Wednesday, June 09, 2004


Today, a brief word on a children's product called "Digimon".

Whenever any entertainment product is an instant success, you can always count on a flood of instant imitators. Survivor spawned The Mole, Who Wants to be a Millionaire The Weakest Link, Transformers the Gobot, the list is nearly endelss.

So when the bizarre phenomenom called "Pokemon" became wildly successful, producing movies, video games, a cartoon show, a card game, assorted toys, etc. you knew that a dozen poke-imitators were not far behind.

Now, normally, when a fad produces carbon copy imitators hoping for a quick cash-in, I don't get riled up about it. If one mediocre prime-time game show is a hit, and it rapidly leads to 5 other mediocre prime time game shows, I don't let it bother me.

But when the inexplicable Pokemon fad spawned a copy called "Digimon", something inside me just snapped. To refresh our memory, let's recall what Pokemon is all about: Children, who roam free in a magical land where there isn't much adult supervision, collect and train magical monsters, store them in magical balls, and eventually release them to participate in a sort of magical cock fight against the monsters of other kids.

Fine. At least it's original. Then along comes Digimon, which, barring a few irrelevant details, is exactly the same thing. The only real difference between the two is that Pokemon is original, Digimon is not.

Now I happen to think that we, the consumers of entertainment, have made a kind of devil's bargain with those who provide the entertainment. We agree to deliberately suspend our disbelief. We know that movies and TV shows exist for one reason: to make money. But we agree to ignore this. The latest special effects blockbuster in theaters is nothing but a piece of corporate product, and its single purpose for existence is to liberate dollars from your wallet. But we ignore this. And we have to. Unless we ignore it, we would never enjoy any of it.

When something like Digimon comes along, the problem is that the devil isn't keeping his side of the bargain. The raw, drooling greed behind the product has not been adequately disguised. Give me something, anything so that I can say with sincerety that the makers of Digimon are out to entertain us and just wanted to bring some creativity and happiness to the lives of children.

But I can't. Digimon doesn't try to stake out its own creative territory, it simply tries to BE pokemon. Everything about it, including the name, is an attempt to confuse you into thinking that it IS pokemon. Not a deriviative of pokemon, not a cousin of pokemon, but Pokemon itself.

If you worked for a shoe factory, or a lamp-shade maker, then you would at least have the satisfaction of knowing that your product satisfied a specific need. It may not be glamourous job, but damn it, people need shoes and lamp shades. But imagine going to work for the Digimon people. How could you go to work every day, knowing that the only reason your product existed was to fool its customers into thinking they were actually buying a *different* product?

The insult of Digimon is therefore double. Those who created it are counting on the low intelligence of the consumer in order for it to be a success. Digimon can only work if we are stupid. But they are also making clear what they think about your intelligence with the baldfaced nature of their con. Nothing is disguised, no attempt to distinguish the product has been made.

It's a bit like a friend who lies to your face and gives you an utterly implauasible story as an excuse. You're mad because he's lying to you, but you're also a little insulted that he expected you to believe his ridiculous story.

So I guess all I'm saying is this: The next time someone tries to pitch you a worthless product in an attempt to get into your wallet, try to hold the shuckster to a higher standard. Let him know he needs to make more of an effort to disguise his obvious contempt for your intelligence. Then maybe you'll buy it.

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