The origin story of Izzy from Atlanta
June 24, 2016 7:43 AM   Subscribe

"Mention was made that kids are wearing their hats backward, so maybe Izzy should have its shoes on backward." An oral history of "Izzy", the baffling blue mascot of the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games.
posted by Greg Nog (43 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
 
Considering they shot and killed thier mascot in Brazil, maybe a fictional mascot isn't so bad.
posted by eye of newt at 7:50 AM on June 24, 2016 [11 favorites]


I've never heard any of this, but I'm pretty sure that Izzy was the thing that burned "committee-created focus-group marketing bullshit" into my brain in my early 20s.
posted by Etrigan at 8:00 AM on June 24, 2016 [4 favorites]


(Correction, the jaguar Ginga is the mascot for the Brazilian team. Vinicius, another 'what is it' is the mascot for the games.)
posted by eye of newt at 8:12 AM on June 24, 2016 [2 favorites]


All this needs is a few more "Yowza!"s and this would be indistinguishable from a Clickhole oral history.
posted by yellowbinder at 8:19 AM on June 24, 2016 [8 favorites]


We contacted a number of design companies and asked them to give us a submission. But we were not going to pay them. Some of them wrote us back letters [that essentially said] “The nerve!” or “We’re not doing anything for nothing.”

We gave them somewhat specific directions. It had to be just one character. It needed to be unisex. It needed to be noncontroversial. It couldn’t relate to the Civil War or slavery—we weren’t going to have Rhett Butler.

Gee, I wonder why the pool of mascot choices was wafer-thin.
posted by Mayor West at 8:30 AM on June 24, 2016 [15 favorites]


I got a stuffed Izzy for Christmas that year. How many of you can say you shared a bed with that monster? I spent a long time pondering over its peculiar anatomy, how its eyelids were really just caps set atop exposed eyeballs. Always staring. never closing. izzy the watcher.
posted by Think_Long at 8:31 AM on June 24, 2016 [23 favorites]


You guys, the '90s were such bullshit.
posted by penduluum at 8:42 AM on June 24, 2016 [18 favorites]


Blue, tail, unblinking eyes, white gloves, red sneakers, collects rings... did Izzy ever express a need to "go fast"?
posted by knuckle tattoos at 8:43 AM on June 24, 2016 [12 favorites]


Oh man, the backwards shoes suggestion is so 1995. Amazing.

Somewhere in my house I still have a small plastic Izzy figurine that I took with me from Maryland to Atlanta when I went away to college. I kept it in my dorm room all four years, in a place of ironic pride, returned to the land of whatsits birth.
posted by deludingmyself at 8:45 AM on June 24, 2016 [3 favorites]


I remember the debut of Whatizit very well. Depressing. "We weren't going to have Rhett Butler..." Right, of course. But, so then...this?
posted by Bob Regular at 8:52 AM on June 24, 2016 [2 favorites]


An animator, who looks like David Silverman, draws a sketch of a dog.
MEYERS: No, no, no! He was supposed to have attitude.
SILVERMAN: Um... wh-what do you mean, exactly?
MEYERS: Oh, you know, attitude, attitude! Uh... sunglasses!
EXECUTIVE: Can we put him in more of a "hip-hop" context?
KRUSTY: Forget context, he's gotta be a surfer. Give me a nice shmear of surfer.
EXECUTIVE: I feel we should rastafy him by ... ten percent or so.
Silverman redraws Poochie. They're still not totally satisfied.
MEYERS: Hmm... I think he needs a little more attitude.
Silverman blackens in Poochie's sunglasses.
EXECUTIVE: Oh yeah, bingo. There it is, right there!
KRUSTY: Yeah, that's it!
MEYERS: I love it!
posted by Fizz at 8:56 AM on June 24, 2016 [14 favorites]


Frankly, my dear, it looks like they didn't give a damn.
posted by Kabanos at 8:57 AM on June 24, 2016 [7 favorites]


I remember seeing Izzy referred to as the "Microsoft Clippy of Olympic mascots", which somehow seems right, even if Izzy predated Clippy.
posted by Kabanos at 9:03 AM on June 24, 2016 [11 favorites]


"Uh...I feel we should rastafy him by...ten percent or so."
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:09 AM on June 24, 2016 [3 favorites]


Metafilter: 10% more rastafied than the rest.
posted by JoeZydeco at 9:22 AM on June 24, 2016 [2 favorites]


Oh, I was in Atlanta for this. Born there, went to Ga. Tech, my company worked on some kind of kiosk thing for the Olympics. I left Atlanta that year: 1996. I did get to see an Olympic bicycle race from the roof of our building, on Peachtree St. (or Piedmont, can't remember); it looked cool.

