Like children and people chewing food, mascots should be seen and not heard. Case in point: the beloved Beijing Olympics mascot Bing Dwen Dwen. Just look at that adorable, glassy-eyed egg of a panda. Worthy of a gold medal simply for existing. Unfortunately, Bing Dwen Dwen has done the unspeakable: It spoke.
Last week, China Central Television held a livestream with Bing Dwen Dwen. As per usual, the mascot bounced about gleefully. Then Bing Dwen Dwen decided to say a few words. The voice that came out was not the genderless, cartoon baby voice you might expect. It was a middle-aged man with a distinct northeastern Chinese accent, per the Wall Street Journal. People were dismayed. One viewer commented, “Please give me another ear that hasn’t heard Bing Dwen Dwen speak yet.”
To be clear, the voice isn’t bad. It’s just unexpected, like Elizabeth Holmes’s voice or the voice of your younger cousin who went through puberty after you saw them last. You hear them speak and all your brain wants to do is go, Deep different voice!
Chinese officials quickly did damage control on the panda’s image, censoring the hashtag “Bing Dwen Dwen has spoken” from the social-media platform Weibo. They also pulled the clip of Bing Dwen Dwen speaking from China’s internet. Then Chinese media began reporting that the Bing Dwen Dwen that had been heard on the livestream was an imposter. A fraud!
They even recirculated an early report from a legal expert on the Beijing Olympic organizing committee that stated Bing Dwen Dwen could only make “babbling noises.” (Apparently Bing Dwen Dwen is contractually obligated to be gender-neutral and refrain from speaking.) Officials also turned down a Bing Dwen Dwen interview request by the WSJ, saying, “The mascot cannot speak.”
Fortunately (?), those of us Stateside are free to listen to the panda’s adult male voice whenever we please. (Never.)