The other Thursday, I was casually browsing through the channels on my TV set. Among the usual ‘Blockbuster’ flicks, ‘Reality’ shows, and ‘News’, I came across a show that took me back to my childhood years.
I must have been around eight or nine years old when I began to watch it, and it has lingered in my life since then. This show has now grown so much, albeit its main character has stayed the same age. The show I’m talking about is, of course, Pokémon.
I watched the rerun with a smile. A lot had changed in the show since its first episode had aired. And so, I began to ponder its contents. Its protagonist, Ash Ketchum was, as I’d mentioned previously, always ten years old. Also, he always failed to win the Pokémon League every season. What a loser, I presumed. But then, his alarmingly consistent record got me speculating. Why does Ash Ketchum never win?
Ask this question online, and you’ll find that many people believe this is so the producers can continue making money from the series. But I beg to differ from that view. The profitability of a show shouldn’t depend on a perpetually losing main character. And so, I’d like to suggest a different argument.
But, before I delve into that, here’s some background on the ten-year old Ash Ketchum, who’d left the comfort of his home and embarked on the ultimate quest – to catch ’em all. He’s portrayed as a kind and caring trainer who is selfless with his Pokémon. He is also resourceful in overcoming his obstacles, although more often than not, his strategies are highly flawed (but give him a break – he is only ten). Yet, he never gives up. To his credit, he invariably gets the better of his flaws, wins all the gym badges, and makes it into the elite Pokémon League.
Getting to the Pokémon League isn’t enough for glory though. He needs to win it. And here is where our protagonist falters, every single time. Each new season would bring with it tons of new Pokémon, many different characters, and occasionally, a novel plotline, but the same old outcome: Ash Ketchum fails to become the Champion. And the reason for that could be little deeper than we think. Our beloved hero, Ash Ketchum has been teaching every new generation of kids who watch Pokémon that it’s okay to lose.
In the society that we live in, one is often chastised for their shortcomings. One’s failures are stigmatized onto their identities, and they are made to perceive themselves solely in the light of their missteps. If one fails repeatedly, it is bound to make them the infamous example that every parent cites to their children, in a condescending tone: “Is this what you want to become in life?” This unforgiving society discourages further attempts of one’s pursuit altogether by mocking them for their imperfections and intimidating them into abandoning their undertakings, all the while pressuring them to do something ‘worthwhile’ with their lives. Indeed, it is a rare moment to see someone defy the odds and rise from their failures. This is truer now, more than ever, as one seeks approval from all corners of life, hoping to please everyone else, and ignoring their own aspirations.
It was this moment of clairvoyance which led me to the conclusion that Ash failing to win the Pokémon League was a stark defiance to the current standards upheld by society. He teaches the impressionable minds out there that failure isn’t the end, and it is always possible to rise from them. Of course, it is impossible to change society’s mindset entirely, but it does give me hope to envision a few compassionate souls in future generations who could bring about such a change.
And on that optimistic note, I’ll leave you with this famous quote from Mewtwo:
“I see now that the circumstances of one’s birth are irrelevant. It is what you do with the gift of life that determines who you are.”