The months preceding the release of Pokémon Sword and Shield, which occur in Galar, a Britain-inspired region in the Pokémon world, saw one of the biggest controversies in the franchise’s history. Game Freak declared that not all of the Pokémon from the previous games were going to be included, thereby reducing the National Pokédex, the Pokémon encyclopaedia. The developer explained that there weren’t enough resources available to model and create over 1000 creatures, and that their time frame would not allow it. Fans were outraged and coined the term Dexit, in reference to the Brexit dilemna.
Petitions were organised, screenshots were shared, and some even accessed the game’s database to prove Nintendo wrong. In a matter of days threads were fuelled with images and fan-made comics joking about smuggling forbidden Pokémon through the Galar border. Pokémon were disguised as other Pokémon, yielding both convincing and absurd results. Many were painted, others bundled, and most championed camp and extravagant looks. Witnessing this movement among the Pokémon community, I couldn't help but wish that young people be as invested in Brexit as they were with Dexit.
While these transformations are meant to be funny, they also disturb and play with each creature’s defining traits. Seeing a Gyarados channelling their inner Caterpie resonates with my perception of queer drag – it is not about the illusion, but the deconstruction. Letting the grotesque take the spotlight, these memes illustrate how the carnivalesque power of dressing up shakes, even for a brief moment, our understanding and perceptions of appearance, and its relationship with our society’s strongest beliefs. Coupled with a narrative which echoes contemporary stories of immigration, the Galar border memes constitute a humorous example of a harmless trend with strong political resonance.
Of course, one should not attempt to compare directly the real-life hardships that many migrants face on their (attempted) journeys to Great Britain. However, this ‘Pokémon in drag’ trend provides social commentary, even if shared by unwitting fans. It shows a queer politics of resistance, imbued with a cultural power that reminds us that there is only a fine line between Internet meme culture and real-world politics.