Last week brought us the Momo Challenge and the girth of internet criticism that followed. Which is entirely the point, Momo isn’t targeting our kids, it is targeting us.
The concept of the murderous spirit attacking the weakest at their weakest is a lasting part of the zeitgeist. ‘Bloody Mary’ is one of the original faces on that ghoulish Mount Rushmore, said to appear when one is foolish enough to conjure her. Usually in the darkest of night, by the most foolish of youth, her power is unexplained and lasting. Whatever you do, don’t say her name three times in the mirror, right?
No. Giovanni Caputo of the University of Urbino writes that the Bloody Mary phenomenon only has power, because we grant her that. Simply put, she is us, the illusion we see in the mirror is of our own making. Caputo believes that the “strange-face illusion”, is believed to be a consequence of a “dissociative identity effect”, which causes the brain’s facial-recognition system to misfire, hence a twisted image, and hence a twisted tale that goes with it.
I wanted to bring up Bloody Mary because she possesses a modern Japanese relative. Over the last week, we’ve come to grips with something called Momo, rhetoric powered by breakfast radio hyperbole and reflected parental angst. At its root, the Momo fear is a reflection of our own, in that our children are going to be harmed the moment we drop our guard.
In case you missed it, Momo apparently possesses young people through their screens. In one version of the tale, she entrances children with her ugly face and then gives them increasingly awful tasks, culminating in suicide. Later versions of the story explain that she will appear in the middle of children’s videos to encourage self-harm. Also, there are other versions that describe Momo reaching out first, either through private messages or in-game voice chat.
Momo is active under our noses. She stalks not in the darkest of night, but in the vibrancy of day, stalking onto our children’s devices while we’re busy keeping them alive. She knows our greatest weakness, in that we cannot, to our chagrin, know everything they’re doing every minute. There’s a lot we don’t know. Great communities exist that we have no station in, they love mountains of videos made by strangers for advertising revenue, they play games played by millions for billions. We exercise trust by default, and that is the blade she wields.
Except, that it isn’t real. Like all great morbid myths that play on our psyche, the evidence is conversational, circumstantial. There are no credible reports of children who have been meaningfully influenced by anyone convincing them to engage with a “Momo Challenge,” or driven to suicide by her likeness appearing in the middle of a Peppa Pig’s ramblings. It remains a phenomenon that grows on second and third-hand account, these acts forever happening to someone at some other school. The target of Momo, however, is not our progeny, but us. Luminaries such as Jackie O and Kim Kardashian West quickly climbed the battlements, but are, in reality, hoisted on their own petard. The truest thing one can say about Momo is that it is fake, but it moves through real channels.
Ostensibly, it is ‘stranger danger’ for the information age. Momo is that shady character with a string of lollies and an idling van around the corner. Essentially, we fear what our kids are doing on the internet, and we fear what it can do to them. You could argue that our fear is the exact same our parents experienced, except the medium has changed. While they had to deal with subliminal demonic curse in rock music, we have Momo through another uncontrollable uber-popular medium of the time, the internet.
The problem, I believe, is the platform she spread on. You can mangle your predispositions to blame whichever alpha-threat that you suspect is twisting your children beyond control, but the blame resides with YouTube. It remains, especially to those who browse it exclusively through broadsheet headline, the information version of the Wild West. A festering metropolis where anything can be found down any alley. Anything can and does exist, nuevo-Nazi ideology, lizard people in Washington and the drugs that Alex Jones warns about, those that turn the frickin’ frogs gay. With that being said, numerous awful clips have found their way onto the kid-safe version of YouTube, it is a platform that we all fear, because of the limitless potential of it. We fear it, because we fear the unknown.
While Momo is certainly not real, it is certainly more than a hoax. While she’s not original, she’s doesn’t need to be. The fear she promotes is universal, the themes passed down. But, despite the headlines, and comment box furore, it behoves us to remember, the only thing one should fear, is fear itself.