Posts Tagged ‘Internet’

If you’ve been on the Internet lately, you’ve probably heard of Momo and seen the photo associated with her/it. For those who haven’t, Momo is an Internet urban legend that, like Slender Man before her, has gained a sort of life on and off the Internet. Supposedly, she’s a woman or entity you contact or she contacts you online and threatens you and taunts you, predicting your death and encouraging you to do increasingly dangerous tasks and dares, including committing suicide (this latter part is known as the Momo Challenge). Most photos that pop up when you search her are of a woman with bug eyes, long stringy hair and a beaklike mouth. This is actually a 2016 statue from a Japanese artist named Keisuke Aisawa depicting an ubume, or the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth.

Over the past several months, normal people and YouTube personalities have said to have found Momo’s contact information for apps like WhatsApp and posted videos/screenshots of their conversations (not sure if those are faked, though they are creepy). Parents have also reported their children coming across videos of/about Momo on YouTube and YouTube Kids, traumatizing them and causing YouTube a lot of trouble (this is what happens when you have imperfect algorithms and AI that can’t actually examine video content for appropriateness or guideline violations). And rumors of deaths around the world supposedly caused by Momo (though no official police statements have definitively named Momo in any way to the case). This caused parent groups, celebrities, and Internet safety organizations to warn the public about Momo, saying she could pose a real threat to children and teens, and encouraging Internet safety.

Nowadays, any numbers/accounts associated with Momo are reported inactive and people are starting to realize this is just another Internet monster going around and getting a lot of attention. In other words, more hoax than horror (unless people are posing as Momo online, in which case I hope they can be traced and turned into the police). Still, parents and many others are concerned, and it’s not hard to see why.

So what made Momo so popular?

Well, a couple of factors. Like Slender Man before her, Momo is a modern, Internet incarnation of the boogeyman figures and demons that have haunted humanity’s dreams since the cave dwellings. She is an entity, a witch or demon who tempts or influences people, particularly vulnerable children, to harm. We’ve seen this before with Lilith and succubi, various demons across different cultures, and Krampus, among others. As time and technology have changed, so have our fears and the forms and ways our demons target us, the Internet being the newest way, both as a way to reach people and as a way to spread the word.

There’s also the photo of Momo, which as I said is a statue of Japanese artist Keisuke Aisawa’s conception of an ubume. However the photo itself got associated with the Momo character, it fulfills a lot of the same visual requirements to make it an effective creepypasta image. For one thing, it’s human-like, but distinctly inhuman. This matches up with the theory of the uncanny valley, which states that the further something moves away from being human, the less we are able to identify it as human. At a certain point between human and inhuman, images or objects will enter the “uncanny valley,” where we can’t identify it as human or inhuman and we react with anxiety. Momo’s exaggerated features put her squarely in that valley.

That, and she’s very meme-able. In the time she’s entered the public consciousness, Momo videos, images, artwork, and stories have popped up all over the Internet, ranging from the creepy to the funny. Hell, I even made some Momo imagery. Look.

Like it? It’s me using a filter on my phone. And it was easy to make. So imagine how easy it is for other people to take Momo’s iconic look and put their own spin on it. As I said, instantly meme-able.

But there’s one more reason why Momo’s become so popular, and in this way she’s out-paced Slender Man. You see, Slender Man is specified as an impersonal entity who mainly sticks to forests. Outside of the movie, he doesn’t really rely on the Internet to do what he does to people (though the Internet has been great for his career). Momo on the other hand, while her exact nature is up for debate, is much more human than Slender Man. Her picture has features, she uses the human tool of the Internet, and she attacks us in a personal, psychological way.

Even worse, she can be anyone, and we sense that on some level. We get that beyond the inhuman picture, there’s a human intelligence trying to traumatize and harm us. It could be the elementary school teacher, the kid delivering newspapers to the neighborhood, your local politician, your neighbor, the PTA mom, the college student looking for a thrill that doesn’t come from a needle. She’s the avatar of how you really can’t trust anyone on the Internet and can never really know what their intentions are with you. And isn’t being unable to trust your fellow humans the scariest thing of all?

Obviously, I condemn anyone using the Momo persona to cause harm to others. And I would remind everyone that Momo is a fictional character birthed on the Internet, and shouldn’t be taken seriously.

Momo has given me an idea for a story. I look forward to getting it written.

But all that being said, it’s no wonder she went viral like she did. She embodies several types of fears in one persona and image, horrifying and fascinating us all at once. It’s fascinated me to the point that I’ve been inspired to write a story. Not about Momo, but a character like her, one born on the Internet that becomes so viral it takes on a life of its own. I think Slender Man and Momo are only the first of a long line of these sort of entities, and I would like to give my own thoughts on the character type through the best medium at my disposal. I hope it turns out well.

