Chile's disaffected 'Pokemones' don't care much about politics. They're too busy having sex.
By Ashley Steinberg | Newsweek Web Exclusive
Mar 18, 2008 | Updated: 12:59 p.m. ET Mar 18, 2008
The teens call their public orgies ponceo. On a typical Friday afternoon in the Chilean capital of Santiago, hundreds gather in a leafy urban park for a few hours of sexual experimentation. Surrounded by passing strollers, they trade partners multiple timesómostly engaging in anonymous rounds of oral sex. When the party is over, no contact information is exchanged. Same-gender interactions are commonplace, as the lines between hetero- and homosexuality are blurred, partly by the alcohol and drugs consumed, but also by shifting social mores held by Chilean youth, in contrast to their conservative parents. "Ponceo is about having fun," says Natalia Fernandez, a 15-year-old with pink hair and a pierced chin. "This time I had seven partners."
Fernandez, like many others in the park, is wearing an anime T-shirt. Drawing inspiration from Japanese anime culture, the teens refer to themselves as "Pokemones." Their behavior, though, doesn't quite resemble that of the cartoon characters that once obsessed young TV watchers around the world. "It's shameless," says Gina Mazzini Aliste, a middle-aged woman in the park that day. "They act like ponceo is a competitive sport."
Not surprisingly, the Pokemones have become the subject of a national debate in the media, as the conservative Catholic society grapples with this new affront to its traditional values. In a country where abortion is banned and divorce was legalized only a few years ago, and where the specter of Augusto Pinochet's authoritarian regime still hovers over political discourse, the Pokemones are at once radical and inevitable. Radical because they are shocking Chilean society to its core. Inevitable because they are darlings of a booming neoliberal economy, which has provided them with all the material accoutrements necessary to be Pokemones. Yet along with sexual rebellion, these teens are also defined by their consumerism, a characteristic that neatly conforms to Chile's free-market ideals.