Why the Olympic mascots aren’t a good omen

The launch of the Olympic mascots for the 2012 games doesn’t bode well.

Not because I consider the designs to be flawed or subscribe to the view that children might find them “creepy” but instead because the negative reaction gives us a taste of how the run up to the games will be in 2012.

All this gleened from just looking at them.

And yet the ignorant dismissive tone is all too delicious for the media to ignore.

Take this line from the Daily Mail

… the duo, launched with much fanfare last night on BBC1’s The One Show, require a certain amount of explanation before they begin to make any sense …

There’s nothing wrong with them to my mind. In fact, just like 7reasons.org say, the accompanying cartoon gives the two characters – Mandeville and Wenlock – some context. The movement of the characters is fluid. They don’t speak, instead imitating the world around them. They are peculiarly and inexplicably British as well as reaching out to a global audience at the same time. Most important of their actions make me laugh.

They’re genderless and raceless. Fashioned from cast-offs from the molten steel used to build the stadium, they are ‘of’ the Olympics. They imitate sporting prowess, in turn inspiring the two kids in the film to imitate them. The characters are promoting sport – in a very loose sense – amongst the younger generation. That’s a good thing.

For my money, there’s a bedding-in period with these little characters.The photographs of the lifesize costumes don’t do them justice – no surprises the Daily Mail used those shots – like the animation cells do. Moreover, it is the cartoon which brings them to life (literally) and gives them some character.

But of course, most people won’t see that cartoon or the ones which are to follow in the run up to the games. Two days after launch the cartoon stands at 170,000 views – hardly a overwhelming endorsement.

That’s reflected in an industry poll conducted by EMR showing that over 51% provided a negative response to the mascots, 22% describing the design as “dreadful”.

But that’s what journalism about mass-appeal topics needs. It needs extremes – and ideally negative extremes – to make people read. Negativity drives traffic. Even mild satire registers page views. And if there’s just a handful of people around who may not immediately get exactly what they’re meant to be without a detailed diagram (go on, just go out on the street and ask the man with the dog whether he likes them, that’ll be enough) that’s enough to imply criticism of the work.

And that’s only going to get worse in the coming months, with everything. We’ll read more about how things aren’t working, how deadlines are being missed, how we’ll never make it in time. That’s because journalists need tension in order to tell stories.

Any failure of the mechanisms relied upon to bring what high-class sporting events to the mainstream who may not consider engaging with sport, and the entire enterprise will be deemed a failure. That’s the Olympics biggest challenge: selling the idea of the Olympics to people who had no say in hosting them. The same people who are all required to pay for them, the majority of whom don’t have an interest in either participating in sport or indeed watching any more than the opening or closing ceremonies.

So the easier point to make will be focussing on what most people understand: cost and return on investment. And the result of the inevitable negativity will be a further nail in the coffin of our collective identity. Another example of how the UK is quite crap at most things. It won’t necessarily be fair or justified. It will just be convenient. And it will get worse until the Games are over.

Eurovision 2010: Croatia

Croatia’s Feminnem sing the song Lako Je Sve and will no doubt hope to do better than the 18th place the country secured in the final the previous year with Lijepa Tena. Somehow you’d think someone who smoldered as much as Croatian singer Igor did in 2009 would have done better amongst telephone voters.

Musically there’s hints of Serbia’s winning – and surprisingly now satisfying – song Molitva sung by Marija Šerifović. This isn’t in itself a problem or a criticism. What’s interesting is how the nationalistic feel of the music isn’t necessarily backed up by the lyrics. Harmonically the song delivers the weight of history. Lyrically its no more than a fairly bog standard love song.

There’s nothing wrong with that. And, in comparison to some other efforts this year, Croatia is offering up a competent number.

For my money however, they’ll have to go a long long way before they come anywhere near close to their spectacularly poignant debut song Don’t Ever Cry, one which justifiably deserves the credit as one of the best Eurovision songs if only because of it’s achingly poignant chord progressions. (Keep an ear out for the final lyric and tell me it doesn’t sound like they’re singing ‘Microwavan Sky’. No? Is it just me then?)

Eurovision 2010: Slovenia

A car crash is waiting to happen.

I can hear the commentaries. I can see the interview sequences. I can see what clip sequences will be used in news reports. Slovenia’s contribution to Eurovision 2010 – Narodnozabavni Rock – will be held up as evidence that the Contest hasn’t changed at all. Laughing at the contest will be allowed. Laughing at those who take it reasonably seriously (seriously enough to write a blog post about every single song) will also remain de rigeur.

Whilst I fear that Slovenia’s Ansambel Žlindra & Kalamari will amount to nothing more than shorthand for the cynical hacks struggling to up their word count at the request of their impatient online editors, I’m also at pains to point out that there’s quite a lot about this song which makes me screw up my nose and narrow my eyes.

I say this as sincerely as one can when dishing out negative criticism. I’m the last one to want to break anybody’s heart. There is such a thing as schandenfreude after all.

Even so, there are so many different styles and musical ideas crammed into this song that the truth is that almost as soon as the vocal lead dressed in her gypsy costume reaches for the note at the top of the opening leap I want the thing to be over. It does – in the most unexpected way – make me quite look forward to the UK’s Josh Dubovie set foot on stage. Just.

I’m sorry Slovenia. I’m really not a nasty piece of work – despite what others might think. This really doesn’t work. Better luck next time.

Eurovision 2010: Slovakia

Last year’s Slovakian entry didn’t do terribly well in the semi-final round, coming a perhaps not entirely surprising 18th place and failing to get through to the final.

This year Slovakia have abandoned the vein-splitting tortured ballad in favour of a tub-thumping number guaranteed to set feet tapping and promote a reasonably good feeling about the singer Kristina Pelakova, her army of dancers accompanying her on stage (assuming they end up in the final act in Oslo) and about the country.

The song just about misses the mark. It’s pleasant enough. Rousing enough. Competent enough. But it fails in terms of journey. We jig about for three minutes. We’re not entirely sure what the melody is at the end of it. It is fundamentally similar to a lot of other Eurovision songs from this year and from previous years too. Ultimately Slovakia’s song for 2010 fails to leave its mark where other countries like Germany, Israel and Iceland will succeed.

And, as pretty as Kristina is on screen I fear she too will be difficult to pick out. The whole look of the thing just feels a little bit outdated in Eurovision terms now, especially when there are more daring, more arresting songs in the this year’s competition.

Despite all of this seething negativity, will Slovakia’s song Horehronie be enough to secure them a place in the final?

Eurovision 2010: Portugal

I’ve seen it written elsewhere on the interweb – I really can’t be bothered to dig out the link and increase the blogger’s Google juice by linking to the piece – that there’s hardly any decent songwriting in this year’s contest.

There are some absolutely howlers this year, it has to be said. But on the whole, I think this year has seen considerably more convincing, attention grabbing and fundamentally satisfying songs than ever before. And Portugal’s 2010 contribution – Há Dias Assim – is one of those songs.

The strength of this song is the measured way it builds after the tortured chord progressions of the first verse. The warbling is a slight problem for me – only because my preference is for strong melody rather than melodic masturbation – even so, 18 year old Filipa Azevedo carries herself off well, demonstrating her obvious mastery at live performance.

Nice work Portugal.