of bulky equipment including heavy bronze helmet, breastplate, greaves, and a wooden shield (although the exact details are lost in the mists of history). The runners had to carry all of this kit and execute fast turns in blazing 90 degree heat. It was thought that a light swift runner capable of winning the stadion and the diaulos could not also win the grueling hoplitodromos—but it turned out that conventional wisdom was wrong. Leonidas won the laurel in all three events in all four Olympics he ran in. His record of 12 individual victories—laurels in three distinct events over 16 years–has stood the test of time well. It endured 2168 years until Michael Phelps surpassed it yesterday (August 11th 2016) in the pool. But who can say what deeds of athletic prowess might have supplanted Leonidas’ accomplishment during the dark ages when the Olympics lay dormant? If only Theodosius and grim-mouthed Christians had not ruined the fun for everyone for 1500 years, some Lithuanian lancer or Burgundian coustillier or Scottish yeoman could have won 12 gold medals at jousting or barrel dancing or monk-hurling lo
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.
The 2016 Rio Olympics are on their way and already the mascots for the 2016 games have been presented and named! Ferrebeekeeper has been falling down at monitoring mascot news—the winning candidates were chosen back in November of 2014 (whipping up PR stories for a sports competition which is years away is a long & delicate art).
The 2012 Olympics in London featured stupid avant-garde alien blobs Wenlock and Mandeville who were rightly pilloried by everyone (including this blog). The 2014 Russian Olympics featured a mascot election which Vladimir Putin may have tampered with! So what did Brazil come up with for the big game? The nation is beloved for its beaches, beautiful mixed-race populace, and, above all, for the unrivaled biodiversity of the Amazon Basin—where the world’s largest river runs through the planet’s greatest rainforest. Less admirable features of Brazil include deeply corrupt demagogues, insane crime, irrational love of soccer (which is a sort of agonizingly slow version of hockey), and an underperforming economic sector which has always been 20 years away from greatness. What cartoon figure appropriately represents these dramatic juxtapositions?
This blog wanted a tropical armored catfish to win. Barring that, we were hoping for a beautiful Amazon riverine creature of some sort—maybe a river dolphin, a giant otter, or even a pretty toucan. However, the committee which came up with the mascots did not want anything quite so tangible. Instead they chose two magical animal beings which respectively represent the fauna and flora of Brazil. Fortunately, the mascots are pretty cute (and they are both painted with a bewitching array of tropical colors).
The Olympic mascot represents the multitudinous animals of the rainforest and his name is “Vinicius.” Vinicius is some sort of flying monkey-cat with rainbow colored fur and a prehensile tail. The Paralympic mascot is a sort of artichoke-looking sentient vegetable named Tom (so I guess he is male too—although, names aside, it is sometimes hard to tell with plants).
Vinicius’ long sinuous limbs and tail make him admirably suited for illustrating the many different Olympics sports—and I really like pictures of him shooting archery, running, and lifting weights. Tom seems a bit less suited for athletics, but his winning smile and endearing fronds are appealing in their own right. I guess I am happy with the choice of Olympics mascots. They do a fine job representing the world’s fifth most populous country (in so much as cartoon nature spirits can represent a place so large and diverse). I’m looking forward to seeing more of them (even if I might dream sometimes of what could have been instead).
The Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia have commenced! Now I love the Olympics in all their forms, but, sadly, I have no strengths at winter sports (unless you count hilariously falling down on icy surfaces as a strength—in which case I am the comic equal of any silent movie star). Because of my lack of knowledge about sliding down icy mountains on sticks, I have been trying to find something to write about the Sochi games which does not involve winter sports.
Fortunately the history of Sochi is quite interesting (albeit somewhat dark). After being a contested territory during the Russo-Turkish War (1828–1829), the Crimean War of 1853–1856, and the long-lasting Russian Circassian War of 1817–1864, the Sochi area was somewhat…denuded of local population. In 1866, the Tsar’s government pronounced a decree was promoting relocation and colonization of Russians to Sochi. But what would these peasant farmers do for a living in the strange semi-tropical mountains by the Black Sea Coast?
The solution arrived in the early 1900s when a Ukrainian peasant farmer named Judas Antonovich Koshman introduced a new strain of tea to Sochi. Tea was then the most popular (non-alcoholic) beverage in Russia, but its cost was prohibitively high. A series of tea plantations had been planted in the Sochi area during the 1870s and 1880s but they had all failed because of the cold (or they produced bitter disappointing harvests). Koshman’s tea, however, was different: the plants were more tolerant of the cold and they had a rich unique flavor which appealed to the Russian palate. And thus the great tea plantations of the Black Sea came into being. Throughout the tumult of World War I, the Soviet Revolution, Stalinism, World War II, the Cold War, and the painful birth of modern Russia, the tea has grown along the foothills of the Caucasus Mountains in scenes reminiscent of Assam. Krasnodar tea is one of the world’s northernmost varieties of tea. It is said to have a pleasant fragrance and an appealing tart flavor. It also contains a very high level of caffeine so that Russian tea parties stay lively and awake around the Samovar!
