Thanks To Pokemon, Even Young Adults Can Feel Old

What Is It About This Japanese Fad That Enthralls Children And Leaves Their Parents Totally Befuddled?


OXFORD, Ohio–The release of the first Pokemon movie occasions from me–and, I suspect, many parents–a difficult confession. Though still young by most counts, I'm now officially an old man.

Allow me to elaborate. For some months now my 6-year-old son, like every other child on Earth, if not throughout the solar system, has been obsessed with Pokemon, the odd little fictional life forms imported from Japan that fight each other and "evolve" through some vague but brutal Darwinian competition.

My son has, to the limit of my and my wife's disposable income, luxuriated in Pokemon cards, Pokemon video games, Pokemon figures, Pokemon books, Pokemon shirts, even Pokemon underwear.

Just last week, in fact, he had a Pokemon birthday party, featuring Pokemon plates, Pokemon cups and, of course, Pokemon cake.

Through sheer cultural osmosis, I can probably identify half of the 150 or so distinct species of Pokemon, ranging from Alakazam (a "psychic" Pokemon rumored to have an IQ of 5,000!) to Zubat (a "poison" Pokemon whose "Leech Life" technique sucks the very energy out of opponents).

Not to brag, but put "seed" Pokemon Bulbasaur and its two evolved forms, Ivysaur and Venusaur, in a lineup and I'll be able to tell them apart just as easily as I can distinguish among the "lizard" Pokemon Charmander, Charmeleon and Charizard.

So how does any of this make me old? On most Saturday mornings, my son and I watch the Pokemon TV show and, on more evenings than I care to count, we watch a couple of Pokemon videotapes.

As we sit there, father and son, I stare at the screen and realize that I have absolutely no idea why my child loves this phenomenon so much. Its massive and obvious appeal to him and to millions of other kids completely escapes me.

I can't follow the plots–if there are any–and I have no clue as to why Pokemon are constantly fighting one another or why they hang out with human "trainers" who are forever squeezing them into cramped, uncomfortable-looking contraptions known as Pokeballs.

In such moments, I realize that youth culture is beginning to baffle me, the surest sign of old age there is. And suddenly I have a lot more sympathy for my own father, who gamely suffered through my childhood attachments to the likes of Gumby and Scooby-Doo and, later, glam and punk rock.

Those enthusiasms must have struck my old man as every bit as odd and mystifying as my son's current interest in the likes of Pikachu, Geodude and Diglett.

Anthropologist Margaret Mead once said that parents are always foreigners in their children's native country. I always had a sense of what she was getting at. But I never dreamed it would take an extended trip to the world of Pokemon for me to understand fully the truth of her insight.