Pokemon Tore My Family Apart!
My four year old son Declan is like me in that he is absolutely obsessive about the things he loves. If he finds a new TV show or comic book character or superhero that he adores it becomes his whole world. It’s all he wants to watch, all he wants to experience, all he wants to do with his life. It becomes the entirety of his existence.
Then he wears himself out and moves onto the next grand, all-consuming obsession. It’s a process that has played itself out with plenty of pop culture phenomena over the past two years or so: Paw Patrol. Mutt & Stuff. The Loud House. If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. The five thousand different versions of Scooby-Doo. Muppet Babies in both its original and rebooted form. Spider-Man. The Superhero Squad. Teen Titans Go! Sesame Street.
So I was not surprised when my son came home from camp recently and happily announced, “I only like Pokemon now!” I was not surprised but I was concerned. I wasn’t worried because Pokemon is, objectively speaking, fucking terrible. Declan loves lots of things that are terrible. Paw Patrol is fucking terrible. Mutt & Stuff is fucking terrible. The unboxing videos that my son could literally watch for days on end, happily foregoing food, sleep and water, are fucking terrible.
I’m more than willing to accept that my son loves garbage entertainment. For the most part I’m happy to sit on the couch with my boy as he watches absolute trash because I love spending time with him and I glean no small measure of vicarious enjoyment from seeing just how happy second-rate pop culture detritus makes him.
If Pokemon was just bad I would be able to handle it. What I find maddening and alienating about Pokemon is just how fucking inscrutable it all remains to my forty-three year old dad brain.
I don’t get it. I just don’t get it. I had hoped that at a certain point the world of Pokemon would become comprehensible but the more Pokemon I watch the less sense it makes and the more bizarre and inadvertently nightmarish it seems.
I saw Detective Pikachu primarily for educational purposes. Having spent over two decades happily not knowing, or caring, about Pokemon for the simple reason that I was neither a child nor the parent of a child, I wanted to finally understand what the phenomena was all about.
I am nothing if not curious. I am an enthusiast, a life-long learner who wants to know at least something about just about everything and a great deal about some things. I went into Detective Pikachu understanding almost nothing about Pokemon. I left still knowing almost nothing about Pokemon. As for Detective Pikachu, it was fine. Cute. Watchable. Nothing special.
I hoped that binge-watching a bunch of episodes of Pokemon alongside Declan would make things clearer both in terms of what the show is about and why it’s become a pop-culture phenomena in myriad forms all over the world for over two decades. Nope.
My brain stubbornly refuses to process Pokemon as anything other than nonsense for children. My psyche is so purposefully resistant to the show’s kid-friendly appeal that it would be inaccurate to say that I watched multiple seasons of Pokemon alongside my son. It would be more honest to say that hours upon hours of Pokemon washed over me in a befuddling haze, never quite cracking the surface.
What is Pokemon about? I feel like if I tried to explain it I would do a terrible job that would somehow makes us both dumber and less knowledgable. There’s a boy named Ash and a pocket monster named Pikachu and, well, it gets a little convoluted from there.
I was hoping that I might be able to enjoy Pokemon on an ironic level, as a so bad it’s good animated abomination, or to appreciate its sheer craziness. Nope. My brain will not let me enjoy or understand Pokemon no matter how half-heartedly I sort of try.
This sucks because my son loves Pokemon with his whole heart and soul and weird brain. Our weird brains usually exist in a state of sublime synchronicity; what he likes I like and what I like he digs because we’re father and son, two sides of the same coin.
But when I see Declan’s eyes light up with excitement over some nonsensical, off-putting Pokemon gobbledygook I feel a distance between us that worries me. Honestly, if he was watching Pokemon in non-subtitled Mandarin it would be just as impenetrable to me. I don’t think Declan would even notice.
I hope this proves a short-lived phase because right now I almost feel like I would prefer it if Declan liked ANYTHING other than Pokemon. I’m talking anything: Mama’s Family. Larry the Cable Guy. Jeff Dunham. They may be fucking terrible, but at least they make sense.
Alternately I could get into Pokemon somehow, if only for my son’s sake, but right now that is looking doubtful to the point of being an impossibility.
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