 

And while I still have your attention, I’m still looking for eARC readers for my novel Rose. For those unaware, this is the story of a young woman who starts turning into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems). If you would like to get an advanced electronic copy, send an email to ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com and I’ll put you on the list. All I ask is you consider posting a review on or after the release date. Thanks, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Good night, my Followers of Fear. Pleasant (possibly Momo-filled) nightmares.

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Pat Bertram with her famous blue 1972 Volkswagon.

Pat Bertram with her famous blue 1972 Volkswagon.

Earlier this week I had a most pleasant surprise: my friend and fellow novelist Pat Bertram came to Ohio to visit.

Now, through the powers of the Internet, I’ve had the opportunity to meet a variety of authors and editors and just plain lovers of literature. I’ve read hundreds upon hundreds of their blog posts, reading about their new books or their thoughts on the Craft of Writing, reviews on books or movies, milestones in their careers or lives or whatever. And through podcasts or videos, I’ve even been able to hear their voices.

Never had the opportunity to meet them though. Distance in real life has made that difficult. Until yesterday, that was.

Now, if you’re not familiar with Pat Bertram, let me introduce her to you. She’s a writer out of Colorado who has written four suspense novels and one memoir on grief. She’s a very smart woman whose posts focus on her life and the strange things that happen in it, as well as writing and reflections on the many experiences she’s had. For the past couple of months, Pat’s been travelling across the country, seeing new sites, hiking and camping and staying with friends. And when I found out she was going on this big trip, I asked if she wouldn’t mind visiting me in good ol’ Ohio.

Not only did Pat say she would, she ended up staying overnight at my place (which is also my dad’s place, considering that I’m staying with him until I move into a place of my own).

Honestly, I was a little nervous. This was the first time I got to meet one of my online friends in person. Without the context of a blog and all the commonalities that we as bloggers have, would we get along? Pat was also staying overnight, so would it be a pleasant stay or would things go south at some point?

Me with Pat's car.

Me with Pat’s car.

Turns out, it was an unnecessary worry. From the moment we met, we had plenty to talk about. I was so curious to hear about Pat’s adventures, from her camping trip to some of the strange people she met (she told me one story about a family in the Blue Ridge Mountains she stayed with who could be the basis for a horror story someday). And Pat was really interested in my family’s Passover traditions, which I (and later my dad) were all too happy to explain. And that wasn’t the full range of our conversations: we talked about writing, childhood experiences, how you never know what will go viral, my family’s complicated structure (ask about me about why I have three mothers, but only two live in Columbus. I dare you!), where we hoped we might go in our lives from here, ballet, Tarot, and more subjects than I can remember, let alone list. We talked late into the night and quite a bit of the morning when we met for breakfast. We were talking even while we were taking photos and while I was helping her load up her car. We were talking right before she drove away!

As you can probably tell, this was a really fun experience for me. And it also made me realize something. Part of my worry was that Pat and I are such different people. I’m an eccentric young adult who still doesn’t have a car and, while well-traveled for someone of my age and means, still has a lot to experience in this world. Pat, on the other hand, is a much more reserved and introspective person who has been driving the same car since she got it over forty years ago and has had a lot more experiences in her life than I have. Without our blogs or Facebook as buffers, I feared we couldn’t connect to each other in the real world because of those differences.

The reality is, we’re both human beings. And that’s really all that matters. We’re both human beings, and human beings have endless ways to connect. Even without a blog or computers to act as connections. Heck, sometimes you just need to meet someone and you can connect with them: my dad met Pat, after only finding out a few hours beforehand that she was coming over to stay, and they immediately got to talking. You’d think they were older friends than I was with her, the way they got on!

Like I said, I had a great time. And so did Pat, even if she didn’t get a T-shirt that said “I SURVIVED A NIGHT WITH THE UNGAR FAMILY.” I was very sad to see her go, but I’m glad we had this chance to connect with each other in the real world. I hope that we get to meet again someday, and that all my future meetings with online and author friends in the real world go just as well.” Because in the end, I think we can all make a connection, no matter what our experiences in

Selfie with Pat/

Selfie with Pat.

life have been. And those connections can lead to the most wonderful memories being made.

And if you’d like to meet Pat for yourself, check out her blog here. Trust me, she’s having some really interesting adventures, and you’ll want to keep up with her on them.

*Just remember that before we meet I know who you are and I feel cool with us meeting. Otherwise it could get creepy very fast. And not in a way I like.

Smile Dog, a creepypasta character.

