Over the past week or so, frothing conservative columnist Rachel Marsden has been carving out an editorial niche for herself criticizing (and criticizing, and criticizing) the 2010 Vancouver Olympics logo and mascots. Writing for the Daily Telegraph, Canada’s ex-pat answer to Ann Coulter described the logo as “some sort of native Indian stone carving resembling a bloke with massive oedema of the legs” and the Games’ cartoon mascots as “various hybrids of legendary native indian [sic.] animals that could only ever exist only after a good toke-up of Canadian weed.”
Being as Marsden is the sort of thoughtless right-wing pundit whose commentary rests more on throwaway provocations than political analysis that even approaches a passable level of sophistication, it’s tough to take her seriously. (Cf: This appearance on The Situation Room, where she contributes nothing to the debate apart from the snarky suggestion that water-boarding is “a CIA-sponsored swim lesson.”) In dealing with such reactionaries, it’s easy to react: to call Marsden, oh I don’t know, a neo-fascist pinup girl who mistakes her role in the masturbation fantasies of pimply Young Republicans and the FOX News-watching set as actual political significance. What’s trickier is navigating Marsden’s variously intransigent rhetorical snares in order dismantle the argumentative logic that animates her argument, when and where it exists.
And her central argument? Ready? Okay. Try not to laugh.
Marsden is offended by the cultural marginalization of Canadians descended from European immigrants at the hands of the 2010 Olympic Committee (or the graphic design wing of it, anyways). She barks that Vancouver, “and indeed the whole of my country, Canada, was pretty third-worldish until the English, French, and various other Europeans arrived and started planning and building infrastructure and government, and teaching the natives discipline, order, and capitalism.”
I’ll defer any serious examination of how these values of “discipline, order, and capitalism” were practically executed in the New World, lest I lose what is chiefly exasperating about Marsden’s stance, namely, how this sort tongue-clucking pundit tends to take arms against the most insignificant aspect of a much more complex issue. I mean the logo and the mascots? Really?
There’s no mention of the Olympic Games being themselves not only an outmoded nationalist spectacle—how can anyone possibly care who the world’s greatest biathlete is?—but a monstrously expensive one at that. Did Canada learn nothing from Montreal ’76, which left taxpayers footing the bill for The Big Owe until November 2006, or the creative bookkeeping that covered up the losses of Calgary ’88? Especially in a recession (or “economic turndown” or whatever), it seems imprudent to dump an estimated $580 million Canadian dollars into a sixteen-day carnival that (in Canada at least) has a history of producing massive deficits.
But Marsden’s not concerned with such stifling practicalities, preferring instead to harp on how the 2010 Olympics is under-representing Canadians of European descent. Despite Canadians of European descent being adequately represented on, say, the currency that tourists and athletes from across the globe will be using in the Olympic Village come 2010, Marsden is more concerned with superficialities like the logo and the mascots. So let’s look at the mascots, shall we?
Perhaps taking their cues from the cutesy, Pokemon-ish quality of Beijinig’s “Fuwa” mascots, Vicki Wong and Michael Murphy’s Vancouver 2010 mascots—Miga (a mythical part orca, part Kermode bear), Quatchi (a Sasquatch) and Paralympics mascot Sumi (a mythical creature that’s part black bear, part orca, part Thunderbird)—combine tenets of indigenous mythology with the iconography of manga and anime, styles popularized in China and Japan and brought to Vancouver via Pacific Rim migration routes. As Canada’s gateway to Pacific trade, this sort of cultural flow between indigenous First Nations groups, Canadians of European descent and the Asian continent, is what I'd imagine the designers were trying to capture with these adorable little whatzits.
Moreover, the Sasquatch, far from being the product of “some sort of native Indian hallucination,” was the invention of J.W. Burns, an American schoolteacher living in B.C., the name itself deriving from a mispronunciation of a Chelias word meaning “wild man.”
If Marsden’s going to be small-minded, backward-looking and glib, that’s her prerogative. But she could at least stand to bone up on her cryptozoology.
More to the point: when was the last time an Olympic mascot actually embodied the collective social identity of a host nation or city? Remember Izzy, the amorphous Atlanta ’96 mascot that looked like a cross between a breakfast cereal spokesthing and an acid flashback? What finer embodiment of European ingenuity—of the god-given truths of discipline, order and capitalism—than a goofy aquamarine glob that looks like a giddy, shaved version of Gossamer from Loony Tunes?
There’s also Calgary ‘88s iconic Howdy and Hidy, the anthropomorphized polar bears that stood as the gallantly smiling personification of Western hospitality. Is this the sort of thing Marsden would rather see? Is this what makes her proud to be a Canadian derived from true, blue-blooded Europeans? The sort of thing that makes her want to salute the Union Jack and shed that single tear? A polar bear in a cowboy hat?
If anyone has a right to be be upset about these goofy little logos and cartoons, it should be Inuit people, whose Inukshuks are being streamlined into t-shirts, red mittens and all other manner of corporatized Olympic miscellany. (Never mind that the Inuit traditionally inhabited land well north of Vancouver or other areas where the games are being hosted.) It’s a bitter and typically Westernized irony that the land of native Canadians is being steamrolled under the banner of their own bastardized iconography.
Considering all this, what major qualm could Marsden still have? The iconography of First Nations cultures, filtered through the aesthetic lens of Japanime as innocent cartoon scions of an environmentally and economically impractical sporting competition? I challenge her to cook up a better symbol of European imperialism and Westernized cultural cannibalism.