(Note: This is all 10-year-old news, but it’s new to me, and I think it’s hilarious.)
If you keep your eyes open, pseudoscience can crop up in the strangest places…
So, I’m reading a Pokémon book to the Little Skeptic Boy, age 6.
Aside: Hey! Don’t judge me! We’ve actually been reading The Hobbit together, but Friday he came home from kindergarten with this Pokémon book. We’ve now finished this book, so tomorrow night it’s back to Middle Earth for the Battle of Five Armies…
Anyhow, the hero, Ash, and his lovable little electric Pokémon, Pikachu, are trying to defeat Sabrina and her evolved psychic Pokémon called Kadabra (evolved from Abra – get it? Abra… Kadabra… after that comes Alkazam… They are clever down there at Nintendo). Ash needs the victory to earn his Marsh Badge. Once he has all of his badges (as you all know), he becomes eligible to enter the Pokémon League Tournament, where he could become a new champion Pokémon trainer! So clearly this is important stuff, and I won’t spoil the ending for you.
As I’m reading this, I’m getting a good look at some drawings of this psychic Pokémon…
And I notice that ol’ Kadabra’s got a spoon in his hand. Did he forget to do the dishes after eating his pudding cup? Just a big fan of The Tick? Proud to be a friend of Meryl Dorey? And then it dawns on me…
Psychic Pokémon… Spoon… O-M-G… It’s a Uri Geller Pokémon!
So after reading the story, I go looking for more information on it. And it turns out that it’s not just a spoon, but it’s actually a bent spoon!!! Apparently Kadabra’s attacks are doubled when he holds the bent spoon, and are even more powerful when he closes his eyes! Can this get any better?
The Japanese name for the Pokémon is Un-Geller (in some references, Yungerer). Back in 1998, Geller sued Nintendo for about US$100,000,000 over the character, but the suit was thrown out of court. In addition to the bent spoon, Geller claimed that Un-Geller‘s forehead star and lightning bolt stomach lines were intended to allude to the Nazi Waffen SS from WWII. Even the character’s name in Japanese katakana is very similar to Geller’s: ユンゲラー vs. ユリゲラー. Only the second character is changed. Clearly this is either a parody of Geller or an homage to him (or perhaps both — apparently you can get “good” and “evil” versions of Kadabra/Un-Geller).
Geller even had the following quote:
Nintendo turned me into an evil, occult Pokémon character.
…which I suppose is at least partially right.
So the question then becomes, as a skeptical parent, how can I leverage this? Can I use this moment to help Little Skeptic Boy understand that things like bending spoons are parlor tricks, not psychic abilities? As we finish this book off, will rationality defeat pseudoscience? Will Ash and Pikachu be immune to the psychic attacks because they’ve got a shield of scientific studies showing no proof for psychic abilities? Or will a ghost Pokémon come in, lick the face of Kadabra’s trainer, and cause her (and Kadabra) to break down into a giggle fit, ending the battle?
I promised I wouldn’t spoil the ending for you, but let’s just say that if you were looking for rationality in a book based on a trading card game about pocket monsters with supernatural abilities that are captured inside little balls and called forth to do their trainer’s bidding in battles against other monsters, well, maybe you’re expecting too much out of the book.
This much I know. If I’m ever playing the trading card game, and my opponent chooses Kadabra, I’ve got to lay down this card:
You’ll never lose when Randi’s in your deck.
..Rob T. wants a bent spork