March 4, 2019


I am, at last check, devoid of a chatty elementary school-aged daughter - or son - and therefore, I had not heard of Momo before this past Saturday morning.  A friend gave an online shout-out asking just what the fuck is up with this thing, whether it's legit, and whether there is any real cause for worry.  I shrugged it off as irrelevant to my life.

Two hours later, P.J. read me an article in the New York Times about Momo and the baseless froth that has been whipped up by concerned parents relying on word-of-mouth evidence of danger, often fourth- or fifth-hand.  The Momo Scare phenomenon is legitimate, but only because frightened mothers have made it so, a self-fulfilling prophecy that is encouraging kids toward saying the image popped up for them when they were watching a YouTube video, while they were playing Minecraft, while they were chatting on WhatsApp.  A kid is popular for a day if she herself supposedly saw it the night before, and her friends' mothers post on Facebook that night, and others share the post as proof that something lurks, waiting to claim their children and push them to self-harm and suicide.  The parents have opened with irony a floodgate of interest, and major news media outlets have since picked up on the story and taken it very, very seriously.

I sent the NYT article to two friends, both of whom had just heard about this and had already begun freaking out.  John Herman's calm explanation got there just in time.

To be fair, Momo is a creepy-ass image, a Tim Burton character with hyperthyroidism.  I dislike the description of "mesmerizing" unless it's the way a train wreck is mesmerizing.  P.J. says she looks like the love child of Shelley Duvall and Michael Jackson.  Spot-on.

My own Momo story ended that same evening, when P.J. and The Kid and I watched The Sound of Music (re-mastered edition, now with hyper-azure blue eyes) and the yodeling goatherd puppet show scene began.  Those goats are Momo.  I don't care what anyone says about a Japanese statue.  Kids have been exposed to Momo since 1965 in those goat puppets.  We all three scream-laughed ourselves sick and clutched our stomachs, pointing at the screen.

The Momo Scare reminds me of kids on the sides of milk cartons, and the debunked "study" stating vaccines cause autism, and the circulation of urban legends.  I hear Gaston in Beauty and the Beast:  "The Beast will come for your children!  He'll make off with them in the night!"  That was all it took. Women drew their children close in to their skirts.

Snopes has been online since 1994, embarking on its mission of debunking myths since roughly the same time dial-up Internet became available, since the time when BBS participation was still a thing, since Americans began seeing commercials for AOL on television.  I can't imagine a more uphill battle than promulgating factual information in an effort to combat the tendency of humans to buy into the tribal mindset.

When I was twenty, I received a rare phone call from my mother.  I hadn't realized she had my number, honestly, but she was agitated and earnest.  "Your sister works at the police station, you know, and they got a fax today warning them about something you need to know about.  There are these gangs, you see, driving around with their headlights off at night, and they're initiating new members, so the lights are off on purpose, and if you flash your high beams at them, the new member has to shoot you to be initiated into the gang.  So whatever you do, don't flash your high beams at any cars."

"Mom, that isn't true.  It's something called an urban legend.  It's been around for a while."  I struggled to keep patience evident in my voice.

"I'm glad you know so much, but this was at the police station.  I think they know more than you do, Lille," was her chilly retort.

She never would let me check bubble gum machines, arcade games, or pay phones for leftover quarters, in case my finger got pricked and I suddenly got AIDS.  I've still never had a candy apple.  That lady down the street who made them for trick-or-treating children could have been a murderer.

I just have to wonder whether a K-Mart cashier would have reported anything suspicious to a manager, like the purchase of eleven large packs of razor blades by an elderly widow who may have had to occasionally pluck but certainly didn't shave.

I did not voice this question aloud.  I chose to be content with a pail full of Pal bubble gum and Dum-Dum pops.  And I didn't have a screen outside of our old television set, but already I lived in a world where sinister forces were waiting to pop up at any moment, around ever corner, to kidnap, harm, kill.  The tribe of mothers knew more than we did.

1 comment:

  1. Bahaha! That Momo thing. Creepypasta is the dumbest thing. Horror by kids, for kids. It's adorable. Reminds me of trying to summon Bloody Mary in your bathroom at night. Are parents actually taking this stupid shit seriously?
    These kids don't know what true horror is. True horror is the innocent puppet shows of generations past. Those goats!!!!
    Oh my god, Shelly Duvall and Michael Jackson. It's so perfect and brilliant.