An unlikely if angry coalition of community activists gathered in front of City Hall Friday afternoon, delivering what they termed a “secular fatwah” against the Pokémon Go craze now taking Santa Barbara — not to mention the rest of the world — by storm, and demanded that City Hall take appropriate action.
The makeshift coalition — calling itself Citizens Against Pokémon, or CAP — took issue with a public service advisory issued last week by Santa Barbara Police Sergeant Riley Harwood, warning Pokémon Go aficionados against walking into traffic without looking both ways while in pursuit of “augmented reality” creatures beamed digitally onto their smart phones. Harwood also cautioned players from walking off cliffs, into the path of oncoming aircraft, or heading unaccompanied down unlit alleys.
Elsewhere in California, two Pokémon Go players did, in fact, fall off a steep cliff in excess of 100 feet, but in Santa Barbara no injuries have been reported. One player who left his car unattended by Cota and Bath streets in search of the elusive critters reported someone had broken into his car. “We’re still investigating that one,” Sgt. Harwood stated. “Witnesses suggested it might have been the Pokémon creature itself.” If so, he acknowledged it would be the first recorded instance of criminal behavior by an “augmented reality” creation against humans. “Santa Barbara has always been cutting edge,” Harwood noted.
CAP spokesperson Garett Hardin Jr. III complained that Harwood’s advisory sought to protect from harm individuals within the population who — under more natural circumstances — should have been culled and allowed to perish. “By allowing people to survive, we are propagating the gene pool of those with questionable survival skills,” he stated. “With seven billion mouths to feed on the planet, do we really need to save a few idiots?” If charitable organizations and churches wished to do so, Hardin said, that was acceptable. But for city police to intervene, he argued, constituted an “implicit breach of the separation that should exist between church and state.”
Hardin claims to be the bastard stepchild of noted UCSB Malthusian ecologist Garrett Hardin, whose 1968 essay “The Tragedy of the Commons” ignited a firestorm of controversy within the environmental movement. Hardin argued that the misplaced compassion of the welfare state kept alive large populations which in a more perfect Darwinian world would have otherwise expired. While many in Santa Barbara’s then fledgling environmental movement were inspired by Hardin’s work — fueling the slow-growth movement then taking off — he was widely criticized for his heartlessness. At one UCSB faculty party, Harden was denounced as “a fascist” by another professor. Hardin’s wife, who was quietly knitting at the time, impaled the professor with one of her knitting needles. No charges were filed, nor any serious injuries sustained. “Sticks and stones may break my bones,” Jane Hardin said afterward with impish faux contrition, “but knitting needles will always hurt you.” The Hardins, it is worth noting, practiced what they preached, committing joint suicide in 2003 shortly after their 62nd wedding anniversary. Both were seriously ill.
Joining Hardin III in front City Hall last Friday were a handful of evangelical religious leaders and News-Press owner Wendy McCaw. The Rev. Angelo Phire of the Three-Cubed Church of the Everlasting Flames of Salvation contended that the lack of clear gender identity with regard to the Pokémon characters was problematic in the extreme. “At a time when gender roles are frighteningly fluid, we need definition,” said Phire. “We don’t know for a fact whether these characters have any genitalia at all, and if so, which way they lean.” For impressionable young kids, he worried, this might make “homosexuality, bestiality, miscegenation, promiscuity, Wicca, and transgenderism appear acceptable lifestyle choices.” He added, “The slope is already slippery enough. We don’t need any more banana peels on the road to hellfire and perdition.” Phire then said, “And we all know bananas are fruits, right?”
The ever embattled News-Press owner Wendy McCaw joined the protest on City Hall’s steps, but in characteristic style, declined to speak in public. Instead, she relegated that role to her loyal editorial functionary Scott Steepleton, who warned the popularity of the Pokémon game could undermine public concern about undocumented immigrants. “Because the Pokémon characters are not technically human,” Steepleton stated, “we can’t call them illegal, per se. But if they were, we would certainly describe them in our headlines as ‘Illegal.’ And I would call on anyone in this town who pretends to care about the First Amendment to defend to their deaths our right to say ‘Illegal.’”