The mixed martial art of the ancient Greek world was pankration, a brutal mixture of boxing and wrestling with no real rules other than a proscription against biting and eye gouging. Victory was simple: one fighter prevailed when his opponent verbally yielded, was knocked unconscious, or died. The story of the greatest Pankration fighter in Greek history, Arrichion of Phigalia, reveals much about Greek athletic values, but it also an all-time classical story about the human quest for glory (and about the elusive vicissitudes of the world).
Arrichion of Phigalia was the equivalent of a franchise sports star in the 6th century world. He won crushing victories to claim the victory wreath in pankration at the Olympics of 572 and 568 B.C. and he was a well-paid fan favorite. By the Olympics of 564 B.C. however he was much older and the many no-holds-barred fights of his career were catching up with him. Also there was a fast young fighter who seemed poised to finally unseat the aging champion.
Both Arrichion and the up-and-coming young athlete made it to the final bout to contend for the gold medal and the laurel. Arrichion was tired from the earlier bouts but still fighting with brutal vigor when suddenly the challenger caught him in a choke hold. Desperately Arrichion grabbed the younger man’s foot and wrenched with all his strength—which caused an audible pop. The challenger throttled Arrichion, while Arrichion ground the broken foot back and forth. So agonizing was the pain from his broken foot that, at last, the challenger tapped out. Arrichion was undefeated champion of pankration yet again! However when the combatants were separated it was discovered that he had died of suffocation in procuring his victory.
The unblemished nature of Arrichion’s career became part the Greek’s athletic ideal and he was immortalized in sculpture and even in history (which is why we know about any of this). The cynical modern reader wonders though if this is what Arrichion would have chosen. In some corner of the Peloponnese, the ghost of Greek sports enthusiastically nods that it is indeed exactly what the fighter would have wanted.
The 2014 Winter Olympics will be held in Sochi, Russia which is a city on the Black Sea near the Georgia border. The games will be the first winter games to feature medals competitions in “Slopestyle” snowboard and skiing as well as snowboard parallel slalom.
Of course the real competitions have already been held: namely the insane International competition to host the Olympics (which came down to a choice between Sochi, Salzburg, and Pyeongchang) and, more importantly, the competition to choose the official Olympic mascots. You will no doubt recall that the 2012 summer Olympics mascots were “Wenlock and Mandeville”, two cyclopean alien robot monsters.
In an attempt to end up with less appalling mascots, Russia turned to the time honored Russian solution of…democracy (?). Wow! The world really is changing. A list of vetted candidates was drawn up and submitted to the public for consideration. Some of the shortlisted design ideas included Matryoshka dolls, Dolphins, Bullfinches, snow leopards, hares, bears, a tiny anthropomorphized sun, and Ded Moroz (the Russian “Father Frost” who acts as Santa).
Zoich, the anti-establishment furry crowned toad (who was modeled after Futurama’s hypnotoad) was quietly omitted from the final list of candidates as was Ded Moroz, when it was discovered that, if he won, he would become the intellectual property of the International Olympic Committee.
A telephone voting competition was held between the final mascot candidates and the three winners (the snow leopard, hare, and bear) became the official Olympic mascots. Unfortunately the election was tainted with scandal when Russia’s elected leader and perennial strongman, Vladimir Putin announced that his favorite candidate was the snow leopard. Subsequent to this proclamation, an immense number of phonecalls were immediately tallied for the snow leopard, which has led to charges of vote-rigging (so maybe the world hasn’t changed so much after all).
The designer of the 1980 Moscow Games mascot Misha (a bear which nobody saw because of the U.S. boycott) has accused the designer of the Sochi bear mascot of plagiarizing his bear expression. Certain political groups have also darkly hinted that the bear was chosen because it resembles the mascot of the United Russia political party (which is the dominant force in Russian politics).
So it seems only the snow hare and the Paralympic mascots (a snowflake girl and fireboy) are untainted by controversy. I dislike admitting it, but to my eye, Putin was right and the snow leopard, although not native to Sochi, is the most compelling figure. They are all pretty cute, so maybe this whole democracy thing actually works (despite the ghastly results we have been getting lately in America).
