On the web, choosing the mascot of the Sochi Olympics was probably the most discussed topic around the 2014 Winter Games. What is great with the Olympics is that being a global, international affair, each time it presents the local quintessence of the hosting city. Simply put, the symbol reflects the local Olympic dream as well as the local customs and traditions and the soul of the place where they are held. That’s why choosing the symbol of the Olympics usually stirs vibrations and high response from people.
When I just arrived in NYC as a Fulbrighter from Moscow in September 2007, I first stayed for a couple of weeks in Brooklyn. I took the Q Train from Avenue H to Times Square where the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism is located. It would take me one coke, one donut and 20 pages of ‘Convergence Culture’ one way. ‘Convergence Culture’ by Henry Jenkins was the first book I chose out of a wide selection in the CUNY J-School’s Library. I had definitely heard about Henry Jenkins before going to the States, but I never read ‘Convergence Culture’ – the so well-known book, which reveals the improvisation around fandom and pop culture on the web, and it actually became itself an object of fandom for so many readers. I absolutely loved the book and was perusing it. Later I would interview Mr. Jenkins for my dissertation in his MIT campus apartment, but then, in the Q Train, I had yet no idea about it…
I again remembered Mr. Jenkins’ book while surfing thru the web and coming across an extravagant group to lobby Futurarama’s Dr. Zoidberg for the Symbol of the Sochi Olympics. The group was parked at the social network Vkontakte (which means ‘in contact’), the Russian counterpart of Facebook, which has a very similar design, icons and functions.
Let’s take a look at the Olympics and the Olympic movement as the mass culture phenomenon, a chance to improvise and express yourself.
‘Zoidberg for the Olympics’ club is positioned as a ‘proposal to the organizers of the Games’, tagged as ‘Creativity’ and categorized as an ‘Art and Entertainment’ group. There are over 46 000 members in it. And all Zoidberg multimedia relics are here: his famous Woo-Woo-Woo audios and the e-graffiti Z’s portraits – the members’ contributions. The lobster-alien Dr. John A. Zoidberg, M.D. himself is delicately integrated into the Sochi 2014 logotype.
I wonder if those guys who inspired the movement for Dr. Zoidberg actually submitted their candidate to the Sochi Olympic Organizing Committee when it announced the contest for the emblem. The submissions – most of them relating to the sea, mountains, snow, sports, animals – included various types of bear, a sea gulf, a crab, a mammal, a squirrel with five golden nuts, a snowman and a skiing Santa-Claus, and even five gas tubes arranged as Olympic rings… but it was a skiing dolphin, supported by the majority of voters, which became the winner: you can often see those drifting in hoards in the Black Sea by the shore… The official mascot, according to the algorythm, will be chosen after the Vancouver Games.
It’s a good and entertaining idea to promote Dr. Zoidberg for the Olympic emblem, though it’s pretty challenging to prove that he is the best one for this role. It looks easier to justify the rights of a dolphin or even a mermaid for the position. So the group admins aspire to be imaginative and inventive to sound convincing. The arguments they bring are as follows:
Dr. Zoidberg ‘was born earlier than the Hen and the egg’, ‘he has cured many people’, ‘he is so cute’. But he has never been in Sochi yet, so that he doesn’t get cold there (like Renée Zellweger’s character in the movie ‘New in Town’), they introduce an e-questionnaire, asking the members of the group to choose what he should bring with him to Sochi not to freeze. And the possible answers are: a hat, a scarf, a shell, a bottle of vodka (ah…), mittens for pincers…but it’s the glove for the nose which is the hit answer… Well, those guys are getting wild.
In contrast, someone creates a group claiming that it’s much fairer to declare Olympics as the symbol of Dr. Zoidberg, and not vice versa, cause of Zoidberg is everlasting and perpetual, and the Games are recurrent, just once in two years.
But this way or another, Dr. Zoidberg as a symbol is immensely popular. (Just to add here, other candidates as well found their fans, who also started similar fan groups within the social networks. But while Dr. Zoidberg boasts thousands of fans, the Mammal has only 869, the Beaver – 284, and SpongeBob SquarePants – 223. Another candidate is another mass culture giant – Cthulhu, the mythic octopus-like creature. He has 61 backers only, but this group is a closed community).
Those graphic experiments with the Olympics Symbol are, beyond doubt, a source of inspiration for many amateur designers who improvise and replicate. In one of the pictures Cthulhu is artfully married to Cheburashkah, the star of Soviet cartoons, a Russian analogue of Mickey Mouse. (A red Cheburashkah was, by the way, the real symbol of the Russian team at the Beijing Olympics).
It’s all fine with the ‘Dr. Zoidberg for the Sochi Olympics’ fan-club. It’s creative and motivating to use imagination. The only thing is that it is actually more about Dr. Zoidberg, by and for his avid fans, and not so much about the Olympics.
As for the Olympics, the IOC is figuring out these days how best and most effectively to use the new media, the web and the digital revolution – not only to keep the reputation of the Olympics as the grandest world event but to further promote this social perception. As known, the 2008 Beijing Games had the largest TV audience ever (4.7 billion TV viewers worldwide), but it was for the first time that certain Olympic moments were officially broadcast on a dedicated YouTube channel in the States (about three hours a day only, but they say the hardcore Olympics fans used the proxy servers to see more on the web).
When the 1980 Moscow Olympics unfolded, I was not around yet. There was no internet as well. The Olympics were extremely important for the Soviet Union, and when the gas balloon Bear – or simply ‘Mishka’, the symbol of the Games – flew off into the sky on the closing day, tears were pouring from the people’s eyes. They wanted the symbol to stay and the Olympic shows to go on. It would be unimaginable back then in 1980 to have a TV cartoon character lobbied – even as a joke – for the Symbol of the Games. But now there is a group of Fans of that Bear. Some suggested Mishka as the symbol of the coming Olympiad again. But this time, they said, the bear should be white and polar as those are winter games.
I think that the most appealing candidate however is no animal, no cartoon or computer game character, but a real person – the teacher of English from a Sochi public school Ms. Sudorova Tamara Sergeyevna, lobbied by her 39 adoring students in a special group ‘Sudorova as the Olympics Symbol’. Funny. But if we take a closer look, the teacher’s role in the preparations for the Olympics is pretty high: she is basically enabling the younger citizens of Sochi to fluently speak English with the visiting athletes and spectators in 2014. And, though being so different from other candidates, I think Ms. Sudorova should not be undervalued as an unspoken Symbol.
PS Some Chuck Norris fan also suggested
the actor to be the symbol of the Games.