I’m twitching. Honest to God, I’m twitching.
Look, let’s preface this by acknowledging the fact that any mascot, even the Phillie Phanatic, is going to look infinitely more ridiculous and childish when drawn, cartoon style, on paper (or the Internet).
I get that.
And, thus far, we like Sixers CEO Adam Aron. He was nice enough to take some time to speak with us on Broad Street Radio, a strategic move which – let’s face it – aimed to neutralize the sometimes erratic spikes of a blogger. And aimed to neutralize what I’m about to do.
To create and implement a new mascot, the Sixers have enlisted the help of both Jim Henson’s Creature Shop (Muppets…) and the Raymond Entertainment Group, which was founded by former best friend of the Phanatic, Dave Raymond. Both of those organizations come into this with much collective success. However, it was Jim Henson’s Creature Shop that was given the initial task of designing the mascot– Raymond will come in later to, um, train him or it. Which is why we’re going to set our sights squarely on the Sixers, and Henson’s Creature Shop, which has two offices, in New York and Los Angeles.
Despite the obviously non-Philly locations (and designers), you would expect that the collective creative genius would be able to put together a few options that were somewhat up to par, if not great. And that’s why this is so disappointing– I don’t know if it was poor guidance from the team or just bad execution, but these choices are… well, bring back Hip Hop…?
“A new era is beginning for the Philadelphia 76ers under new ownership and we welcome Philadelphia sports fans helping us to select the new Sixers mascot. Jim Henson’s Creature Shop™ has done an outstanding job in giving Philadelphia fans three heart-warming characters to embrace.”
-Sixers CEO Adam Aron
Thanks, Adam. First up, Big Ben.
Ah, OK, I sort of expected this. When the Sixers announced that they were going to create a new mascot, Ben Franklin was the first person (or thing) I thought of who represents Philly in a positive, unique and actionable way (think of all the potential uses of kites, keys, spectacles, fucking bridges and… I don’t know). So this makes sense. And the design is fine… it looks like a cartoon drawing of Ben Franklin.
That’s the problem.
What makes silly things often great is the fact that they’re just that– silly, playful, fun. This is just… Ben Franklin.
One of the most revered figures in American history, and a man who needs no introduction as an honorable representation of this city and nation, "Big Ben" Franklin will now come back to serve Philadelphia yet once again. An avid basketball fan, Big Ben was thrilled when asked to join Philadelphia sports fans in cheering the 76ers on to greatness. As the Sixers new mascot, he will bring electricity to the Wells Fargo Center, and be a towering presence at Sixers games –both figuratively and literally, as he stands seven-feet tall.
How cliché. It’s like the folks in New York and LA were given two days to come up with the most obvious representation of Philly. I’m surprised option one wasn't a giant cheesesteak with a ketchup head, Cheese Whiz arms and chuck-steak labia.
Besides that, Benjy is Jerry Sandusky creepy. Just. look. at. this… fucking guy:
Who wants to horse around with that?
Still, though, I get it— it’s Ben Franklin, a mascot for the 76ers. It makes sense. Option number two doesn’t.
B. Franklin Dogg
The All-American pet, B. Franklin Dogg is a loyal Philadelphia resident who can be seen in artist drawings from the day nestled under the table beside Ben Franklin as he deliberated on the founding of the nation. In the revolutionary fervor of the times, B. Franklin Dogg proudly wore patriotic colonial garb to show his spirit. Over the years, B. Franklin Dogg was occasionally seen playing with a basketball around the historic landmarks of Philadelphia, before finally making his way down Broad St. to the Wells Fargo Center.
What? Really? Seriously, I’m asking, did Ben Franklin have a famous dog?
I’m 28. I grew up here and am a pseudo recreational history buff– I knew nothing about Ben Franklin’s Dogg. Is this a fable? A joke? A fact? Made up? Really, I don’t know.
He’s hardly a storied figure… and he didn’t even belong to Ben (!!!). Why are we making things up? There are over 300 years of history to go off of here, and we had to make up a dog? WHY ARE THERE SO MANY QUESTIONS?
Also, why the extra G?! Did we just blackify him because this is basketball? Didn’t we learn our lesson with Hip Hop, the inflated six-foot-seven gangsta rabbit who threw down windmill dunks like it was not no thang?
And surely by now you’ve noticed that this not B. Franklin Dogg, at all… it’s actually McGruff, the Crime Dog.
Take a bite out of crime?! Gah! Take a bite out of copyright infringement!
What’s next, Smokey Bear… or Bullwinkle?
Ah! Phil E. Moose? WHAT?! There used to be an Al E. Gators by the Regal movie theater in Edgmont, and that was offensive. We’re using the same naming convention for a professional mascot? Ugh.
One of the most regal animals to roam the wild, Phil E. Moose certainly fits that bill, standing tall as he represents the Sixers (he stands over seven-feet tall in fact, with the antlers). In his youth, Phil E. Moose would often be seen dunking a basketball with ease, aided by his great height. Throughout his high school, collegiate and professional games, Phil E. Moose was a scoring star, and was excited to learn he had been "traded" to the 76ers in order to entertain fans during games at the Wells Fargo Center.
How rude! This is insulting. Does this look like Seattle?
Here’s a thought, instead of the Bullwinkle look-alike, how about his partner, ROCKY, who just happens to have the same name as the lead character in the most famous movie series ever filmed in Philadelphia. The Rocky thing is overplayed, but it would have been a serious upgrade here. How did you miss this? How much are the Henson folks being paid?! WHY I AM I STILL YELLING?
Reals: These are laughable. The Sixers would do better paying Charles Barkley a million bucks a year to roam the court and stands. Our choices look like the byproduct of an unexpected lockout resolution and the need for delivery by Christmas…
As you might imagine, I’m certainly not the only one who feels this way. Check out some of my emails:
And my Tweets:
What a mess.
The three options are just drawings of clichéd Philly things (in the case of Franklin) or completely random, generic animals (a dogg and moose… what?). That’s not how you create characters. Characters mean something. Take for example… The Muppets: They were (are) successful because while completely ridiculous, they’re also relatable figures and metaphors for society as a whole.
Same thing with Henson’s other creation, Sesame Street. In both cases, kids are fascinated by the look and goofiness of the characters, and adults are just as impressed with the message being delivered.
Same thing with The Wizard of Oz. The movie wasn’t successful because it featured goofy characters and an admittedly attractive 16-year-old Judy Garland. It was successful because the Scarecrow lacked a brain, the Tin Man lacked a heart and the Lion was a pussy. The whole thing was an allegory for society and politics, and imparted a message on its viewers.
Same thing with the characters in Toy Story… The Ninja Turtles… South Park… etc. You don’t need some forced creation like a clichéd hoopin’ moose. You don’t need Ben Franklin’s non-existent dog. Or a rabbit. Or fucking Scooby Doo with a Liberty Bell on his head… Just give us something something simple, relatable.
That’s largely why the Phanatic works. He looks like no one we’ve ever seen, yet he immediately resonates with fans when they see him. He’s supposed to be goofy. Sure, he has a hokey back story, but he represents the passionate, irritable, and sometimes out-of-line Philly fan. He’s a caricature, and that’s what mascots are supposed to be. You would think Jim Henson’s people know this better than anyone– clearly they don’t. Perhaps the Sixers should ask for their money back. Or, as reader JR put it: At this point, they might as well make the mascot Wilt Chamberlain's johnson.
Yeah, that would work, too.