Feature: Pokémon's Controversial History
Posted by Damien McFerran
Racism, greed, Nazis and spoon-bending
To celebrate the recent launch of the excellent Pokémon Black and White 2 on the Nintendo DS, we thought it would be entertaining to throw open the history books and take a look back at the shadowy past of this massively successful monster-catching series.
Like all elements of popular culture, Pokémon has been largely misunderstood by those not intimately familiar with it, leading to some downright hilarious accusations and scandals over the past decade or so.
Some people would have you believe that Pikachu and friends are solely responsible for all of the world's problems, but there have been some instances where the series has legitimately stepped on a few toes and inadvertently ruffled some feathers.
Are you sitting comfortably? Then let’s begin.
One of the most amazing accusations that has been levelled at Pokémon is that it's the work of Beelzebub himself, and is a tool used by the devil to subvert and corrupt children. This is pretty much a stock response to any craze not fully understood by certain sectors of Western society, and has previously included everything from Elvis Presley to The Beatles and Walt Disney. Pokémon is clearly in good company.
To quote Pastor Brett Peterson:
Pokemon is not the enemy - it is Lucifer and all that exalts itself against Jesus Christ and the true path to enlightenment. Pokemon is a tool the enemy can use to build a false foundation and plant seeds of futility in my child - and this I will not allow, and I will, by the blood of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit come against all falsehood and doctrines of demons that try to indoctrinate my child with eastern mysticism and occultic practices.
You learn something new every day!
Quite an ironic one, this. When the Pokémon craze hit big, kids began trading cards with one another, just as their parents had done in earlier decades with items such as baseball trading cards or marbles. However, those same parents quickly stated that Pokémon was making their offspring greedy and competitive - two traits which many would argue are the bedrock of any capitalist money-focused society.
It’s quite insane just how seriously some people take this stance:
Church kids are being taught vices of greed, violence and rebellion...at the simplest level, Pokemon is about accumulation and acquiring power with the attributes of greed...It is common for children to have nightmares and wake up screaming in fear which may be caused by Pokemon paraphernalia in the bedroom.
Among the 151 species of Pokemon, 31 gain control by rage or fury, 21 gain control by slashing or stabbing, 12 are psychic and 65 use psychic energy to dominate others. Pokemon encourages children to defeat their opponents through deception, psychic energy and violence.
So Pokémon is making kids money-mad and aggressive? Sounds like it’s the perfect recruiting tool for future Wall Street traders, if you ask us.
Bet you weren't expecting this one, right? Back in the ‘90s, a Saudi Arabian fatwa was issued against Pokémon because it possessed the minds of children, promoted Zionism and featured symbols related to Freemasonry.
Here’s a clipping from the period:
Saudi Arabia's highest religious authority has issued an edict banning Pokemon games and cards, saying they have "possessed the minds" of children, promote Zionism and involve gambling.
Saudi Arabia's Higher Committee for Scientific Research and Islamic Law issued the fatwa, or religious ruling, over the weekend.
It said the video game and cards have symbols that include "the Star of David, which everyone knows is connected to international Zionism and is Israel's national emblem, as well as being the first symbol of the Freemason."
Just how far would a rabid Pokémon fan go to acquire that coveted card? Quite far, actually. Desperate to get the super-rare Holographic Vaporean card he'd always wanted, 8 year-old Harvey Flexman told listeners on a UK radio station that he was prepared to trade his baby sister Mollie in order to achieve his goal.
To be fair to the kid, he'd already offered his all of his toys, pocket money, Easter eggs and even his bed before finally deciding that his infant sibling would be the exchange to ultimately seal the deal.
Many people seem to labour under the belief that the swastika is an icon created by Adolf Hitler for his German Nazi Party, but in fact it’s a symbol which can trace its history back to 10,000 BC. Pokémon blundered into this particular controversy back in 1999:
Eleven-year-old Stephen Langsam prefers Japanese-language Pokemon cards to the English version. But when he plunked down $6 for a pack last month, he was upset to find one that included what he thought was a swastika.
The red mark alongside the Pokemon characters Golbat and Ditto was a "manji," a mirror image of the Nazi swastika. In Japan, where the symbol predates the Nazis by centuries, it means good fortune and can also represent a Buddhist temple.
But to Stephen, his friend Marc Specht and their Jewish families, it was a Nazi swastika, the spidery symbol of hate and the Holocaust, and it didn't belong in a children's game.
"We thought there had to be something we could do because it can be terrible for children," said Marc's mother, Myla Specht.
Sadly, it’s not just Pokémon which has been impacted by the stigmatisation of this ancient icon. The swastika is rarely seen in the western media these days.
The character Jynx, Pokémon #124, has decidedly human features: jet-black skin, huge pink lips, gaping eyes, a straight blonde mane and a full figure, complete with cleavage and wiggly hips. Put another way, Jynx resembles an overweight drag queen incarnation of Little Black Sambo, a racist stereotype from a children's book long ago purged from libraries.
Since the character first appeared in 2000, steps have been taken to limit its appearance in the west, including the cancellation of some TV episodes in which Jynx prominently appears. While some people still argue that the character isn't intended to be a black stereotype, it would seem that for once, the criticisms hold some water.
This is another scandal that actually has some credence. Aired in Japan in 1997, Pokémon episode Dennō Senshi Porygon grabbed the Guinness World Record for “Most Photosensitive Epileptic Seizures Caused by a Television Show” - 685, to be precise. Thankfully, all of the affected children recovered from the ordeal, but as a result the episode has never been shown outside of Japan, where it caused a four-month blackout of all Pokémon programming.
Spoon Bending Psychics
Psychic, and friend of the late Michael Jackson, Uri Geller - famed for his supposed ability to bend cutlery with little more than his mind - is one of the less likely victims of the Pokémon franchise.
In 2000, Geller attempted to sue Nintendo for a whopping £60 million ($100 million). His claim was that the Kadabra character was in fact an unauthorized parody of himself. Geller also stated that the shapes on Kadabra's chest looked a lot like Nazi SS markings, something which he found even more offensive.
To quote Geller:
Nintendo turned me into an evil, occult Pokémon character. Nintendo stole my identity by using my name and my signature image. I want to tell the world before the start of the holiday season that I have nothing whatsoever to do with these violent characters.
Thankfully, the lawsuit was thrown out of court.
One of Pokémon’s most recent opponents is the animal rights group PETA, which created its own parody of Nintendo’s series to highlight the unsavoury nature of the on-screen action:
The amount of time that Pokémon spend stuffed in pokéballs is akin to how elephants are chained up in train carts, waiting to be let out to "perform" in circuses. But the difference between real life and this fictional world full of organized animal fighting is that Pokémon games paint rosy pictures of things that are actually horrible.
PETA is no stranger to using Nintendo to gain exposure for its campaign, having previously thrown dirt in Mario’s direction for his wearing of a Tanooki suit.
While it’s a matter of personal opinion as to whether or not the group has any grounds for complaint, the general consensus is that all publicity is good publicity, and the mud-slinging has achieved exactly what PETA wanted: it’s given the group mainstream media exposure.
So there you have it, Pokémon's shady past exposed. Did we miss any of your favourite conspiracy theories or accusations? Let us know in the comments section.