Recently I’ve been delving into a genre of horror that’s grown up on the Internet, and I have to say some of it is quite impressive. I’m talking, of course, about creepypastas.

Now, for those of you who’ve never heard of this and think I’m talking about a Halloween treat, a creepypasta is actually kind of like an Internet campfire ghost story, scary stories designed to shock and terrify and that originate online.  They’re sometimes accompanied with images, audio or videos, usually distorted or featuring or gore or creepy imagery, in order to intensify the effect. The name “creepypasta” comes from “copypasta”, a slang term for text that is copied and pasted around the Internet multiple times.

And even if you’re not familiar with creepypastas in general, you may have heard of some. Slender Man, whom I’ve written about on this blog before, has been the subject of numerous creepypastas in the past, to the point where some creepypasta-devoted websites no longer upload new literature about ol’ Slendy. There’s also the novel Penpal, which started out as a series of creepypastas, and Candle Cove, a story that’s reportedly being adapted to television by the Syfy channel.

Slender Man has been featured in a variety of creepypasta.

Now while the length and quality of creepypastas, like every other type of fiction, vary from one to the other, there are some ways to categorize them:

  • Anecdotes: as far as I can tell, these are the most popular of the creepypasta story form. The narrator(s), often anonymous, talks about a scary legend, a new story, or something from their past. The anecdote stories are often told in the epistolary format, or in the form of a letter or journal entry, though this being an Internet phenomena they’re more often told as blog posts or Reddit threads. They’re certainly my favorite form of the genre.
  • Rituals: As the name suggests, these are things you can do to make something terrifying happen to you or someone you know. Examples include the Midnight Game or Bloody Mary (which I’ve tried on numerous occasions, and I’ve never seen any results). Sometimes these rituals have a short backstory, but they can vary, like with the Bloody Mary game. And as you can guess, these are quite fun at parties.
  • Lost Episodes: This form has kind of fallen out of favor but it has some pretty famous creepypastas. Lost episodes usually describe a missing scene or episode from a famous TV show, usually a comedy or children’s show, that depicts a character acting very strangely and violently, usually ending in that character killing themselves or the other cast members. Often times the episodes, when they are supposedly found, feature strange or distorted audio and video, and occasionally are rumored to cause violent behavior in viewers. As you can guess from the description, these are pretty formulaic and repetitive, which is why they’ve lost popularity, though some are quite well known among creepypasta devotees.

Squidward Tentacles from Spongebob Squarepants has been the subject of a Lost Episode creepypasta. You can probably guess the rest.

As I said above, there are entire websites devoted to the creepypasta genre and droves of fans, some of whom create their own stories and upload them online. What makes this genre so popular? Well, I’m still pretty new to the genre, but I think that there are several factors that may explain this popularity. One is that creepypastas tend to be a bit more extreme than mainstream horror. They’re often accompanied by scary imagery or some other strangeness, and that adds to the creep factor. There’s also the very subject matter of creepypastas: with some stories, you can take elements from them and create your own stories. Slender Man is a character who’s been featured in a variety of media, and plenty of people have made creepypasta based on him. And then there’s the virality of creepypastas: you’re encouraged, by their very nature, to keep sending them around and around the Internet. There’s a certain power in that very concept that’s exciting, and encourages creators as well as readers.

It’s especially interesting when you consider that this is a genre born on the Internet, which has the reputation of having content geared towards people with short attention spans, and also is sometimes considered the gathering place of creators who couldn’t make it in the “real world” (eye roll please?).

Personally, I think creepypastas are quite entertaining. Some of the stories are very good, very creepy, and I enjoy listening to readings of popular creepypasta by YouTube artists. I know some people find them too extreme or that they lead to violent behavior (a subject for another time, not going into it here), but I see it as no different than enjoying a Stephen King story or going to see the latest scary movie. Just a different format with different rules that I would like to learn (though not write; by the very nature of creepypasta, I wouldn’t have as much creative control or make some side income off my work. Maybe I’ll try writing in the style though for a novel someday).

If you’d like to try some creepypasta, here are some good ones I’ve come across. If you check them out, let me know what you think:

Are you a fan of creepypasta? What is it about them that you like or dislike?

What are some creepypastas that you’d recommend trying?

 

Ah, the weekend! It’s finally here. Or it will be, once work’s over for the day. But first thing’s first, you know how I start my Friday mornings! It’s #FirstLineFriday! And guess what else? I’ve been hearing about other bloggers who are getting into this as well. Very excited and happy to hear that the trend I’m trying to start is trending, at least a little bit.

