Short and plump with big bulging eyes and a mouth that simultaneously wears a smile and a scream, it’s the last thing you would call cute. “It’s extremely ugly,” says one keen observer.
But inspite of its atrocious appearance, or because of it, Lele, the mascot of the 2014 Nanjing Summer Youth Olympic Games, has become an overnight sensation across China.
When Lele’s design was first released to the public, people just roared with laughter as they thought it’s the ugliest mascot they have ever seen. Lele’s performance is even more hysterical. As the mascot loses its balance and falls to the ground under its own weight and could hardly get up because of its round shape, the audience turns delirious with delight.
Since the Nanjing Games kicked off on Aug. 16, pictures and videos of Lele struggling to get up on the ground have been shared on social media and have become one of the most favorite wallpapers of Chinese netizens.
As of Monday morning, there were 168.58 million posts about Lele on Weibo.com, while news feeds have been littered with images of Lele in various compromising positions. In one, poor Lele gets stuck on the door while trying to pass through a security check. In another, the mascot is shown reading a newspaper, in another doing a handstand, and still in another sailing a boat.
“It’s hard to say exactly what’s funny about Lele, but I just can’t stop laughing when I see it,” one writes on Weibo.com.
“Lele is really a source of inspiration for ugly people who now believe they can make a difference in this world,” jokes another.
People’s Daily reported on Sunday that sales of Lele dolls have been surging.
Nanjing Games organizers have revealed that when people think Lele is falling down, the mascot is actually preparing to do a handstand. But since the crowd just loves to see Lele fall and struggle to get up, it has become an act in itself.
“For the 120 volunteers who wear Lele’s costumes, it’s more of a game than a job. They enjoy making people laugh,” says one reporter who interviewed some of the mascot players.
“Lele” literally means happiness and also refers to the sound of stones banging. In ancient times, people banged stones to amuse themselves as they worked in quarries or built roads. So the word “le” also signifies a pioneering spirit, according to the games organizers.
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