National humor can reveal a lot of nuances and the Internet has become the perfect agora to express them while remaining incognito. Join E&M-editor Alberto in his journey to find out why Spain’s reaction to the new Pokémon game is socially relevant.
This September 2022, the fourth trailer for the new generation of Pokémon games was released and confirmed the suspicion that had been brewing since the beginning of this year: the new “Pokémon Violet and Scarlet” adventure is based on and inspired by Spain. Being part of the virtual countdown to November 18, the global launch date of the video game, the Spanish society has reacted in a very unique way.
Born in 1996, the main mission in these games is to capture and train over 900 existing creatures (Pokémon is the abbreviation of “pocket monsters”). The possibility of exchanging them using a cable between Nintendo consoles made it become a worldwide mass phenomenon and derivative products were created to satisfy the demand, such as stickers, books, movies, series and their corresponding merchandising. Although it is very complicated for all kinds of cultural icons to survive to new generations, the boom of the mobile version “Pokémon GO” managed to reconnect with new audiences.
What hints at Spain being the main inspiration behind “Violet and Scarlet”?
Despite the fact that there has been no official confirmation from the company, there have been numerous details that have reflected obvious similarities between the elements of the new Pokémon and the appearance of the Iberian peninsula. The game’s architecture refers not only to specific monuments such as the towers of Real Madrid, the Sagrada Familia and El Escorial, but also to more typical constructions such as gas stations on Spanish roads, windmills or family farmhouses on the Mediterranean coast. In combination with the above, the landscapes in which the new Pokémon live are clearly reminiscent of the geography and flora of Spain, even replicating the Oma forest of the Basque Country modified in the form of a work of art. Additionally, a large percentage of the names in the new game are obvious puns on Spanish words, as it is the case of the starters “Fuecoco” (‘Fuego’ means fire) and “Sprigatito” (‘Gatito’ means Kitten). In case these were not enough tributes to the collective culture of the aforementioned country, there is an even more special element.
The first two non-starters Pokémon to be introduced in the saga are Smoliv – a scary olive – and Lechonk – a baby pig – , which is undoubtedly a tribute to the two most important ingredients of Spanish gastronomy: ‘aceituna’ olives (for olive oil, omnipresent in all meals) and ‘jamon serrano’ (for ham, also recognized worldwide). Of course, both creatures have not taken long to make the whole Iberian society fall in love with them and to become the protégés of the virtual community.
How have Spaniards reacted to it?
Part of what is special about this cultural phenomenon lies in the fact that social media networks have been filled with parodies and some of the most memorable memes are the following: In one (1), the protagonist goes to a Pokémon center to have his monsters cured and nurse Joy replies “No appointment until next month”. In another (2), it is indicated that “They finished the ‘Sagrada Familia’ (monument) earlier in Pokémon than in the real world”. Lastly, the third meme (3) even features the collaboration of the official account of Lidl Spain, drawing a comparison between Smoliv and a bottle of low-priced olive oil under the slogan “Evolution at 4.09 Euros”.
Perhaps the most predictable response would have been for the Internet community (especially Twitter) to baptize the new release as “Pokémon España” to serve as a Hashtag under which all the content on the network would be concentrated. However, the name that has been consecrated on all platforms to refer to the humorous similarity between the future game and the Iberian culture is “Pokémon Españita“.
Although it may seem an insignificant difference, the suffixes, “ito” or “ita”, of Latin origin, 0give nouns and adjectives a diminutive and affective value. For example: ‘palito’ (meaning ‘little stick’ instead of using ‘palo’) or ‘amiguita’ (meaning ‘little friend’ instead of using ‘amiga’). One might note in this case that this is no coincidence. “Pokémon Españita” could be translated as “Pokémon Little Spain”, alluding to Spain being “small” in a figurative sense. As if it were a country in an infantile stage of development, which does not tend to do things right often. It is not surprising, therefore, that the three representative memes from above, communicate that Spain is a poorly organized place (lack of medical appointments), inefficient with its resources (delays in the construction of the Sagrada Familia) and in constant search of cheapness (Lidl claiming that it is still one of the cheapest).
Such connotations are not random and are naturally in line with a term widely used by adult generations: ‘los españolitos’ (little Spaniards). Like “Españita”, “españolitos”, is a diminutive term that infantilizes Spaniards as working class citizens lagging behind the rest of Europe and with a certain loser identity.
Although it could be argued that parodies on Twitter are also a result of the ironic nature of the Z / Millennial generation and the meme format in general, it would be rash to overlook how such a cultural phenomenon is most likely linked to a clear inferiority complex that Spain carries as a transgenerational inheritance. Regarding its origins, professor Stanley G. Payne mentions the loss of colonies of the Spanish empire as the original main ego-diminisher, since Spain wasn’t geopolitically intimidating anymore after the sixteenth century.
“Time heals all wounds” is one of the most popular sayings, but 400 years later, the Internet seems to be witnessing the opposite: different generations, different platforms, but the same perpetuated narrative.