Okay, so here are the rules. On Fridays you write a blog post titled #FirstLineFriday, and then you post the rules (which I’m doing), followed by the first or first two sentences of a potential story, a story-in-progress, or a completed/published work. Then you ask your readers for input, and that’s #FirstLineFriday.

Today’s entry is from a short story I’m working on now. I don’t always have time to work on it, what with my busy life, but when I do, I find the story just flowing out of me and onto the page like a river. I even read a bit from this story to my boss when she asked to hear some of my fiction, and she really enjoyed it, so I guess it must be very good despite still being a first draft. Anyway, enjoy:

Molly ran, heart pounding as she heard the sounds of her pursuers’ boots getting closer and closer behind her.

Thoughts? Critiques? Grammatical or spelling errors? Let me know in the comments below.

That’s all for now. My Internet access may become limited soon due to reasons beyond my control, so I apologize for that and promise I’ll be looking for ways to get online as much as possible, so be patient with me.

Also, this weekend starts Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Around this time of year, it’s traditional to ask for forgiveness for past wrongs and forgive in turn, so if I’ve done anything to you in the past year, I ask for your forgiveness. And if by chance you’ve done something to me, I forgive you with all my heart.

Have a great weekend, my Followers of Fear, and a sweet New Year!

*Warning: this post contains spoilers on a recent novel. Read with caution.*

I heard something very interesting yesterday that I, as a writer, a Jew, and a scholar on the Holocaust have to comment on. When you read that title and saw the words “Nazi Romance”, what popped through your mind? Probably nothing good if you haven’t heard yet, and probably a ton of controversy and maybe some simmering anger if you have heard yet. In case you’re among those who haven’t heard, let me explain:

The controversy centers around a Christian romance novel called For Such a Time by a woman named Kate Breslin that came out last year. The novel has received nods for awards and positive reviews in that time, including a few from the Romance Writers of America. However, a lot of people are taking offense at the subject matter: it’s a retelling of the Biblical story of the Book of Esther set in a Nazi concentration camp with a Jewish woman with Gentile looks and a Nazi commandant as the heroes. Long story short, the commandant thinks this blonde beauty can’t be Jewish and puts her to work in a supervisory role in the camp under a false name. Thus begins a strange, tension-filled romance that some have likened to sexual harassment coupled with Stockholm Syndrome (sounds a bit like my thesis Rose) that ends with the two heroes getting together despite all obstacles and, because this is a Christian romance novel, the heroine converts to Christianity (not like my thesis Rose at all).

Now I have not read the novel–I only found out about this yesterday, I’m not interested in reading a romance novel, let alone one trying to get me to look at Jesus in a new light, and even if I was by the time I finished it the Internet’s short attention span might have moved onto something else–but you can see why this sort of story might cause some upset feelings. The major criticism is that the novel co-opts one of the greatest tragedies in modern history, and the biggest tragedy in modern Jewish history, so as to advance a particular religious aim.

At the same time, some have come out in favor of the book. Anne Rice actually defended the novel, saying that writers should be able to experiment and that the almost extreme outcry rising on the Internet around this novel is akin to censorship and a lynch mob. The organization Romance Writers of America has said something very similar in response to For Such a Time getting two nods for major awards they hand out.

Now, I don’t like Internet confrontation. But like I said, I’m a writer, a Jew, and a scholar on the Holocaust, so I feel some need to weigh in on this subject. First off, I understand the point of view about experimentation vs. censorship. In several stories I’ve written over the years, including Rose, I’ve pushed boundaries of my own comfort zone and maybe the comfort zones of my readers in order to create a better story. Writers should be able to do just that, experiment and push boundaries in the name of creating a great story. To regulate what writers work on or threaten them if they write something someone finds offensive, which is made all too much easier by the anonymity of the Internet, does smell of censorship and makes me think of extremist vigilante justice using a new medium to intimidate people. Almost like a lynch mob, in fact.

Can you really make fiction–let alone romantic Christian fiction–out of a subject like this?

However, I do see why people are outraged over this book. Like I said, the Holocaust was a tragedy. Of the estimated 12 million victims of the Nazi genocide, around half were Jews. To take what was a horrific and defining moment for modern Jewry and use it as a backstory for a romance meant to draw readers close to Jesus is very insensitive to victims and survivors of the Holocaust who lost their lives because of their heritage, as well as those who carry that heritage today. The conversion to Christianity at the end is also very disturbing, because many Jews were forced to convert before, during, and after the war for survival and it sometimes caused trouble for them later in life. To portray it as an act of love…to say the least it seems unsettling.

