Marxists of the 21st century (not an oxymoron; they exist) have identified a new threat to the glorious proletariat revolution: PokemonGo.
Of course, this is par for the course. The Soviet Union banned The Lord of the Rings. Leftist hero (and murderous thug) Che Guevara worked to suppress Jazz music in communist Cuba. The People's Republic of China censored Back to the Future because the regime thought that time travel undermined law and order. And on and on.
Now Marxist sympathizers at the socialist magazine Jacobin think the new Pokemon-themed iPhone app—which is currently being enjoyed by millions of people worldwide—should be "resisted."
For many critics, we're living out an apocalyptic scenario. This is about Pokémon Go, of course it's about Pokémon Go — how else could you describe a world in grown adults in their millions are milling about aimlessly, staring at their phones, collecting digital rats, reliving a stupid childhood, and shrinking all the while into inattentive sugar-zapped brats?
Author Sam Kriss takes care to note that PokemonGo could theoretically jibe with the Marxist worldview if it wasn't so consumerist and "indifferent to social existence." I'm excerpting a whole lot of text here, but the entire thing is really worth reading:
The power to actively impact this augmented reality belongs only to the company's executives, and the power of children's play has been subjected to another round of primitive accumulation and alienation. Our world does not become entirely other; instead, a new stratum is added to slot effortlessly into the tedium of daily life.
For the player of Pokémon Go, the injunction is to obey. Real human bodies are tamed and directed by dangling virtual lures: businesses can buy in-game items that will tempt customers into their establishments; the state could probably quell an uprising by scattering hundreds of rare Pokémon away from the central square. If they wanted to, the game's creators could send people leaping willingly off cliffs, dawdling on train tracks, running into forest fires.
It's a technology of biopolitics, something that speaks in one voice to the atomized millions and in its own small way helps to direct their lives. For the moment its injunctions are mild, but their mildness is that of the bourgeois ideal raised to an imperturbable universal.
The piece ends with a call to action:
Walk around. Explore your neighborhood. Visit the park. Take in the sights. Have your fun. Pokémon Go is coercion, authority, a command issuing from out of a blank universe, which blasts through social and political cleavages to finally catch 'em all. It must be resisted.
Ah, the juxtaposition of "fun" as the enemy of working class people, rather than something they probably enjoy (though they shouldn't—their little bouts of "fun" threaten the permanent revolution).
All joking side, Kriss's thinking here is limited in several important ways. First, he's wrong to assert that PokemonGo necessarily replaces unstructured playtime with obedience and drudgery. Kriss finds the world of PokemonGo limiting—it's just the regular world with Pokemon transposed onto it. But for a lot of kids, that will only be a starting point. They aren't going to simply go through the motions of PokemonGo for ever and ever. The app will lead them to explore new places, meet new people, and come up with new games. They won't just stare at their phones for eternity.
I'm somewhat confident in this prediction, given that I was in fifth grade last time Pokemon was really popular in the United States. It started with the Game Boy game, the television show, and the trading cards. Sure, the initial experience was scripted by the Pokemon corporate overlords. But eventually, this breaks down. At recess, and after school, my friends and I would often "play" Pokemon without any screens, cards, or Pokemon memorabilia at all. Sometimes our version of playing Pokemon overlapped with other established activities—like freeze tag, football, or hop scotch—and sometimes it blurred into totally unique imaginative games we had come up with.
And it's not just kids. My colleague Lenore Skenazy writes that playing PokemonGo for a few hours caused her to meet a bunch of different people she never would have spoken with otherwise. She reports on other adults encountering similar experiences here.
Socialists are evidently worried that PokemonGo's corporate masters have so much power to inspire people to move around, meet up, and visit local sites. If there's a good reason to be wary of this power, no one has come up with it yet.
To borrow (and modify) a popular phrase from the Pokemon universe: Free-market capitalism, I choose you!