Today was due to be the advent of a youtube series with the above title, but due to limited time to perfect the format, or indeed my hair, I have decided instead to return to the written word for the first few instalments. Perhaps they will make it into the fully fledged low-budget series, but for now I will treat them purely as a chapter-by-chapter event.
I don’t want to write too large an introduction to this series but it does make sense to offer some preliminary context. As a (current) academic with desires to progress a more professional academic role I figured I should be contributing more to the fields in which I am interested in yet. Yet at this current point in time, my knowledge of these fields – fan studies, television comedy – are limited, in a theoretical sense. As much as I am now working hard to get a better grasp on the research, I feel I am still far away from being the “master” I hope to be twelve months from now.
So when I decided to re-start this blog – and decide to include the potential for a video series – I initially put a lot of pressure on myself to ensure every post was making an important, academic contribution. Or at least every post had to make some kind of “look-at-me” signature ‘point’, or conclusion. See some of the below posts for examples.
Look, I have enough time coming up with and figuring out these contributions to the field for my MA course, let alone on a weekly blogs. One step at a time, I figured. So instead, I’ve decided to follow a new path with the majority of these posts. They will be a mixture of reflection on my current readings/projects – you will notice that the last few posts solely consist of fawning over Professor Matt Hills’ contributions to fan studies – but over time, as I (hopefully) begin nudging the line to “master”, these reflective posts will become far more critically engaged.
The other group of postings – and eventually including video, I hope – will be simply entitled “Fan Histories”. These blogs will focus on one item from my life that can be considered a fan-text, and will allow me time for my own personal reflection. While there will be some self-analysis (autoethnographic study, ahem) through these tales of Chaddian history, I shall try and keep this limited to spurious speculation – I don’t want to lay claim to any major insights or theoretical ‘eureka’ moments without yet having read much of the fan studies canonical texts.
Rather I intend to reflect on some of these posts at a later date when I feel I am ready to engage with myself on a higher critical plane. So not only do these Fan Histories allow me to find inspiration for current blog material, they will also provide me something to write about towards the end of the year as well, as I recontextualise my own personal fandoms within the new parameters of the growing body of theory.
This first edition will mostly likely come complete with audible creaks and groans as my ambition is steadily outstripped by my energy levels and competencies. However I will try and form a base structure – which will rely on a narcissistic self-interview framing device – that can be adjusted and improved upon as I go. I have decided to not adopt a purely ‘academic’ tone or agenda in these posts, for several reasons, primarily because I think these histories require a platform more malleable in expression. If you, dear reader, exist, and happen to have shared some of these fandoms or particular fan practices, feel free to comment below or get in touch if you wish to discuss them further.
There’s a version of the future fifteen years from now where a book called “Fan Histories” sits on the shelf in university libraries across the country, and it might begin with this post. So let’s get cracking.
Fan Histories: Pokemon
My first encounter with the world of Pokemon is actually rather distinct. From somewhere – possibly a magazine I was reading at the time – this poster appeared in my possession. It included small ‘thumbnails’ of the original 150 pokemon, with their names and little checkboxes next to each one. This poster is still rather vivid in my mind – this probably happened around sixteen years ago in 1998.
Pokemon then came to me next as a television show broadcast on ITV through the kid’s variety package that was SM:TV Live. I think at that time both Ant and Dec were as enthusiastic about the show as I was. Oddly, one of the associations I continue to make when anyone mentions Pokemon is the Blink 182 song ‘All the Small Things’, which tended to play either side of the ad-break in the middle of Pokemon. Several years later in the early noughties I would, in the middle of my pop-punk phase, reflect on my Pokemon fandom whenever I listened the same band.
I don’t recall much of the on-screen Pokemon stories. I figure I remember a fair bit of the first episode – Ash watching a Pokemon battle on the television, getting stuck with ‘Pikachu’, those initial encounters with a ‘Pidgey’ (or was it a “Pidgeot”?). One episode I do recall was (apparently the 39th episode of series 1) ‘Pikachu’s Goodbye’, where the cute yellow-belly almost left Ash’s clique to join a group of similar Pikachus. I think the reason this hangs around in the memory banks is because of my own mother’s slight emotional reaction to the episode – I mean, it was kinda sad.
There’s very little of the television version of Pokemon I can recall now. I have better memories of viewing the first Pokemon movie, titled Pokemon: The First Movie – Mewtwo Strikes Back (how complex a title is that for a first instalment? And is that a Star Wars reference?). The primary memory refers again to my parents, this time of my Dad sleeping through much of the film. It was small, dingy little cinema we saw it at – I always believe it was in Yeovil but I can’t vouch for that – and it appeared it was an inducive environment to nap in, should the film not quite provide the requisite adrenaline bursts.
