Here’s something I never thought I’d have to say. People should not play Pokemon at Auschwitz. Nor at the Sept. 11 memorial in New York City, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington or Arlington National Cemetery.
You would think this obvious, but apparently it isn’t. According to reports, people have been playing the game in these sacred spaces, often to the consternation of those who run them. As a tweet from Arlington put it last week, “We do not consider playing ‘Pokemon Go’ to be appropriate decorum on the grounds of ANC.”
Apparently, we have reached a point in our devolution where people can’t figure such things out for themselves. As you may not know if you have a life, Pokemon — short for Pocket Monsters — are digital creatures, characters in what was originally a Japanese video game (there have since been movie and television spin-offs) that’s been around since the ‘90s. The latest iteration, Pokemon Go, has become a global sensation since its July 6 release; Survey Monkey calls it the most successful mobile game in U.S. history, with 21 million daily active users.
You play it on your smartphone. It’s synced with the real world so that Pokemon characters pop up on screen as you go various places. Your object is to capture them. Even, apparently, if you’re at the crematoria in Auschwitz or John F. Kennedy’s grave at Arlington. When a Washington Post reporter questioned the propriety of doing this at the Holocaust Museum, “Angie,” age 37, responded with the game’s catchphrase: “Gotta catch ‘em all.” To repeat: Angie, age 37, the Holocaust Museum … “Gotta catch ‘em all.” I’ve never been so ready to throttle someone I’ve never even met.
I’m trying really hard here not to do a you-kids-better-get-off-my-lawn rant, but seriously, once upon a time didn’t adults seem more, well … adult? People were … older then. My dad turned 37 in 1963; I cannot, for the life of me, picture him twirling a Hula Hoop at Arlington.
You may find that a hypocritical observation coming from a guy who is pushing 60 and still reading Captain America, but I stand by it. I am of the generation that invented youth culture, that spat in the eye of aging, that declined to stop having — or being — fun once the crow’s feet came; I’ve always felt that was one of the best things about us. We are, as Bob Dylan famously sang, “Forever Young.” But I submit that there is a glaring difference between being forever young and forever immature.
And, that when you lack the common sense and simple decency to put your toys aside and stand awed in a place sanctified by suffering and sacrifice, you have crossed fully from the one to the other. Nor are you just immature. You’re shallow and self-centered, too. And you have no apparent capacity for reverence and reflection.
But you are hardly unique. We live in a world where many of us have longer and more soulful relationships with the screens in their palms than the people in their lives. They forget to look up sometimes. And they miss things because of it. Important things. Painful things. Things that anchor us and lift us and bind us in shared humanity.
The Holocaust Museum is a memorial to 11 million people who died, 1.1 million of them at the camps that constitute Auschwitz. The National Sept. 11th Memorial and Museum remembers 2,977 people who perished in the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history. Arlington National Cemetery is America’s most hallowed ground, final resting place for men and women who answered their country’s call. These places and places like them deserve to be treated with respect. And there’s something else I never thought I’d have to say.
Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may write to him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.