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June 19th – Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared

The nightmare is over.

And in some ways I’m quite sad.

It’s hard to believe that it has been five years since we first saw the trio of Sesame Street-esque puppets learning how to get creative, but as of June 19th this year the nerve-shredding but perversely insightful series has come to a rather dramatic and yet oddly satisfying conclusion that answered everything, and at the same time absolutely nothing. Let’s take a quick look at the journey or Red Guy, Yellow Guy and the Duck…

1) Get Creative

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Nobody really knew what to expect on first view of the fabric world and it’s puppety inhabitants at first, it all seemed perfectly wholesome with the singing sketchbook singing about how to express yourself creatively, but it wasn’t long before the observant noticed something wrong with the way the sketchbook ignored the opinions of the Red Guy, later censoring Yellow’s attempts at doing something it hasn’t suggested. After a brief glimpse of the truth, and the artificial construct at play, the whole thing descends into chaos, the music becomes a painful cacophony, and the characters seem engaged in acts of madness rather than creativity.

Take the time to watch this twice, the second time looking for the little cues that are showing us how creativity is not being taught, it’s being crushed. The characters are told repeatedly what is and is not creative, and to only listen to the opinions of the sketchbook. At the end it is agreed that they will never be creative again, perhaps a hint that free thought is not allowed and we should all be normal because it is safer, a theme which is revisited later on.

2) Time

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We come to 2014, almost 3 years later, and the creepiest kids show has freaked out a large audience already, now it’s Time to learn a new lesson. Our group are distracted from their TV show by the singing clock who shows them the effect of time and the inevitable march of progress. If anything Time is even more oblivious to the objections of the group, shutting down anyone who tries to disagree or deviate from the path quickly before eventually strapping them into a futuristic device to marvel at technology, and finally subjecting them to the rigours of age.

I’ve heard different interpretations of this one, and I think my favourite is that we don’t have long to live so we should fill the time with stuff, “An old man died – But look, a computer!” although there’s some credit to the idea that it’s about how we gloss over the past, such as how the Victorian era is glossed over with nonsense before launching into more pointless rhetoric.

Then came the Kickstarter campaign, promising four more lessons for the puppet palls to learn. It also promises to let them go if we give them money.

3) Love

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Love is represented by a beautiful and softly spoken butterfly who takes care of Yellow after he runs off because the others upset him, and whisks him away over the clouds to a place where everyone is happy and cheerful and care about each other, and tell him stories, and give him new clothes, a new name, and introduce him to Malcolm, the King of Love who eats gravel. Yellow’s friends eventually find him, and bring him an egg, which hatches and the caterpillar inside calls him “Father”, before being squished.

This one takes you on a real journey, one that mirrors the path into many cults just like the cult of Malcolm, plucked from a place of confusion and sadness and introduced to people who supposedly care about them, but slowly erase their personality. It also goes into how we’re taught to perceive love, and the right and wrong ways to experience it.

4) Digitally

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A computer hijacks our merry adventurers efforts to learn something interesting about the real world by dragging them into a digital world full of flash and sparkle and wonder. Once again our Red guy is disinterested, and sarcastic, still seeking an answer to the question that they began with before the distractions eventually silence him, and as he watches his friends enslaved by the machine he seeks an escape, and in the process stumbles across the real world, which literally blows his mind (in a shower of confetti).

The shroud around the true meaning behind each video gets thinner and thinner, although Digitally gives a few clues that might easily be missed. The video is about how our relationship with the internet, how it distracts us, how it gives us license to be someone else, and how it is filled with so much and nothing all at the same time. The computer is also one of the more terrifying teachers, its hideous squeal as it drags the puppets into its realm is chilling.

5) Healthy

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Red is missing, apparently the events of Digitally were rather permanent, and the Duck and Yellow guy know something is wrong, but can’t quite pinpoint what’s wrong. And so begins the music, as a dancing lamb chop and can of spinach teach them all about being healthy. This time the Duck takes the role of doubter, and is obviously uncomfortable and tries repeatedly to escape through the ever-ringing phone, only to find grisly dismemberment on the other side.

The meaning is most obvious of all, the conflicting lessons about food are an obvious mirror of the ever changing things we are told are good for us and bad for us: “…but everyone has a teeth go grey, just eat yeast, it’ll all go away! But how much have you had today? Too much yeast makes your teeth go grey.” In the end the Duck is consumed by giant cans, the food industry behind the cameras, and we see Red walking morosely away from a phonebooth in the real world. It seems he was trying to save his friends.

6) Dreams

And now but one remains, he is all alone and weeping, trying desperately to find peace, but he’s deprived of sleep by a lamp that sings about dreams, but this episode does not follow the formula.

Out there in the “real” world, Red finds himself a slave to drudgery and boredom, in a world full of humourless cynics that look identical to him. He almost seems to miss the animated house he left, and sits alone in a bar surrounded by nonsensical small talk while another Red creature hammers ineffectually at a piano. He takes to the stage and starts to sing the song from Get Creative, only for the stage to dissolve, and he finds himself at the controls of the House in which he once lived. He tries to spare Yellow from the torment at the hands of… well there’s a few things I haven’t mentioned.

Themes

You may have noticed the reoccurring theme of Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared, that we are taught how and what to think, and by the media most of all. You’ll see it everywhere throughout the series in adverts, screens, and cameras, and in myriad subtle ways that even the more keen eyed amongst us may have missed. There are a few commonalities that are more obvious than others, the reoccurance of June 19th, or the numbers 1906, the use of the colour green, the image of a human brain, and the only parental figure.

The father of Yellow guy is by far the most horrifying figure, a vision of immorality who is seen from his introduction in Time and slowly he is revealed as the one pulling the strings. In the cult of Malcolm, a shadowy corner where the computer had been, standing above the set of healthy, and finally reaching to stop Red from interfering with the plan.

Is this a review? A summary? Perhaps both, perhaps neither. Once again we’re spreading the love for a series that we have become enthralled by, and that we discuss with the release of every new video. It’s almost a shame to see it gone, because I doubt anything will unnerve me in quite the same way again.

Credit for a lot of these explanations must go to Vinnie at YouTube Explained although he missed a few points I felt important, but seriously check out his thoughts on the series, he’s very observant.

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