Elsagate Meets Creepypasta

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Well, I’ve written about the bizarre phenomenon of Elsagate, and I’ve written about creepypasta, so it’s probably about time I wrote about the point where Elsagate and creepypasta merge. This is all centuries old in Internet time, but hey—as far as I can tell it hasn’t sparked much coverage outside of card-carrying conspiracy believers, so hopefully it’ll still be fresh to my readers…

In December 2017, a Reddit user called TheColdPeople posted a story to the creepypasta subreddit NoSleep which drew inspiration from the Elsagate videos. Two months later TheColdPeople posted at the Elsagate subreddit, crediting the story with getting Elsagate videos banned across China.

Sure enough, a 23 January report from China Daily does indeed mention TheColdPeople’s story in relation to a crackdown on dubious videos aimed at children:

The recent action was sparked by the translation of an English article titled “A group of perverts are targeting kids on YouTube. I used to work for them,” which was published on social network Reddit in November and went viral on Chinese social media.

The article details the author’s experience working in an animation firm that makes cartoon knockoffs of popular children’s characters, typically Spiderman, Elsa and SpongeBob into scenes of violence or sexuality to lure children into watching. The videos were shared on You-Tube.

A controversy dubbed Elsagate began in Western countries after Elsa-the main character of the 2013 Disney animated film Frozen-was frequently being depicted in such situations as getting pregnant or undergoing surgery.

China Daily presents TheColdPeople’s creepypasta story as a factual account. This is not surprising: Like all creepypasta, TheColdPeople’s tale deliberately blurs the line between fact and fiction by presenting itself as a true-life account. Even the title of the post—“A group of perverts are targeting kids on YouTube. I used to work for them”— looks more like a matter-of-fact statement than the name of a short story:

The story’s narrator is a graduate student who sees a Craigslist job opening for an animator and decides to apply. Their job, it turns out, involves making unauthorised cartoons about popular characters:

There were seven animators including me. We sat in a row of cubicles in our own small room. Our job was to edit cartoon knock-offs of popular children’s characters, typically Spiderman, Elsa, Spongebob, My Little Pony, etc. We worked on one or two videos per week, and basically we just created cartoon objects and settings. The work was surprisingly simple. There was very little real “animation” required.

The story portrays the working environment as being strangely secretive. Low-level staff are forbidden from speaking to each other or even looking at each other’s screens, and do not get to see the finished versions of the videos they have worked on. The workplace itself has an eerie, unnerving ambience:

The room was strange too. It was blue. Everything was blue. The walls, the chairs, the keyboards, the door. A blue air freshener was taped to the wall of each work station, but it didn’t smell like anything. There was one object that was red: a telephone. It rang every so often, but we were not allowed to answer it. I was instructed to stand up from my chair and stretch each time it rang, but over time, I noticed that the other employees had been instructed to do other things. One of them took deep, slow breaths. One of them put his head down on his desk. Two of them left the room and returned. One swirled around in his chair. One coughed.

I noticed a few other weird things about the company during my short time there. It wasn’t unusual to see employees crying as they made their way through the halls. Any time I spotted one of them crying, they always tried to hide it. Some of them couldn’t. On a few occasions I saw a child wandering through the halls looking for someone, or maybe for a bathroom. When I brought this up to my supervisor, he told me “It’s bring your kid to work day for the department upstairs.” He told me that three times in two months.

The protagonist later sees a disturbing video filmed at the business complex, the description of which shows that the author was clearly familiar with the weirder ElsaGate clips:

Only a few days later, when I returned to the office after a holiday weekend, there was another email waiting for me, titled “Be brave, Spidey!” I was reluctant to open it, and now I wish I hadn’t. Inside was a link to a Russian-language website. When I clicked it, I saw a video of a real kid, probably four or five years old, dressed as Spiderman. The boy sat in what looked like a child’s bedroom. His mask was pulled down, and his costume sleeve was pulled up. The boy screamed and cried as an adult man wearing a Hulk costume gave him three different injections with a long needle. Off-screen, another person hurled stuffed animals at the kid, hitting him in the head with them, and even once hitting the needle as it stuck into his arm, causing the kid to wail even louder. By the end of the short clip, the boy was shaking and nearly catatonic. The Hulk man laughed and danced around him almost ritually. Cheerful kid’s music played the entire time.

As far as I could tell, the video was not acted. What I saw was a real “medical” procedure, and real terror.

The main character is laid off, shortly after catching a tantalising glimpse of the company’s higher echelons (“I could see about fifteen men sitting inside at the far end of the wall… watching the same horrific video I’d seen an hour before. Some of the employees smoked cigarettes, like they were at a fucking gentleman’s club… a loud voice came through the speaker, talking in Russian. One of the men in the room occasionally replied in Russian.”) But the story is not yet over, and the protagonist catches their five-year-old niece watching one of the company’s cartoons:

I had never seen a full video. This one was about five minutes long. It featured two cartoon kids dressed up in Elsa and Spiderman costumes, stealing their father’s beer and getting drunk. Then, one of the kids trips and falls, smashing his face into a desk and splitting his skull open. Blood sprays everywhere.

The story then gives way to a long analysis of recurring themes in the Elsagate videos, something that could just as easily have come from a non-fiction article on the subject. After this, the fictional narrative returns; it ends with the narrator and his niece Katie being stalked by the company, culminating in this chilling encounter:

I worked part-time at the university library. I always took the night shift because I could relax and work on grant applications, and didn’t have to deal with many students. But one night, an older man checked out a stack of medical books at my counter. He looked and smelled like a tenured professor, so I thought nothing of it when he struck up a conversation and asked me if I’d had my flu shot yet. I told him I had, and he smiled and turned to leave. But then at the door, he turned back to me and called out, “And has Katie had all of her vaccinations?”

By the time I recovered from the shock of his question, the man had disappeared into the dark outside. He left the books by the door.

The conclusion touches upon the anti-vaccination movement, underlining how the fictional narrative was informed by conspiracy theories.

That this creepypasta story was apparently mistaken for a factual first-hand account in China can, perhaps, be attributed in part to cultural and linguistic barriers. That said, the point of creepypasta is—as noted above—to play with plausibility and blur distinctions between fact and fiction. Is it really any wonder that the world of conspiracy theories, itself a morass of reality and fancy, is incorporating the plots of creepypasta stories into its narratives?

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