The first major cultural phenomenon
of the twenty-first century?
A world incomprehensible to most
A miracle of marketing?
All these, sometimes, but above
all, an intricate hypertext, of trading cards, TV
cartoons, films, computer games, fighting coins and
An industry, on the scale of
Disney, but more attuned to the twenty-first century.
There is no primary product. With Disney the film
comes first, and the toys and games are based on
that. But what is the Pokemon primary product?
The accusation is made: Pokemon
makes a profit from children. Yes. So do toy
manufacturers, fast-food retailers, children's book
publishers, and schoolteachers. Pokemon takes money
from children - but children are canny consumers, not
passive morons. They buy what they desire, and ignore
what they don't need. Think of the mountain of unsold
Star Wars tie-in produce that children refused to
pester their parents for last Christmas. Think of the
titanic failure of the new movie by the
kiddie-oriented singing group All Saints (even with
the fail-safe youth-attractor of an 18 certificate).
No, it doesn't get us far to see children as the
helpless victims of a Pokemon industry. They
participate in the Pokemon project because it gives
something valuable to them.
Snakeskin poet K.M.Payne was drawn
into this alternative universe by the enthusiasm of
his son, Spencer. His poems celebrate the benign but
exciting world of Pokemon in its astonishing mythic
Meanwhile the British papers (and
we presume some abroad) try to fan the traditional
moral panic that flickers every time young people are
enthusiastic about something. Children who remain
resolutely impervious to the bland worthiness of the
National Curriculum are able to give detailed and
excited accounts of eccentric monsters, rare cards
and exotic evolutions. So something must be wrong.
The papers run horror stories about children being
beaten up for their Pokemon cards, so headteachers
ban the cards from school. Next time a child has his
lunchbox stolen, will they ban eating?
It's possible that sometimes the
enthusiasm of the young goes too far. We at Snakeskin
do not endorse the behaviour of the young man in
Holland who swapped his baby sister for a rare card.
But we do think there is something
here worth exploring, a mythology whose resonance is
not to be despised by poets.
If you find the poems
incomprehensible, K.M.Payne's Beginners' Guide may be useful.