Pokmon depict cult of personality

STANFORD, Calif. (U-WIRE) — Get thee behind me, PokÇmon. Burger King and the U.S. government have stepped up their recall effort after a second child’s death involving suffocation on a “PokÇ-ball.” This little plastic sphere, included with kids’ meals, splits apart to reveal one of the 57 adorable little monsters. Unfortunately, it also tends to get stuck in the mouths of small children.
The bright side, according to Burger King, is that only the balls, not the toys, are dangerous, so children under three can continue to gnaw away on their PokÇmon of choice with impunity.
The PokÇmon corporation presumably expects this will cause strong emotional imprinting at an early age, so when the children enter the lucrative 7- to 12-year-old demographic a few years down the road, they will purchase the little buggers in mass quantities and keep them from going the way of Voltron. As icing on the cake, Burger King is giving away a free small order of French fries to anyone who returns a PokÇ-ball to the restaurant.
Less letha,l but more subtly disturbing, is the case of the foul-mouthed Pikachu sold at Kmarts in Howell, Mich. A talking figurine of the yellow, vaguely mammalian PokÇmon character — guaranteed to register as the cutest of the 57 in any preteen survey — reportedly spouts “an obscenity containing the f-word” if its button is pressed repeatedly.
“You shouldn’t have to worry about what a toy is going to say,” says an irate mother, displaying the same naive faith in corporate benevolence that causes us to overlook the hidden genitalia in Disney animated features.
A spokeswoman for Kmart shifted the blame, announcing that “we ask that all parents use good judgment and play with a toy before giving it to a child.” We can only hope the children are following this debate, since it teaches an important lesson about accountability: Make sure it ain’t yours.
All things considered, a bit of sexual slang isn’t such a bad addition to Pikachu’s vocabulary, since technically, PokÇmon can only say their own names. In this, they display an egocentrism reminiscent of many other American celebrities, though they do outclass the competition in other respects.
For instance, they can evolve into more mature and developed life forms — as opposed to, say, Britney Spears, who is unlikely ever to leave the larval girl-child stage.
Nevertheless, there is an eerie correspondence between the ability of PokÇmon to capture other PokÇmon — once caught, they become your helpers — and schemes such as the U.S. military’s current plan to recruit reluctant teens via Hollywood. Secretary of Defense William Cohen recently announced that he had spoken with several household names, including Tom Cruise, Steven Spielberg and Julia Roberts, about the possibility of doing public-service spots “saying positive things about the military.”
Cruise’s “Top Gun” connection is fairly clear, but Roberts is more of a stretch. Perhaps they’ll have her do a variation of “Pretty Woman”: “I was a hooker; now I’m an aircraft mechanic. Aim high with the Air Force!”
This isn’t such a bad move in a culture so weirdly hooked on personality cults that Turkish bachelor Mahir Cagri can achieve stardom just for putting up a homepage in broken English with the title “I Kiss You!” Mahir’s rise to fame doesn’t have anything to do with his page per se — with a little effort, crappy home pages are not hard to find — but rather stems from some strange Web-based meta-celebrity effect.
At this point, people are just visiting his page because everyone else has. Meanwhile, there are scores of satellite pages devoted to Mahir, containing quotes, fan mail and recent news. As of November, he was planning to become a U.N. ambassador and make a movie.
It’s debatable whether Mahir realizes his celebrity is essentially based on condescension. Having received several million hits, he has altered his home page with touching earnestness, adding a reminder to think about important issues in the world — starving children, war, the environment and so on.
But if his humiliation two months ago at the hands of David Letterman is any indication, nobody in the country takes him seriously. For us, Mahir is the moral equivalent of PokÇmon; substitute “I Kiss You” for “Pikachu” as the catch phrase, and that pretty much encompasses it.
We can only hope that given time, Mahir will evolve into a more developed and jaded life form and realize that his fame is because of us bored, overeducated folks with a finely developed sense of irony. Which should give Burger King just enough time to start packaging him with fries.
Paul Kerschen’s column originally appeared in Friday’s Stanford Daily.