Pokémon vs Aliens: 2016’s Cultural Milestones

Pop Culture

Pokémon vs Aliens: 2016’s Cultural Milestones

Illustration: Shivali Devalkar

The year 2016 in cultural milestones has been the year that lived out the double-edged Chinese adage, “May you live in interesting times.” These “interesting times” have been captured in the film and literature of this year. Our selection of these cultural events shines a light on the moments that brought home an uncomfortable awareness of who we are and the world we live in.

Black-Mirrored Lives
It’s an age of dual personas, where the reality of our humdrum lives is nipped and tucked into pretty-looking updates on social media. We deserve the best, not because we worked to earn it but because the world seems to be tailored around providing it to us. If anything, from our cabs to our food to the hotels we stay in, is less than optimal we rate it as such. What could possibly go wrong, right?

As the first episode of Black Mirror Season 3 exhibits: Everything.

“Nosedive” is set in a filter-friendly world where every human being gets a rating out of five. That rating is sacrosanct and affects the minutiae of everyone’s existence, from your job to your apartment. The protagonist’s anxieties of how she’s perceived, overtakes who she is. As we uncomfortably watch her affirm to the pastel-hued confines of her ecosystem, we find our own insecurities reflected.

Now you might be tempted to dismiss this as Twilight Zone-esque paranoia porn, but you should look up Peeple, an app that lets you rate everyone you know and give them recommendations based on professional, personal, and romantic interactions you’ve had with them. You should also consider why you won’t take Uber drivers with a rating lower than 4.5 or why you won’t order food from a restaurant with a bad order streak on Zomato. This episode is not a hyperbolic warning story of where we’re headed. It’s an honest assessment of where we already are.

– Nimisha Misra 

Our Great Derangement
Earlier this year, author Naomi Klein spoke of how “environmentalism might have looked like a bourgeois playground” once in her stunning essay, “Let Them Drown”. The essay examines the world’s geopolitical order as we intensify our steady tumble downhill, laughing at or snubbing all signs of climate change unless Leonardo DiCaprio serves them on a plate to us. Klein’s thought found an echo closer home in Amitav Ghosh’s The Great Derangement. Ghosh’s slim volume dwells on the near-absence of the subject of climate change in literature and the arts. In a particularly chilling sequence in the book, Ghosh imagines a hurricane in the Arabian Sea that would put paid to Mumbai. Yes, the complete flattening of that bourgeois playground Klein spoke of. The book and the essay together served as an urgent truthbomb in the warmest year on the planet. We can no longer afford to think of what happens in Canada or Israel or India or the Niger Delta as isolated events. We can no longer bury our heads in the sand.

– Karanjeet Kaur

Come Together
They arrive. What happens now? “They” in this case, are a bunch of aliens who suddenly descend on Earth with an unknown purpose, causing the world to lose their collective shit. While the USA, saviours of the world, debates the best course of action, the perpetual bad guys, Russia and China, attempt to wage war and eradicate these foreign devils. Arrival is based on the award-winning novella Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang that was published nearly 20 years ago, but its contents are germane to the world we currently live in.

Arrival shows us that anyone who speaks a different language could be an alien, that they needn’t always have popping eyes or bright green acidic blood. It also held up a mirror to how we stigmatise anyone whose culture we don’t have the tools to understand.

I can’t stress enough the relevance of a film like Arrival in our times, as first-world countries confront large-scale migration, the result of wars that they have overtly or covertly supported. The degree of suspicion with which the film’s characters treat their tentacled visitors is eerily reminiscent of the current wave of xenophobia and racism we’re witnessing around the world.

Arrival allows you a glimpse into the future. As the film’s main plot reveals, language shapes our perception of time and reality. The ability to speak different languages directly affects our empathy – but for that we need to talk to each other first. It matters little then if our aliens descend from the heavens or land on our shores by boat.

– Damian D’souza

Pokémon Gone
Remember Pokémon Go? Whatever the hell was up with that? Was it the world’s greatest fitness app or was it the perfect foil for robbers? Was it the greatest mobile phone game ever made or was it an app designed to steal user information?

What we do know is that in one month, it spread like an epidemic around the world, added billions to its makers’ stock value, and turned millennials and Gen-Yers into zombies. Perfectly sane adults, capable of functioning well, surrendered their senses to a smartphone game. They hunted for little monsters on roads, in the middle of traffic, in forests, even in temples, and at Beyoncé concerts. Pokémon Go had more downloads than Tinder in the US in a week, and more stay time than Instagram, WhatsApp, and definitely more injuries than all of those platforms combined. It forged a community out of strangers walking on the road, looking at their phones – thousands came together for Pokémon Go marches and met up at hotspots. It quickly became a lifestyle.

And then, just as suddenly, it ceased to be a lifestyle. As is the nature of these things, the rise of Pokémon Go was swiftly followed by its downfall. It reminded you that with all things social media, what engrosses does not always endure.

– Parthshri Arora