Posted on March 9, 2022 in Technology

Why do we make things Haunted?

I watched a Youtuber (IzzzYzzz) discuss a Tumblr community that imploded, only for it to be revealed the whole thing was an act. Throughout the entire video, she had a long Furby with antlers draped across her shoulders, posed to look at the camera. A few days later, I watched another Youtuber (this time, Strange Aeons) make clothing Willow Smith wore when she was still a kid on the red carpet. She had two weird Furbys, one that was sort of patchwork, another that was significantly more like some forest spirit with long tufts of fur and big ears.

And then I realized – I’d seen things get this treatment before, specifically clowns, and then Garfield, and less specifically Worm on a String.

Cute things tend to be torn apart and re-imagined as eldritch horrors online. Clowns were just the forerunner – what’s the common thread?  

Garfield is an Eldritch Horror

Garfield’s probably the most well known of this phenomenon – the subreddit r/imsorryjon features comics, fanart, and stuffed animals of Garfield if Garfield were a 4th dimensional hellbeast. Is he? Nothing canonical to the comics suggests that aside from the hedonism. No, Garfield sits at a weird intersection of humanoid sapience and an inhuman body. How does a human reconcile these two things if not with Eldritch horror? That’s basically the whole point of the genre!

The trend started some time in the early 2010s (the r/ImsorryJon subreddit started in 2013), with Garfield’s unending lust for lasagna transmuting into a hunger for other things, gradually turning him into some bizarre interdimensional animal pretending to be a cat. He ate his house. He eats the other characters or assimilates them. His gaping maw becomes more and more Azathoth-like with every new comic. Some of these people depict Garfield like the 1983 movie horror The Thing. Garfield the abomination and Garfield the cute, orange cat may as well be two different things at this point – I’m pretty sure Eldritch Garfield has his own merch.

Worms on Strings Are Like People

Worm on a String were extremely short-lived, although a handful of Worm on a String memes existed before it really blew up on TikTok some time in 2020-2021. Worms on Strings are incredibly simple and stupid-looking – they’re just some pipe-cleaner-like fuzz wound into flexible string instead of wire, with clear fishing line attached to the nose and two googly eyes hot-glued to the front. The first time people used them to meme were in place of other strings – worms decorated dresses and replaced the beads in beaded curtains, sometimes they hung off bags and purses and acted as earrings. And then people started to think of them as animals, instead of objects, and the eldritch horror thing kicked back into gear. A sapient animal is having it’s movement controlled by invisible strings, piloted by a much smarter creature unfathomably big compared to it, the Worm on a String.

This one is kind of unique because it turned people into the eldritch horror of being a Worm on a String, not the worm itself. It’s certainly a straighter line from ‘cute item’ to ‘actual hell’ than the Garfield event was. It also didn’t last as long, although designs with this idea are still scattered all around on platforms like RedBubble. Memes at the time were experiencing a sort of ‘Doge’ revival, where colorful comic sans was used in a low-effort way ironically (up until people got sick of it again, because it was so low effort that the ratio of funny to unfunny memes was like 1 to 50 – most people are not hilarious, so most people won’t make hilarious memes. The format made it super easy to try, though). Worm on String masks and shirts are very clearly dated as a result, and I never saw any in the wild that weren’t a direct reference to the trend. Chewed up Furbys still show up in videos passively, without mention – Worm on a String never appeared without announcement or a wink and a nudge.

Furbys Are Natural and Real Animals

Furbys are also extremely popular in niche goth communities, even today! Furbys have a number of qualities about them that make them sort of creepy. They speak English, but learn it from you as a second language to Furbish. They don’t resemble any real animal, having both a beak and fur. Their eyes are forward-facing, implying they’re predators of something. They also had a remarkable ability to go off, seemingly randomly, in the middle of the night when the batteries were clearly removed, possibly because of static charge, possibly because Furbys are haunted. When you put all this together, it’s a little surprising it took as long as it did for people to start chopping and sewing.

And boy, talk about body mods. Custom Furbys are so popular in part because almost everything on a Furby can be taken off the endoskeleton without damaging it! The eyes, for example, aren’t actually one piece: there’s a glass lens inset into the white plastic part that can be removed, cleaned with acetone or other paint remover, and then re-painted to however you want your Furby’s irises to look. Adding extra fabric to the bottom to make the blob-like Furby into a worm-like one is also very common.

The people who are a part of the Furby mod community simply treat all of this as an aspect of the animal, the next logical step in a Furby’s evolution towards it’s true form – as if it’s just a Furby larvae while it’s on the shelf, and it sprouts into a true, adult Furby when it lands in your hands. Notably, there wasn’t a lore stage for the Furby trend beyond ‘boy, these things sure are creepy for kid’s toys’ – that might be part of why the modded Furbys haven’t gone out of style like Worms on Strings did.

What Doesn’t Make the Cut?

The pattern seems clear – these things are all either too human or very, very distant from humans or real animals. The Worm on a String is completely gormless, Garfield is too smart for his species, and Furbys come from an unidentified animal altogether, one that is, somehow, smart enough to mimic English. Honorable mentions for horror creep include Pokemon and My Little Pony, both famous for a number of gory and horrific games and fanfics, but not so much modded toys because the toys for these series are almost always plastic instead of cloth (which is much harder to cut and piece back together). That meant modded toys were a specialty item, not a DIY.

They’re also ugly-cute or really cute, with no in-between. For example, Pokemon, an otherwise stylish and cute game which has actual, canonical ghosts in it (some of which eat children), is a clear choice for horror content, contrasted with the sometimes-tacky Neopets, which has animals that don’t speak in human voices, are all theoretically vegetarian, and don’t canonically die. Neopets’ horror community (if there is one at all) is very small and quiet; Pokemon’s is practically part of pop culture. Others, like My Little Pony, are cute enough to cause cute-aggression, where TMNT and Paw Patrol aren’t. Other comic strips never became horror magnets – somehow, Garfield did.

The final note? Style, sapience, and extreme popularity and familiarity all add up to these weird creature creations.