By Kashmir Hill – Forbes –
Olympic mascots are often controversial. Usually this is because they are weird blobby cartoon characters with goofy names that seem to have been dreamed up by creators who mainlined Mountain Dew Code Red while watching 24 straight hours of Pokemon. The official mascot for the 2012 Olympics, set in London, has that going for it but is also controversial for an entirely different reason. London, the premiere panoptic city was one of the first to blanket itself with CCTV cameras; its heavy security and surveillance cordon is nicknamed the Ring of Steel. London decided to make its surveillance yen a dominant feature of its otherwise goofy mascots. “Wenlock” and “Mandeville” both have a huge single eye made out of a camera lens so that they can “record everything.” Image at right is from the official London Olympics website.
In case that’s too subtle for you, the Olympic organizers have offered a dress-up version of Wenlock in a policeman outfit. “This has to be a joke. Please let this be a joke,” tweeted a privacy enthusiast I follow on Twitter, linking to this:
It is not in fact a joke; Surveillance State Wenlock also shows up on the official shopping page for the London 2012 Olympics. The origin story for the sibling surveillance enthusiasts is that “they were fashioned from droplets of the steel used to build the Olympic stadium,” reports the Guardian, saying the Olympic Committee passed over “anthropomorphic pigeons, an animated tea pot and a Big Ben with arms and legs” to choose the all-seeing mascots.
A surveillance mascot is appropriate for the 2012 Games. This Olympics will certainly win a gold medal for security measures. From the Guardian:
The London Olympics will host the biggest mobilisation of military and security forces seen in the UK since the second world war. More troops – around 13,500 – will be deployed than are currently at war in Afghanistan. The growing security force is being estimated at anything between 24,000 and 49,000 in total. Such is the secrecy that no one seems to know for sure.
During the Games an aircraft carrier will dock on the Thames. Surface-to-air missile systems will scan the skies. Unmanned drones, thankfully without lethal missiles, will loiter above the gleaming stadiums and opening and closing ceremonies. RAF Typhoon Eurofighters will fly from RAF Northolt. A thousand armed US diplomatic and FBI agents and 55 dog teams will patrol an Olympic zone partitioned off from the wider city by an 11-mile, £80m, 5,000-volt electric fence…
London is also being wired up with a new range of scanners, biometric ID cards, number-plate and facial-recognition CCTV systems, disease tracking systems, new police control centres and checkpoints. These will intensify the sense of lockdown in a city which is already a byword across the world for remarkably intensive surveillance.
London is still reeling from last year’s riots and wants to make sure there are no incidents around the Games. Beyond this incredible show of force, Olympics minister Hugh Robertson told the London Standard that they are eager for citizens to become part of the security force: “If you know of people, including neighbours, who are going to break the law during the Olympics you should let the authorities know.” The Standard says “the appeal came after activists threatened to turn the Games into the ‘greatest act of civil disobedience of our time’.”
Perhaps I’m being too harsh. Perhaps London’s mascot is just a nod toward the world we live in, where we are often being recorded, as well as a nod toward a future world — with Google’s Project Glass type-technology — where we as citizens are doing much of the recording. Regardless it’s amazing how blatant the symbolism is here.
Corporate sponsors are also joining in on the celebration of surveillance.
[McDonalds] plans to give away nine million activity toys with its Happy Meals during the games as part of its ‘Mascotathon’ campaign.
The gadgets will measure how many steps or jumps the child makes in a day. They are then encouraged to join an online game that translates their actions into energy for Games mascots Wenlock and Mandeville.
Surveillance is fun! Surveillance is cuddly! Surveillance makes you healthier! In an animated film about the birth of Wenlock and Mandeville, a steelworker gives the ever-recording dolls to his grandchildren who are thrilled with them:
There’s a reason why there’s so much great literature (Ken MacLeod’s Intrusion, Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother) and TV (Black Mirror) coming out of the UK that contemplate dystopic futures and unbundle the way that surveillance technologies, while simplifying our lives, imperil civil liberties and freedom of expression in ways unforeseen even by George Orwell. It seems that those in the UK are already living in that world.