Monday, August 22, 2016

Random Rants: Of Pokemon, dragons, magic and muggles

If my social media feeds are any indication, it seems that a large portion of the world population these days is filled with rage, sanctimonious indignation or pure nastiness. I guess some of that is to be expected in an election year, but this one seems worse than others in so many ways. This isn’t a political blog, and I have no desire to make it one, so that’s as far as I’ll take that line.

I bring it up, though, to point out how refreshing it is, from time to time, to be able to escape into some other world or perhaps pass a few minutes in some completely frivolous pursuit. Except even that has become cause for ridicule in some circles.

Since the Pokemon Go game launched a couple of months ago, I’ve seen an increasing number of memes and snide comments about the people who are playing it. If the people posting these are to be believed, you can’t possibly be a productive member of society or care about the big issues in the world and enjoy a little frivolity to take your mind off of it at the same time.

Over the weekend, already in a foul mood from the anger and hatred spewing forth from my Facebook feed, I happened upon a meme that set me off, largely because it made no sense. It said, “Teach your kids the value of hard work, so they won’t grow up to catch Pokemon.” What does one have to do with the other? Absolutely nothing.

I don’t play Pokemon Go, but my son enjoys it, and I have played some of the other Pokemon games in the past with him. My son’s an honor student and a good kid, and to be honest, I believe those games played a role in developing his reading and critical thinking skills. Maybe there have been some issues with Pokémon Go and there have certainly been some issues with players who had no common sense, but I also think the game has been a good thing on a number of levels. It’s gotten a lot of kids up and moving, and it’s even been used effectively for some charitable causes. But because some people don’t understand it or don’t feel that it’s a valid use of time, they must ridicule it.

I suspect that all of these people spend at least a little time doing something that’s not a direct contribution to society. If they don’t, then maybe that’s why they’re so angry.

But as I tried to formulate a quick response to this meme, I realized something. The reason that it set me off the way it did is because as a fan and writer of speculative fiction, these are the same people that I’ve been arguing with my whole life – people who believe that anything not grounded firmly in the real world is frivolous and not worth pursuing.

These people represent the college English professor who told me I should change my major from journalism because I couldn’t write at all after I had the audacity to turn in a fantasy story for a creative writing assignment. They’re the youth pastor, who after seeing the books I was buying in the bookstore, told me to come visit him so he could find me “something good to read.” They’re the newspaper editor who upon seeing a stack of review books on my desk, made the snide remark, “Science fiction? We’d be better off if the Nazis had burned some of that shit.”

Let me tell you a few things about myself. I’m a communications manager at a Fortune 200 company. I’ve held a job of some kind or other since I was 16 years old, and I was mowing lawns before that. I’ve been successful in two professional careers. I’m not rich by any means, but I make a decent living and provide for my family. By anyone’s definition, even these folks, I’m a responsible adult and productive member of society.

But you know what? I also fly with dragons, explore strange worlds and practice magic. I’ve walked with Tom Bombadil, I’ve attended Hogwarts, and I’ve visited a strange place in my own backyard called Bon Temps. I’m friends with a wizard in Chicago, I’ve walked through a broken post-apocalyptic world with a psychopath and a coward, I’ve traveled through space and time in a little blue box, and I’ve been fired out of a starship in a magnificent assault on Mars called an Iron Rain. I’ve experienced those things and thousands more, and, yes, I’ve even been known to catch an occasional Pokemon.

Over the past several years, we’ve certainly seen an expansion of geekdom, with more and more people realizing through movie and TV adaptations of stories like “The Lord of the Rings,” “Harry Potter” and George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire,” that the speculative genres have something to offer. While I’ve often lamented the fact that this interest comes through movies and TV rather than the original works, maybe some of those people who watched Peter Jackson’s adaptations have gone on to meet Tom Bombadil, or some “Game of Thrones” fans have picked up the books to learn just how much darker and more twisted the real Westeros is.

But even with this surge in interest in fantasy and science fiction, there are plenty of people who are quick to dismiss the depiction of anything that they can’t see or touch in real life as ridiculous. One has to look no further than the meme that was going around a couple of months ago proudly proclaiming that the poster had never watched an episode of “Game of Thrones.” And the point? There are dozens of popular shows that I’ve never watched. Probably many that those people watch every week.

I still get frustrated when I think about the professor, pastor and editor I mentioned above, but ultimately I pity them and those like them – the worst sort of muggle. If there is a true spark of magic in our real world, it’s imagination, and in my mind, to suppress that is the true offense against the world.

I don't want to imagine what my life would be like without the ability to escape for a few minutes to another world, even one that’s darker, grimier and less hospitable than our own. Those trips, at times, have been the only thing that kept me sane, and more often than not, I find that I learn something on the journey. I feel sorry for people who don’t have the ability to allow themselves to be taken, even occasionally, on some sort of fantastic voyage, and don’t understand that they can often discover truths about our own world and themselves somewhere along those strange paths.

So, yes, meme maker, I’ll teach my child about the value of work. I’ll teach him responsibility. I’ll teach him to be a productive member of society. But I’ll also let him catch Pokemon. Ultimately, I’d much rather my son grow up to catch Pokemon than grow up devoid of imagination and wonder. That’s a far sadder fate in my book.

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