Op-ed

How children’s videos can spiral out of control and wind up a surreal hellscape

I’d like to preface this article with a warning: this is by far one of the strangest and most complicated pieces I’ve had to write. You will be questioning what the hell you’re reading while this goes on. Don’t worry; I’m right there with you.

Two months ago, the internet uncovered one of its strangest memes yet: a production aimed at children that used an amalgamation of broken English, strangely familiar music and a series of dances that have become popular as of late. I’m talking, of course, about “Johny Johny, Yes Papa”

Beginning as a simple clip art to the tune of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” in 2009, the video began as a harmless use of public domain music to help garner attention from children on YouTube. The process seemed to be a success, judging by the 3.3 million views the simple video has amassed.

This began a slow, yet strange transformative process over the years that has been driven by knock-off animation studios overseas looking for a quick buck off of clicks with borderline plagiarism.

It’s easy to see why this sort of video would attract the attention of children: the familiar lullaby is adapted into a straightforward story with basic vocabulary and bright, oversaturated animations. A child wants to eat sugar. His father/grandfather catches him in the act and the child tries to playfully talk his way out of the situation. The whole scenario is all wrapped up in an iconic song with beginner animation that is practically begging to be played over and over again and aims to catch the attention of any child that happens to scroll far enough into this part of YouTube.

The deviations where it starts to get weird begin with videos posted in 2013. Seeing the popularity of the original, copycats begin emerging (due to the original being public domain, it was practically begging to be copied), with certain details that hint towards the creators of the video not having a firm grasp of the English language. This is shown by one of the videos where the “Papa” of the story is clearly Johny’s little sister who has accompanied the father out into the kitchen to accuse Johny of eating the sugar. This video has 485 million views.

The modest numbers that the original was able to get may not have conflated the issue enough to show why I’m writing about this, but that number should. This is a sector of YouTube that gets literal billions of views. The real question that I’ve not been able to really grasp is why. These videos are horribly painful to watch and are so full of basic errors to be mind numbing. Basically, to be blunt, how the f*** do these videos exist?

This is a portion of YouTube that basically feels like an acid trip. These videos are chock full of bright colors, weak animations and have such flawed storytelling and grammar that it almost feels like a Banksy experiment, but here it is, and it’s being marketed to 6-year-olds.

The point where the internet caught on was when a twitter user posted a remix of “Baby Shark”—an annoyingly catchy children’s tune that is well produced and quite frankly seems like something that would be premiered on Sesame Street—and a version of “Johny Johny, Yes Papa” created by “Billion Surprise Toys.”

Oh, Billion Surprise Toys. Where do I even begin? This is a channel that has to be seen to be believed. Created in India, this is a plagiaristic group that is nothing short of a scam. First off, it seems that  with a name like “Billion Surprise Toys” it would have a retail line, right? Nope!

BST makes money through a mobile app on the iTunes store where you can buy premium access to their videos; no doubtedly trying to get children to buy access through their parent’s credit cards. They sell shirts too, I guess, but still no toys so I’m not really sure why they named themselves that.

And don’t even get me started on those videos, man. BST’s version of “Johny, Johny” is what nightmares are made of. The 3D animation they use is something only a true monster could dream together, and the characters are so lifeless and disproportioned it can only be assumed that everyone is living in either a radioactive alternate reality where World War 3 destroyed the earth, or a hellscape where babies are born with heads five times the size of their bodies that inexplicably shrink when they get older. And I have to digress for a moment because I didn’t even get to Chiya.

Chiya is the main character of “Chucky” if “Chucky” were a kid’s movie. They decided that the lifeless eyes of a barbie doll needed to be added for ‘personality’ but wound up making something that haunts my nightmares. Chiya terrifies me, and I have no doubt in my mind that when I die, Chiya will be there. Waiting. Smiling. Ugh.

So anyway, rant aside, it’s actually fairly impossible to find the carbon copy version that was posted to Twitter, as the video and the tweet were both taken down due to the crazy amount of exposure and negative press the video received. What is up, however, is their adaptations, beginning with the “refrigerator.”

The “refrigerator” takes the same formula of “Johny, Johny” and applies it to a walking, talking refrigerator named … Refrigerator. Why is it alive? I don’t know, they also have a walking-yet-eerily-ever-silent ice cream cone they named ‘IceCream Man’ [sic] so I guess anything goes in this hellscape.

So instead of the song being about eating sugar, the song becomes about the family wanting food from the fridge and the fridge doesn’t want to give it to them. They pressure the fridge until it reveals that yes, indeed it does have the food after they demand for the fridge to “open its door.” Weird, but par of course for what’s been going on, I guess.

Chiya returns here. Ugh. And that’s important to note because this is when the video adopts some seriously dark undertones.

No joke, Billion Surprise Toys uses body language that suggests that Chiya is abusive towards a refrigerator.

I’d also at this point like to remind you that this video has 33 million views.

So yeah, the fridge uses the arms that it was given to protect itself from Chiya and backs away, and I know that I’ve been joking a lot throughout this article but I’m serious that if you have trauma from abuse, don’t  watch that video. Yes, it is very likely the way the fridge acts will be triggering. Yes, it’s actually that bad.

They also have a video where they meet a new friend, Franko, who is a very … black gorilla that wears chains and a watch and a wifebeater. So on top of the abusive undertones throw some casual racism in there too.

Look, I’m sure that this article wouldn’t need to be written if these videos were for adults. But they’re not. These videos, which are essentially bootleg versions of bootlegs, are intended for and were originally watched by children, who are being exposed to these kinds of horrid subtexts because they looked up “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” on YouTube. And I’m not writing this as a hit piece on children’s videos or to make parents afraid of what their child watches. Like I was saying earlier, I see no harm in “Baby Shark” and its production because it’s an original song, it’s clearly very well budgeted and I couldn’t care less if a child sees it. It’s when you see these strange videos made on the fly, with dirt-cheap writing and some messed up messages is where it becomes a problem. You can also see how anything on the internet—even cliparts playing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”—can spiral out of control when certain groups get a hold of it.

Eric Ryan is a fifth-year student majoring in English. ER821804@wcupa.edu

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