Ultimately, I feel the best way to view For Such a Time by Kate Breslin is to view it as a teachable moment. While writers should be able to write and experiment as they wish, they should also be cognizant that writing about some subjects (like the Holocaust) requires more sensitivity and caution than others. When dealing with a subject such as this, it’s important not just to know your facts, but how people–particularly those affected directly by said subject–feel about it. That way when you write about it, you are writing it in a way that, while it may not please everyone, it will not cause the sort of outrage this novel has caused.

This was what I did with Reborn City when I wrote it. I’m as far away from the gangster lifestyle as possible, so I did my research to make sure I represented gangsters in a way that would do the lifestyle justice . So far, I haven’t had any complaints.

Thankfully Breslin has already issued an apology, saying she wrote it with the best of intentions and she’s very sorry for any offense or pain she caused to the Jewish people. And while others may not forgive her, I think I can. I think she’s learned form this experience. And when she puts out her next book, perhaps it’ll get the attention that every author wants their book to have, rather than the nasty kind her first received.

What’s your take on this subject? Is Ms. Breslin out of line or was she just trying to write a good story?

Should authors be more sensitive when experimenting with their stories? And is the uproar over this book overblown or justified?

Let’s discuss.

Well, Wi-Fi’s back, after being off for about a week. It’s the highlight of a week that’s been rather rough on me.

Don’t get me wrong, for the most part I’m loving Germany. I’m getting great work experience that’ll definitely come in handy after this internship, I’ve got great prospects for afterwards, I’m learning a lot about this country, its people and the language everyone speaks. And I’m seeing and doing amazing things that some only dream of doing.

But like anything in life, there’s ups and downs and lately I’ve been getting a lot of downs. My catchphrase lately is “if it’s not one thing, it’s always another”, and it definitely applied this week when a lot of the time I felt stressed and fatigued and just plain miserable. In other words, not me. At some points I wondered if I’d made a mistake coming to Germany. At other times, I wondered if God was maybe punishing me for something I’d done (perhaps getting into Tarot was a bad idea after all).

What’s been causing this, you ask? A number of things. Work, for one. It’s good people and it’s got great benefits and I get to write articles, which is fun. But often I’m doing tasks that nobody likes doing, and they stress me out. There’s also a hundred different that for some reason or another are mixed up or unresolved and when that happens it comes back to bite me in weird ways. I only just found out that somewhere along the line, my mailbox wasn’t properly put into the system, so I wasn’t receiving any mail! You can imagine the annoyance fixing that was!

There are other problems, as well. It’s not easy to go shopping. The closest supermarket is limited in what it has (and it’s in German, so I can only get things I can make on my own), and the base’s commissary is a trip to make, so unless someone’s providing a car, I can’t go there to get the stuff I’d like to cook with. So this leads to me eating things that may not always be good for me, which affects my health (and I was starting to lose a little weight).

And you already know there was the Wi-Fi situation. For a week because of a bank error we couldn’t connect to the Internet. And let’s face it, you need Internet to live in this world. So much of our lives is invested in it these days, being cut off at home and having limited access at work was another trigger for stress.

Add in a few other things, and it got really bad for me some days. Today, I even snapped at my roommate who was trying to help me resolve a problem. I apologized right after I realized what I’d done, but it was still awful and I felt really bad for doing it. And there I was, beating myself up for that. Another problem.

As I’ve been saying from the beginning, it’s been a tough week for me.

But there are reasons to feel optimistic. For one, the weekend’s here, and our Wi-Fi’s been restored. Always a reason to rejoice there. I can relax at home and watch Netflix, or go out on the town and explore areas I haven’t seen before. And while I was without Internet, I got a lot of work done. I finished editing Video Rage, rewrote Streghe, wrote a lot of blog posts on MS Word which I would post at lunch the next day, and I wrote two outlines for short stories I plan to write before starting on the next draft of Laura Horn. Definitely not bad. Pretty prolific, actually.

Plus after kind of getting off it once I got to Germany, I’ve started meditating again. I think that made a major difference. Meditation lifts my mood, makes me calmer and helps ground me. Not doing it affected my mood, so I’m definitely trying to make it part of my life again.

And now that the Internet’s back, I can also Skype with my folks when they’re online! That’s a huge reason to celebrate right there.

And the other problems…well, I’ll resolve them somehow. I’ve got to think positive. Can’t let myself mope over them. After all, you can’t accomplish much if you spend your whole life depressed over every little thing, and I certainly don’t plan on that happening to me. I’m doing what I normally do, and I’m going to seize life by the horns. It’s how I’ve gotten this far, after all.

So wish me luck and encouragement, my Followers of Fear. After this week, I’ll need it so I don’t have a repeat next week.

Have a great weekend!