I think that people were disappointed that the Izzy character was so... soulless. It had no personality; in fact, it was designed to have no personality, to just be whatever was needed in the moment... maybe like a good traditional Southern woman? Maybe reflecting the desire that some Atlanta busines people had to just make money doing whatever was needed?

I feel like the whole Olympic thing was about forced excitement. People kept saying it was exciting, but they mainly talked about other people being excited, about business opportunities. Did anyone really feel emotion about any of it, at least as an entire entity? Was it in any way actually an uplifting process?
posted by amtho at 9:22 AM on June 24, 2016 [9 favorites]


I think Mohammad Ali brought the Olympic torch to the Atlanta Olympic stadium on it's final segment of travel. Only this year did I understand why it was so moving for people to see him do that. That was about feeling, I think. Was there anything else?
posted by amtho at 9:24 AM on June 24, 2016 [3 favorites]


I came to say that their mistake was not rasta-fying him by 10 percent or so, but it appears that joke died on the way to its home planet, so I will just point out the fact that Funzo wuvs 'oo.
posted by infinitywaltz at 9:25 AM on June 24, 2016 [7 favorites]


came to this thread for rastafying percentages, was not disappointed
posted by prize bull octorok at 9:33 AM on June 24, 2016 [16 favorites]




IIRC, Ali hadn't been much in the public eye for some years, and they'd managed to keep it under wraps that he was going to be there for the big thing, and it was pretty awesome, yeah.
posted by thelonius at 9:39 AM on June 24, 2016


I know I'm in the minority, but I liked Izzy.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:48 AM on June 24, 2016 [2 favorites]


Two things:

1. The mascot could have been named Jimmy Nastics

2. A WorldCat search reveals a lone surviving copy of the animated Izzy's Quest for Olympic Gold hiding out somewhere in a library on Long Island.

I would be so very very happy if someone in New York uploaded this to YouTube.
posted by compartment at 9:50 AM on June 24, 2016 [14 favorites]


I still think a possum, reminiscent of Pogo, would have been a great choice. It certainly wouldn't have been a worse choice.
posted by TedW at 10:33 AM on June 24, 2016 [3 favorites]


"Uh...I feel we should rastafy him by...ten percent or so."

Worst pony.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 10:38 AM on June 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


This thing is so completely 90s, in the most generic corporate pandering sort of way.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 10:38 AM on June 24, 2016 [2 favorites]


amtho - I was living in L5P during the Olympics, and other than some people I knew who were just sure that they were going to make a fortune selling t-shirts and water (and weed) during the games, I can't think of anyone who was emotionally invested in them in any way, shape, form, or fashion. Of course, no one I knew could afford to get anywhere near any of the venues to see any of the events, or could get time off to see an event (someone's got to cook the food and serve the tables), so even from the beginning we all knew that the games were for people who were not us.

The only person I've met who has described their experience of the games with any kind of excitement or emotion is someone I worked for who had a fantastic time taking his kids to all the venues and seeing some of the competitions. He seemed genuinely confused that I hadn't gone to any of the events, and it had never occurred to him that there were people who either couldn't afford to go or couldn't take that whole time off. To this day I'm still not sure if he understands that service industry or retail employees are actually people.
posted by ralan at 10:54 AM on June 24, 2016 [7 favorites]


Well, to be honest, at least Izzy did not look like an allegory for surveillance state, or an Adventure Time reject. Sure, it still looked like a bunch of requests and focus group results put on a blender, and I'm amazed at the disparity between not caring much about it while still being relatively important in terms of merchandise and branding of the event.

(also, the Euros mascot this year looks incredibly creepy. on photos, it looks like a serial killer creeping on his victim. Just use a rooster, it's not like Peno or Footix were bad mascots)
posted by lmfsilva at 10:57 AM on June 24, 2016


I can sort of picture Izzy being cornered by Wenlock and Mandeville up in the orbital satellite where all the retired Olympic mascots live

"You failed to inspire joy and wonder in the youth of the world, Izzy. You embodied the worst aspects of your zeitgeist."

[they disintegrate him with their eye lasers]
posted by prize bull octorok at 11:01 AM on June 24, 2016 [10 favorites]


It couldn’t relate to the Civil War or slavery—we weren’t going to have Rhett Butler.

It's a shame they preemptively closed this door, since it meant the mascot couldn't be Lil' Shermie: a plush, huggable version of General Sherman. Slogan: "Come on, everybody! Let's march!"
posted by The Tensor at 11:34 AM on June 24, 2016 [9 favorites]


What's going on here? We've got one Groening quote in the story, a Simpsons clip in the thread, but still nobody's pulled the best reference out from under their hat?
posted by roystgnr at 12:02 PM on June 24, 2016 [8 favorites]


amtho: “Did anyone really feel emotion about any of it, at least as an entire entity? Was it in any way actually an uplifting process?”
I left town during the Olympics. That is my statement.

