As if the simplified (smiling and primary-coloured) Inukshuk that the Canadian/Olympic authorities branded as the Vancouver 2010 symbol hadn't sparked enough 'is this Politically-correct?' conversations - most of them directed at the potentially misappropriation of what is so obviously a First Nations symbol to denote "Canadianness" to the (albeit touristy) world Olympic watcher/audience; the Winter Olympic Mascots were unveiled earlier this week.
Let's meet them:
[the following descriptions were taken from the official website]
Miga: Miga is a young sea bear who lives in the ocean with her family pod, out past Vancouver Island near Tofino, British Columbia. Sea bears are part killer whale and part bear. Miga is part Kermode bear, a rare white bear that only lives in British Columbia.
Sumi: Sumi is an animal spirit who lives in the mountains of British Columbia. Like many Canadians, Sumi's background is drawn from many places. He wears the hat of the orca whale, flies with the wings of the mighty thunderbird and runs on the strong furry legs of the black bear.
Quatchi: Quatchi is a young sasquatch who comes from mysterious forests of Canada. Quatchi is shy, but loves to explore new places and meet new friends. Although Quatchi loves all winter sports, he’s especially fond of hockey. He dreams of becoming a world-famous goalie.
One need not be a doctoral candidate to see the ways in which National symbols lend themselves easily to be analysed and explored as cultural artifacts that instead of creating a sense of National Unity more often than not show us the process through which 'Nation' is a cultural construct...
But before I get carried away in academic discourse I want to just isolate a couple of things in a more direct manner:
- Each mascot tries to evoke 'Canadiana' (Hockey? Check! First Nations totemic art? Check! West Coast mythology? Check! Totemic iconography? Check! - Seriously it's as if they just walked by Granville Island and Gastown and pre-packaged what we portray to tourists what the 'West Coast' is all about, I'm actually surprised Salmons didn't garner any mention...)
- Just as with the Inukshuk, First Nations (if only commodified for the rest of the world) are represented mainly in Sumi (Token FN mascot) who functions as a totem-mascot, who 'just like many Canadians' comes from many places and is a mish-mash of West Coast First Nations iconography - mainly the Haida art in his 'killer whale hat' and his Thunderbird wings.
- The artwork (or cartoon-work) is anime in style: an acknowledgment of the increasingly Asian community in the West Coast? an appeal to 'younger, hipper, manga-reading' audiences?
They are quite adorable, and I'm just sad I don't get to see the media reactions out West which I'm sure will range from 'Where's the political correctness?!' to 'OMG! So Canadian!'
And yet with all their (albeit artificially constructed) 'Canadianness' they manage to epitomize what Vancouver was for me: can't you just see these mascots plastic wrapped in Hello Kitty stores in Metrotown as well as in T-shirts sold at the Bay for them Robson-loving tourists?