I recall some of the plot, again – the evil Mewtwo pokemon made “dark” copies of the others in an attempt to take over the world in some ‘utopia’ project. Both Ash and Pikachu nearly died, before the famous 151st pokemon, Mew, saved the day. These “dark” pokemon provide me with a link to the next part of my exploration of my Pokemon fandom – the trading card game.
Gotta Get Them All
I think my fascination with stats – through economics A-levels, sports teams, budgeting (I can hear my partner laughing at this last example) – begins with Pokemon, particularly the trading card game. I have distinct memories of my first few packs and learning the rules of the game with my sister and a couple of friends. There was the ‘trading’ scene – a lesser deal than many made it out to be, in my opinion.
My trading card fandom can be articulated best with two short anecdotes. The first relates to the ‘dark’ pokemon copies of The First Movie. At the local market in Blandford there used to be a fella who had two pasting tables full of Pokemon trading cards. As usual on a saturday morning I went into town with my mother while my sister had her dance lessons, and I was perusing the cards again. There were a couple of large folders of the cards as well, and one time I decided to spend 2/3 weeks worth of pocket money on one particular trading card, a shiny ‘Dark Charizard’ that cost me £7.
I always remember this occurring towards the end of the trading card phase, maybe even in the latter stages of my initial Pokemon fandom. There is then a tinge of disappointment – possible of wasted money – in this memory. I don’t recall ever ‘using’ this card, per se, in the game itself. In my mind, therefore, it exists as some kind of totem, some kind of souvenir of being a Pokemon fan – but such analysis will better lend itself to future reflection of this post as a whole.
A second memory of the trading card game is attending an event at Westquay shopping centre in Southampton, Hants. There I attended – with plenty of others – a trading card tournament. This might have been my first meeting with what I guess I would naively term the ‘hardcore’ Pokemon fan. The players I played against weren’t just more knowledgeable about the game mechanics or had spent more collecting the most valuable cards – but they were far more dedicated to Pokemon in general than I ever remember being.
The truest sense of this was the accompanying ‘Pokemon Stadium’ tournament that ran alongside the trading card game. Here players could bring along their cartridge of Pokemon – which included their saved game – and ‘battle’ each other through the Nintendo 64. When asked my one of the tournament runners what ‘level’ my pokemon were – in the mid-sixties – I remember him chuckling. My opponent proceeded to destroy all six of my pokemon with his six level-100 pokemon, much to my dismay. Again, I realised I was not part of this ‘hardcore’ faction.
Despite this apparent thrashing, it was the videogame version of Pokemon that has tended to be preserved in mine – and those of my peers – lives.
Blue Vs. Red
I’m not sure exactly when I purchased Pokemon Blue, or whether it temporally occurred before or after my experiences with the trading card game and television show/movie. However, the game, its characters, locations and mechanics have been a part of my cultural life since its late-90s introduction.
It is not the primary experience of playing Pokemon Blue that I most recall. I have probably experience the whole re-playing of the game several times since, either with that original cartridge and gameboy in the years after its initial explosion, on PC-ran emulators throughout my teenage years, and on a re-purchased gameboy and cartridge just last summer.
The most pervading sense or emotion that I associate with Pokemon is nostalgia for the original game boy game, and I believe this is shared among many of my generation – at least based on my years at university, anyway. My and my girlfriend replayed the game last year in an effort to catch all 150 pokemon between us (we both completed the game but didn’t finish the ‘catch ’em all’ challenge). At university, many of my friends replayed it and Pokemon itself was the constant source of jokes, stories – even specific pub-quiz rounds.
I played several other versions of the game – new editions are still released by Nintendo every so often as Pokemon fans continue to grow – but none compared to that original game for me, in my personal story of fandom.
That’s a rather quick, abridge history of my interaction with the Pokemon franchise – from an alien Japanese poster to nostalgic pastime, and almost ‘icon’ of my generation. As it happens, I’m now coming into contact with Pokemon in an academic sense, as it is often a topic of discussion when considering transmedia properties and children’s media texts.
Once more, I will probably revisit this history at a later date in order to recontextualise my fandom through academic theory – but for now I will leave it as it is. If you have any memories of your own Pokemon fandom – or indeed any comments at all about this article – feel free to leave a message below.
Edit: I notice in the tea-break I had between writing the introduction and the main bulk, I did away with the self-interviewing framing narrative. I’m not sure if the resulting blog had a better structure or not, so will maybe trial the Q&A form next time.