With that, Steepleton led the smattering of 14 supporters assembled with him in a desultory chant of “Illegal Yes, Illegal No, All These Pokémon Have Got to Go.”
Making Friday’s protest problematic for the protesters, City Hall was closed — as it is every other Friday — and no one was inside to respond. Councilmember Cathy Murillo, however, showed up to announce she was demanding all telephonic and email communications between the News-Press and council conservative Frank Hotchkiss to see if they’d been coordinating in any fashion with militant anti-immigrant groups like the Minute Men, who she believed drove up from Orange County to bolster the protesters’ ranks. Steepleton replied that he, too, would be seeking any and all emails between Murillo and any creations of “augmented reality.”
Mayor Helene Schneider, long a supporter of gay rights, laughed off the protest, stating, “Hey, if we need to add another color to the rainbow to accommodate the Poké-people, I’m always ready with a council proclamation to make that happen.” Schneider, did, however, take issue with the term Pokémon, stating it sounded “excessively phallic-centric.” The mayor stressed she wasn’t trying to make too big a deal about it, however. “No matter what kind of junk you got in the trunk, we all put on our go-go boots one leg at a time,” she stated.
Congresso Lamar Qutyxzkqut, spokesperson for immigrant rights organization, CAUSE, expressed disbelief at the protest, suggesting it was an act of “pathetic desperation” and a “last gasp of monochromatic hegemony.” Qutyxzkqut noted that it’s been 10 years since McCaw touched off the meltdown of the News-Press that led to mass resignations, litigation, and such wholesale community alienation that circulation of the once proud daily has plunged to less than half of what it was.
Naturally, the controversy has caused ripples in the ongoing battle for the 24th Congressional District. Democratic candidate Salud Carbajal organized a rally of Pokémon Go players through the voter-rich streets of Isla Vista, and pledged to register as many of the imaginary characters to vote for him in the November elections. “What makes America so great is its diversity,” Carbajal said, reading from a prepared script handed to him by political operative Mollie Culver. “By embracing the other, we make the ‘we’ that much stronger.” Carbajal denied rumors that he would accept money from a Pokémon Go Super PAC, recently formed by the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians. “I respect the Santa Ynez Band as a sovereign nation, but because they’re a sovereign nation, they are not allowed to make donations to our campaigns,” said Carbajal. He then added, “But I don’t think that precludes them from donating to me individually.”
Republican candidate Justin Fareed was riding horses in Kern County and not available for comment, but his spokesperson Christiana Purves said Fareed was looking into the matter. Harking back to one of Fareed’s television commercials, Purves said, “Whatever we do with the Pokémon phenomenon, it’s imperative that we fix the pipe first. You can’t stop a leak without fixing the pipe.” Afterward, Purves accused reporters seeking comment of pandering to false political narratives concocted by the Democratic Central Congressional Committee designed for Carbajal’s propagandistic advantage. “It would be pathetic if it weren’t just so sad,” she said.
In the meantime, UCSB Chancellor Henry Yang expressed surprise at the issue. He’s been taking the summer off to figure out where he can build the World’s Biggest Telescope (WBT), now that indigenous rights advocates in Hawai’i have blocked his access to the highest peak on the Big Island. In a moment of uncharacteristic candor, Yang stated, “UCSB students are falling off the cliff all the time. What’s so special about this?”
Finally, the Unitarian Universalist Church issued a flyer, affirming “the inherent worth and dignity of every Pokémon trainer and their Pokémon — evolved and unevolved.” Unitarians — who don’t necessarily believe in God but do, apparently, believe in Pokémon — stated they will not discriminate based on “race, gender, ethnicity, physical or mental ability, sexual orientation, class education, religious metaphor and elemental type.”