Surviving Momo

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The internet is full of hoaxes. However, in 2019 one has to untangle just which part of the hoax is a hoax.

The Momo Affair was certainly real in one sense but questionable in another. After it became a sort of egregore, an entity created out of the collective fear of parents and children across the world, videos about Momo were made. It is still debatable as to whether or not the infamous cut-your-wrists video, which is most certainly real, actually popped up as an ad in the Youtube Kids app. All the footage I've seen of the Momo video has been of someone on Youtube watching another device displaying a website that is not Youtube, but which has captured the video.

This would lead me to suspect that the Momo video was floating around the internet and the same people who created it were probably also responsible for the initial reports that it had shown up as an ad in Youtube Kids.

I would normally find none of this worth mentioning until two nights ago, when I was watching the Joe Budden podcast on Youtube and this song popped up as an ad.

Normally I don't watch ads, but as soon as I heard the first few words, I couldn't help but listen further to figure out where it was going. The song itself is repetitive and hypnotic. The words appear on the screen like a Disney singalong. An ominous horned skull flashes blue and red with a pink background. The lyrics are entirely about suicide. There doesn't seem to be much of a cautionary nature to it. There's no light at the end of the tunnel. It simply repeats a series of suicidal sentiments with a slightly melancholy pop hook.

My initial reaction was, 'I'm totally being Momo-d right now.' I wanted to reach for my phone to record what I was watching but was too creeped out to listen to any of the song and skipped it.

Later, I looked some of the lyrics up to see if I could find the artist and, as you can see above, I did find him. I took a peak at some of his other songs - most of them seemed to be about morbid subjects and chronic depression.

This got my gears turning a little bit. It was obvious to me that this was an easily accessible artist - not a demonitized video-within-a-video like the Momo one mentioned above.

It got me thinking about the thing which is most frustrating about all of this. The Momo Challenge in its intensity, caused people to completely overlook the actual bizarre and disturbing content that is quite common on Youtube Kids.

People love to throw out the tautology, 'Correlation does not equal causation,' in order to dismiss the emergent value of correlation, and perhaps, to put conspiracy theorists in their place. The correlation between the distribution of Momo as a meme and the effect, that one group of people believed it while the other didn't and therefore thought Youtube harmless, could be argued, from a conspiracy standpoint, to be the intended outcome. But this would suggest that everyone responsible for questionable content on Youtube Kids were somehow in league together, which then might suggest that Youtube itself looked the other way or entirely endorsed this activity.

The problem I have with this theory is that it calls too many variables into question. Do the creators of the questionable content on Youtube Kids wish to simply have milder questionable content, like bottles breaking over the heads of babies or lovable characters getting poisoned and taken to ghost-filled graveyards, and the Momo hoax simply makes all of this look harmless by comparison? The gamble would seem to be quite large and quite unlikely.

But then what would the intention of the Momo video be? Was the hoax that it appeared on Youtube spread because the makers of the video tried to get it onto Youtube as an ad and it just didn't make it? Is it an irreverent joke or was it made by people who actually wanted children to commit suicide? Personally, the Momo video seems to me like a lot of effort to be a joke.

The mystery remains as to just how any of this ends up (or allegedly ends up, in Momo's case) on Youtube. It would be quite easy for me to turn this into a cautionary tale and remind you not to let Youtube babysit your kids, as plenty of people express, quite understandably. Yet I'm interested in something going on here at a deeper level. I feel that it says a great deal about fear in our society.

Take Momo, for instance. The features of the character are very telling. She looks like a cracked-out babysitter at first glance. You could read into it deeper: Look at her sunken eyes with dark circles under them. The implication is that this is someone who has been driven crazy from lack of sleep. The image is, perhaps, meant to invoke a subliminal likeness to one's mother. The face is beak-like, like a bird - which can be both nurturing in implication as well as hostile to outside threats.

In the infamous video, Momo instructs children to find instruments in the garage to harm themselves, specifically citing 'daddy's tools' as viable options. She is, at once, motherly and menacing, ensuring children that she knows what is best for them, lest they receive her punishment, 'Or I'll come get you!'

In areas where people lived near remote parts of nature, in tight-knit communities, the dangers of the forest probably crept into their consciousness so poignantly that Chupacabra made sense.

Throughout history, legendary beasts abound, threatening all who stray too far from the center.

Think about our pill-addled, Freudian present. Who would be more frightening than someone who exploits your own suicidal tendencies, who looks like someone who might have been around (but shouldn't have been) when you were a child?

The Momo video and the Waynwood video have both less in common than they would at first appear and more - They are both different branches of the same culture. Momo represents a fear of something that could be, while Waynwood represents despair in the face of that thing already having been gone and done.

We are always horrified when we think about subliminal suicide messages (an idea which didn't originate with rock music or Dungeons and Dragons), and yet, we continue to harbor fantasies about the end of the world and extinction. I think that this is culture’s way of having suicidal fantasies.

While it is just as disturbing that someone would go out of their way to create a challenge such as the Momo challenge as it would be if it were all a hoax someone created for amusement, why do we blather on day after day, cursing one another for not having the correct opinions about how the temperature of the air changes over long periods of time? We’re sick to death of death and just want to blow it all up so no one has to think about it anymore.

I think conspiracy theories are interesting as ways to gauge what culture is thinking and what’s it’s ultimate fears and desires are, but one problem I often have with them is that they are often built on a series of unmentioned and unchecked moral assumptions that presuppose a favorite worldview. Something could only ever be happening for one reason. But you could conspiracy theorize in just about any direction (which people do anyway), for instance, what if the Momo hoax was created by parents who wanted people to stop letting their kids spend so much time on the internet unsupervised?

I know this is unlikely; it merely serves as an example as to how people try to rationalize things which they are afraid of but which make very little sense. It’s hard to believe that something like the Momo challenge has absolutely no intention behind it… But perhaps that is what is truly nefarious about it: the possibility that it has absolutely no purpose.