To get some feel for how weird it was, I note that I saw drug paraphernalia with Whatizit on it for sale in the convenience store. I've said it before but it bears repeating, the Olympics were the worst thing to happen to Atlanta since Sherman burned it down.
posted by ob1quixote at 12:12 PM on June 24, 2016 [3 favorites]


posted by Think_Long I spent a long time pondering over its peculiar anatomy, how its eyelids were really just caps set atop exposed eyeballs. Always staring. never closing. izzy the watcher.

After the Olympics, Izzy became the mascot for the NSA.
posted by mattdidthat at 1:39 PM on June 24, 2016


If someone could pretty please correct my earlier comment to "Muhammad Ali" I would probably still be grateful in ten years.
posted by amtho at 2:15 PM on June 24, 2016


I was a child in Atlanta when this happened.

Even then, I thought it was an ugly embarrassment, worse even than my feelings for the regurgitated poop from a spoiled-garbage eating trash panda that is the now-dead Lucas Museum in Chicago.

I hated that thing. I won some contest and got it as a plush toy and I gave it to my younger brother immediately. He threw it away. Or lost it, that was never clear.

Izzy was dumb.
posted by qcubed at 2:46 PM on June 24, 2016 [2 favorites]


I remember going to those Olympics with my father and brother. We thought the mascot was stupid then too. (Drove down from MD to Atlanta in pops' neon green Geo Metro and stayed in a Motel 6 where I slept on the floor.) Somewhere there is a picture of my brother drinking a smuggled in 20oz Pepsi in ~Coca-Cola Land~. I was still young enough at the time to be thrilled at the idea of seeing some of the Olympics in person. Pops and I were there to watch indoor volleyball. My brother watched mostly track and field events.
posted by sperose at 6:01 PM on June 24, 2016 [2 favorites]


Two decades later I only just now have noticed that it's "Whatizit" and not "Whatzit," like the Poopsmith's pile
posted by DoctorFedora at 6:05 PM on June 24, 2016 [5 favorites]


My memories of 1996 era Atlanta are very specific: sneaking my 1981 Honda Accord on laps of various Olympic tracks, not meant for vehicular traffic (I think I scored three, some friends managed six or more); enjoying the non-rush at 8 am, actually being able to find a paying job in the middle of the middle 90's recession, and seeing a lot of really great music over the summer before I ventured back to small college town nowheresville in the fall.

That said, I do remember two things specifically Olympics related: 1) Referring to the mascot as Whatwazit based on a brilliant Luckovitch cartoon and 2) Pearl Jam's "Olymipic Platinum" playing on 99X and reminding me the whole thing was not just a sham, but a hugely funny sham, if you had the right mindset.

If I had to choose a distant (yet favorite) third, it would be my coworkers who were delivering various things to various venues after the bombing and being asked to provide a description of themselves. "I'll be the Angry Black Man!" was universally preferred and usually accepted without comment.

I now have returned to live in the outskirts of the Greater ATL Sprawl, and love the city dearly, but damn do I miss those oddball, freewheeling Freaknik-era years. It's a real, world-class city now, but the amount of lost freaks and weirdos who crawled out of the SE US and pitched their flags in the city during the low and high water years of the 90's were my kind of folks. Their likes may never be see again. And now I'm hungry for fried chicken at The Collonade again... dammit.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 8:14 PM on June 24, 2016 [8 favorites]


Isn't it a universal truth that all Olympic mascots are painfully lame? Here are all of them. The last one(s) that I'd actually consider interesting are the Nagano 1998 owls. But after looking at them in mascot suit form I've changed my mind.

When growing up I did have a Misha bear, though, and I liked it a lot, probably because it's just a teddy bear and not trying to be anything else. I should ask my parents how I came to have it, given that the US boycotted those games.
posted by zsazsa at 10:42 PM on June 24, 2016 [2 favorites]


Here are all of them.

Whoa the Sydney 2000 ones look like they're about to start graphically fucking each other on a DeviantArt page
posted by Greg Nog at 5:45 AM on June 25, 2016 [2 favorites]


Barcelona 1992 isn't too bad. I'd drink out of a mug with it on there.
posted by arcolz at 2:03 PM on June 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


Barcelona's is the most disturbing due to his Olympic rings pubes.
posted by jamaro at 5:16 PM on June 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


Looking at that list, Izzy really doesn't seem so bad in context. Why do so many of them seemed to be aimed at preschoolers?
posted by TedW at 3:31 AM on June 26, 2016


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