Reflections of the Pokémon Anime, Part 9

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Jessie, James and Meowth: Identity and Naive Ambition
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  • Saturday, November 4, 2006
  • Column by ImJessieTR and Serge165

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This column has been written by ImJessieTR and Serge165. It expresses the views of the columnist, not necessarily those of Bulbagarden networks.
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One Team Rocket member is the impoverished daughter of a Team Rocket elite agent. One is the son of wealthy aristocrats. The last is an outcast, a freak among both humans and Pokémon. All three of these members of Team Rocket, a criminal (though not as terrorist as Teams Aqua and Magma) organization, have backgrounds that for one reason or the other have landed them with the task of stealing Pokémon and committing large and small-scale scams. However, cognitive dissonance plays a huge role in their seemingly unsuccessful attempts at criminality.

Although Giovanni, their boss, has never really mentioned Ash Ketchum's Pikachu except in a song (Double Trouble) and live-action play, both creations of 4Kids Entertainment, these Team Rocket members with the uncharacteristic white uniforms (to distinguish them from the agents who wear mostly black) are overly obsessed with the goal of stealing the mouse Pokémon, much to the heroes' chagrin. Their reasoning, that Pikachu is more powerful than others of its species, would seem to impress their boss enough to force him to give them whatever resources necessary to capture such a prize Pokémon. Yet, strangely, he never seems to give them necessary resources. Most of their robots and capturing devices are of their own design and suffer from numerous structural or conceptual weaknesses. Giovanni has proven his determination to capture Mewtwo, so why is he not at all moved to help these three accomplish their goals?

That is a question that has been goading the trio since the beginning. After all, their boss has helped other, more proficient agents despite the fact that such skilled criminals surely wouldn't need as much assistance from the organization. In fact, Jessie, James and Meowth have been dismissed or at least otherwise ignored and marginalized by the organization they hold so dear. Why would these three continue to help those who care so little for them?

Perhaps some of it coincides with their need to belong. Jessie knows that her mother, Miyamoto, valued Team Rocket immensely, as it gave her the resources necessary to procure care for her daughter. James, as well as Meowth, wanted an alternate family to compensate for the abandonment and negligence by their real ones. They need to feel as though they matter to someone.

David E. Rohall of Western Illinois University stated in a social psychology article, "This study shows that just spending time with other people produces higher levels of mattering."

Note that it doesn't seem to matter that the organization is filled with cruel and vindictive people (Wikipedia notes that the use of white costumes in contrast to the black worn by other members might symbolize the purer hearts of the most prominent trio.)

"Mattering is also negatively related to delinquent behavior: Adolescents who feel that they matter more are less likely to engage in delinquent behavior," Rohall said.

However, does that square with what we know of Jessie, James and Meowth? Well, in some senses it might. For example, when they feel as though someone outside the organization loves them, such as the random villagers they sometimes help out when they are "confused" for heroes, they secretly plan to scam them, but they almost always end up actually helping those in need, James and Meowth in particular being most swayed by cries for assistance. Jessie still clings to criminal motivations, perhaps because as an impoverished person who is unloved even in her new family, she feels no pity towards others in her situation (her pity for her friend Blissey notwithstanding).

Indeed, James and Meowth in particular are known for helping others and interrupting Jessie's activities if they feel they "owe" someone who was nice to them. So, perhaps the issue for Jessie is that her sense of mattering only pertains to Team Rocket itself. Team Rocket is the only source of support for her, little as it is, and she is loyal to a fault (we don't recall her ever wanting to take over Team Rocket in the way that James sometimes has). Indeed, Jessie is easily swayed by the dominant group-think in Team Rocket (Ironically, agents such as Domino and the Masked Marauder seem more successful, and they are greatly more independent-minded than Jessie is.).

Daniel N. Jones of the National Institute of Health and Elizabeth Ince of Richard Stockton College of New Jersey discuss some studies relating to this idea: One study discussed showed that if one is not properly compensated for doing something against one's vaules, one simply changes one's beliefs to match the expected behavior.

Writing about false shock treatments, Jones and Ince concluded that "participants were able to reduce the dissonance of being a harmful person by convincing themselves that an individual deserved to be shocked, and dissonant individuals became more aggressive toward and asserted themselves against the individual perceived to be responsible for their dissonance."

In essence, the fact that Giovanni is not compensating Jessie enough for the tasks he demands of them, unethical as they are, and that Jessie, having a chip on her shoulder due to her poor and neglected background, does feel that others deserve to share her own pains, help drive Jesse to strive to merge her value system with that of Team Rocket just so she can feel as though she belongs. She is frustrated because she does not seem to matter to even her adopted family, whereas James (having lived a life of luxury) and Meowth (whose gift of human speech makes him almost invaluable) have known favor at least at some point in their lives and can think somewhat independently of Giovanni's demands (and are usually more successful when they are). Yet, somewhat like Jessie, Meowth also wants "to regain Giovanni's approval and find a measure of acceptance," according to Wikipedia.

They also heavily desire real happiness, although James and Meowth have grown in their awareness of deeper meanings of this emotion, while Jessie still feels material wealth is the only true sign of success. In fact, this naive ambition, to acquire only material benchmarks of worth, may lead to her downfall, both in life and in Team Rocket.

Shmuley Boteach said, referring to the biblical Adam (who Boteach said was both a workaholic and a seeker of wisdom), "Take that one day a week to totally divorce yourself from all things electrical, technological and mechanical. Insulate yourself from all things that beep, ring, hum, flash, swirl, vibrate. Give Rest Adam a chance."

There seems to be a lack of spirituality (other than token superstitions, usually of Japanese origin) in the human members of Team Rocket in particular (Meowth is the most philosophical and perhaps the most emotionally grounded). Perhaps they should begin a search for deeper life significance.

"Spirituality, then, is not the attainment of a blissful state, but a sustaining of the divine connection through all states," Sheikh Kabir Helminski said. In essence, perhaps the root cause of their problems lies not in a particular material or spiritual facade but in the lack of a coherent and far-reaching life philosophy.