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July 2001

AT WHAT POINT DOES SYMBOLISM BECOME OUR THOUGHT?

Political Correctness has become an ironic joke around the world. We are all so worried about "hurt feelings" and proper conduct that we forget the simplicities in life. As we are told to strive towards behaving in a manner that does not offend, does that not put us in the very same position to be offended by the other side? Political Correctness only makes it easier to confuse the boundaries of who bows to whom.

In the case of symbolism - all the little trinkets and designs that we wear or mark that define who we are by way of our beliefs - when does something become trivial and when is it to be taken seriously, and then even respected.

The ultimate transgression of accepting other culture's symbols - even if they may appear representative to something close to our own - has now happened by way of Pokemon. If we are to listen to all sides, Pokemon is the very definition of chaos, confusion and personal faith destruction through simple idolatry.

About a year ago, Pokemon was forced to remove one of its character trading cards for the reason of its having a Swastika marking on it. The fact that Pokemon originates from Asia - where the Swastika has a completely different meaning than that which is shoved down our throats regularly in the West - did not seem to matter to anyone. Tempers flared and public outcry demanded the removal of the offending card.

Now, as we enter the 21st Century, the same type of issue arises - only from the opposite side. Whereas the Swastika may have offended those who believed it to be solely an Anti-Semitic mark, Pokemon again has managed to offend someone by having a card that proposes having Israeli symbols, including a possible Star of David - offensive to the Muslims. Saudi Arabia has thus made it illegal to own Pokemon cards in that country - by decree of the highest spiritual authorities.

OK, now this is getting ridiculous. Perhaps if enough of us clamored about our personal sensitivities being offended by the thought of tiny creatures who fight with martial arts, we may be able to ban Pokemon worldwide without much fight. It appears that the only true way to not offend anyone is by not having anything available. (Yet, it is funny that if one makes a comment against another religion, or even say, body weight, then it is considered discriminatory.)

At what point does symbolism itself replace understanding and conversation? When will we realize that symbols - when ideas are attached to them - are nothing more than idolatry.

This isn't the first time that accusations such as this have happened. Already a short while back, the Jewish Defense League had posted an article (which they do not make clear if they support wholeheartedly) which was entitled "A Swastika By Any Other Name Is Still A Swastika." In this article, the writer made clear that in his belief, a Swastika only represented one thing - Nazis. This would be fine if written with a simple ignorance of the facts but it went further on to insult nations that have been around almost as long as the Jewish nation. The writer continued by saying that he did not believe in all the "hoopla" that the Swastika - in any direction - ever belonged to any ancient Chinese or Indian civilizations. This now attacks the integrity of those who have utilized the symbol for their own purpose over centuries and eons. The fact is that the Swastika - in either direction, although settling on pointing to the left - had actually been used in decorations and art for thousands of years. It's original meanings have come to be understood as everything from a flower's opening bloom to the four seasons to the springtime rites of life as new plants emerge from the grounded seed. The Nazis came and turned it around to represent their own issues.

That is all fine except that we must all understand that - as we come from different nations and surroundings - the same simple geometric design might have drastically different meanings. The key to being "politically correct" is not in the hiding of the symbols in order to prevent personal offense of another, it is to bring them all out into the open for discussion so that we may better understand how another side thinks. Without that education, nothing else happens and we stagnate.

So in the end, markings on a wall in a strange land are simply that - just markings without merit, until we attach an idea and idyllic thought to them.

Written by Philip Anderson

Philip Anderson is a musician, in addition to being a writer/photographer. He has performed as a guitarist/vocalist, as well as songwriter, in several bands over the past 20 years. As a writer and photographer, he has been published by several magazines and in several books, and had his works appear on television.

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