One of the biggest topics for the fringe community over the last few years has been “Elsagate”—basically, those weird & often fetishistic videos for children featuring knock-offs of popular characters such as Elsa from Frozen, Spider-Man, and the Joker.
To my shock this whole sordid kiddie-vid enterprise extended way past the comic book superhero/Disney princess thing and embraced pretty much every main children’s fandom, including Peppa Pig and Paw Patrol—videos for both blithely showing characters being tortured in dentist’s chairs, pissed on, eaten, hypnotized, murdered, going to strip clubs, and committing suicide. You know: “the new normal.”
From The New York Times article “On YouTube Kids, Startling Videos Slip Past Filters”:
It was a typical night in Staci Burns’s house outside Fort Wayne, Ind. She was cooking dinner while her 3-year-old son, Isaac, watched videos on the YouTube Kids app on an iPad. Suddenly he cried out, “Mommy, the monster scares me!”
When Ms. Burns walked over, Isaac was watching a video featuring crude renderings of the characters from “PAW Patrol,” a Nickelodeon show that is popular among preschoolers, screaming in a car. The vehicle hurtled into a light pole and burst into flames.
The 10-minute clip, “PAW Patrol Babies Pretend to Die Suicide by Annabelle Hypnotized,” was a nightmarish imitation of an animated series in which a boy and a pack of rescue dogs protect their community from troubles like runaway kittens and rock slides. In the video Isaac watched, some characters died and one walked off a roof after being hypnotized by a likeness of a doll possessed by a demon.
Mind you, these videos are not only easily accessible through simple keyword searches on YouTube, but have even slipped through the “YouTube Kids” filter.
And as a sharp-eyed Redditor had found recently (there is now, of course, a subreddit for “Elsagate”), some of the same animation houses that create these types of children’s cartoons also do straight-up fetish cartoons for adults…featuring the same characters! And of course the adult cartoons get found by the kids because of the bottomless rabbit’s hole of keyword searches and…
It is here of course, that I must stop and address the topic of fetishistic fan-vids and other materials made by and for adults. Recently, fans were shocked (shocked!, I say) to realize that the popular Tumblr art of “Constable-Frozen” was most likely fetish-related, featuring Disney Princesses acting out such topics as bondage, vore, and so on.
But…Constable Frozen’s work, as far as I can tell, is not specifically aimed at children. Rather, it is just one of a seemingly infinite amount of fan-art accounts on Tumblr featuring Disney, Marvel characters, and pretty much like every popular TV & movie franchise—accounts featuring various degrees of NSFW material.
In fact, the history of NSFW fan-art and -fiction is at least as old as the original Star Trek TV show from the 1960s. Back in the early 1990s I was handed “Alvin And The Chipmunks” pornographic fan-fiction by some dealer at a convention—printed out on a daisy-wheel, yet! And from what I hear (of course, all second-hand), there are thriving NSFW communities around such fandoms as Captain America/Winter Soldier, Mr. Robot and Rick and Morty.
But again: these are all made for adults. It’s not NSFW topics shoved into a clearly for-kids Paw Patrol video on YouTube from a channel called “Childrens Funtime Stories” or something like that.
Conceivably, however, there are probably adults who would actually get a kick out of these fucked-up kids videos. And there are also similar shitpost-type videos—”YouTube Poop,” if you will—featuring some of these characters as well.
The question now being: how can you even tell what is the intention/targeted audience of any of these vids anymore?
Enter “Something Is Wrong On The Internet,” by James Bridle. Part of the blame, Bridle writes, has to be placed on the soulless internet mega-algorithm themselves—something that seems part of a bigger and ultimately more sinister capitalist-AI dystopian conspiracy:
Automated reward systems like YouTube algorithms necessitate exploitation in the same way that capitalism necessitates exploitation, and if you’re someone who bristles at the second half of that equation then maybe this should be what convinces you of its truth. Exploitation is encoded into the systems we are building, making it harder to see, harder to think and explain, harder to counter and defend against. Not in a future of AI overlords and robots in the factories, but right here, now, on your screen, in your living room and in your pocket.
Bridle seems fairly traumatized over his own deep dive within the Elsagate YouTube subculture, and his outlook is bleak regarding how these videos can possibly be kept from children’s consumption:
However, a huge part of my troubled response to this issue is that I have no idea how they can respond without shutting down the service itself, and most systems which resemble it. We have built a world which operates at scale, where human oversight is simply impossible, and no manner of inhuman oversight will counter most of the examples I’ve used in this essay.
And even if the safeguards—flitering algorithms—are put in place, you could in theory end up having the “for adult” videos also “flagged” and removed.
But what are the alternatives? In addition to the Elsagate videos discussed here, there are also related vids of children sort of just simply “tortured”—being made to scream, getting literally cut by razors, and etc. And many of these sites get thousands and even millions of views. A conspiracy-minded individual would be tempted to think that these videos are put up to both corrupt children and to provide pedos with wank material. (and then if you add in the direct messaging system between viewers and channels within YouTube…it gets pretty creepy)
Are we as a society just so helplessly enmeshed within this technology and these algorithms that this is pretty much what the future looks like: a steady stream of keyword salad including scat, violence, and children’s nursery rhymes?
I watched The Emoji Movie yesterday night (because that’s how I roll), and there’s a scene where some characters are literally traveling through “YouTube Land.” Amongst the screens of “viral” amateur performers and cat stuff is a video clearly based on these word salad children’s vid sites. Is The Emoji Movie a metaphor for the virtual-world-as-reality that we all seem to be pushed into permanently living in?
What concerns me is that this is just one aspect of a kind of infrastructural violence being done to all of us, all of the time, and we’re still struggling to find a way to even talk about it, to describe its mechanisms and its actions and its effects.
That all said, I do occasionally watch the relatively-tame 3D-animated vids with Spider-Man, Elsa, Hulk, and Joker chasing each other and leading armies of mutant Kinder Eggs and trying to shoot down giant Pac-Men with machine guns, because…
…I mean, well, they are pretty relaxing. And the combinations are endless!