The 2012 London Olympics are passing into history. Congratulations to all of the athletes and planners (and to the British in general). Now the world is becoming curious about what’s going to happen in the next summer Olympics in Brazil. Will that nation continue its meteoric rise from underperforming “developing” economy into a major international powerhouse? Will municipal authorities clean up street crime in Rio de Janeiro? Will Cariocas continue to disdain all but the skimpiest of garments—even with the eyes of the world upon them? These answers will only be known in four years: it is impossible to see into the future. But maybe it’s worthwhile to take another look back at the past. The first modern Olympic games were held in Athens in 1896 thanks to a late nineteenth century obsession with fitness, the hard work of Pierre de Coubertin, and a widespread interest in the classical Olympics (the roots of which are lost in history, but which are mythically believed to have been initiated by Hercules). Yet there were earlier modern Olympic-style contests which preceded the 1896 Olympics. The Wenlock Olympic games, an annual local gaming festival which originated in the 1850’s in Shropshire, England, have been much discussed by the English during the run-up to the 2012 Olympics (in fact one of the awful mascots takes his name from the venerable tradition), however an even older modern Olympics festival was celebrated in much stranger circumstances.
On September 11, 1796 (also known as “1er vendémiaire, an IV” under the crazy Republican calendar) the “First Olympiad of the Republic” took place in Paris at the Champ de Mars. As many as 300,000 spectators watched some part of the contests. The opening ceremony was dedicated to “peace and fertility” and then teams of competitors participated in various sporting events modeled on those of classical antiquity. The first event, a foot race, was a tie between a student named Jean-Joseph Cosme and a “pomegranate” named Villemereux [I had to break out the French-English dictionary to determine that Villemereux was (probably) a grenadier instead some sort of seedy fruit]. The Olympiad also features horse and chariot racing. The victors were crowned with laurel and rode in a chariot of victory. The event ended with fireworks and an all-night drinking holiday. The event was very popular with the public and the press.
There were two more Olympiads of the Republic, in 1797 and 1798. The 1797 Olympiad was modeled closely on the 1796 event, however the 1798 Olympiad took additional inspiration from the classical Olympics and from the Enlightenment ideals of science and reason. Wrestling was added to the contests and the games featured the first ever use of the metric system in sports. However in 1798, the ominous shadows lengthening over Europe were apparent at the games. As the athletes marched onto the field, they passed in front of effigies which represented all of the original French provinces, but they also passed before effigies which represented the newly conquered provinces from the Netherlands, Switzerland, and northern Italy. The armies of the French Republic were surging through Europe. As the Directory gave way to the Consulate the games were subsumed by more serious martial conflict, and the first consul—soon known as Emperor Napoleon, apparently saw no reason to bring them back.
The Olympics is continually remade to reflect contemporary taste. Sports which were once important are gradually abandoned. Exciting new sports which appeal to younger audiences (or boring old sports which appeal to wealthier audiences) are tried out. For example, the 2016 Olympics in Rio will feature two new sports—rugby sevens and golf (which has repeatedly been part of the Olympics in the past—and has repeatedly been dropped because it is an unwatchable festival of abject tedium). The extent to which things have gradually changed becomes apparent when one looks back at the canceled sports of yesteryear, many of which are so anachronistic they seem like Monty Python gags. The Economist illustrates the point with this delightful chart which features live pigeon shooting, javelin free style, and pistol dueling for teams (!?). One of the discontinued sports which sounded most exciting to me was club swinging which conjures heady images of hirsute cavepersons belaboring each other with wooden cudgels. Was this the original sport?
Alas, my research into club swinging has revealed that the sport was not the Neanderthal free-for-all for which I was hoping (nor even some sort of amoral 70’s party event). Apparently the “clubs” are those weird elongated bowling pin things that jugglers use. The club swinger would take these objects and whirl them about his head and trunk in a discipline which combined saber-dancing, juggling, gymnastics, and just plain looking ridiculous. The sport had such a circus appearance that it gave rise to rumors that juggling was once an Olympics sport (which it never was). Club swinging was also known as Indian club swinging because gifted participants apparently looked like they were taking part in some intricately choreographed Native American ritual. In the fullness of time club swinging devolved into rhythmic gymnastics, that strange pseudo sport where a young Bulgarian dances and tumbles with a ribbon on a stick (which always makes my poor father apoplectic when he sees it on TV).
Club swinging was only a medal event at two Olympics festivals—the Saint Louis Olympics of 1904 and the Los Angeles Olympics of 1932. Both of these Olympics were dominated by Americans because, in the age before cheap jet travel, the Olympics were not nearly as International as they now are.
The 1932 Olympics took place at the high point (or low point?) of the Great Depression and underlines the sad exigencies of those times. The gold medalist in club swinging was George Roth, an unemployed gymnast who was hit particularly hard by that economic catastrophe (in fact the Guardian reports that he once went 15 days without eating—so he probably looked like today’s gymnasts). Roth embodied Baron de Coubertin’s ideal of unpaid amateur sports to an unwholesome degree: as soon as he was awarded with his gold medal he left the stadium and sadly hitchhiked home.