Review: “Blu Kids TV”
The most interesting thing about artwork on the Internet is how truly occult it can be. There is a level of anonymity afforded to online artists that is totally unprecedented, and the result of this anonymity has been a vast wasteland of pieces whose origins and intentions are largely untraceable. This series will be an exploration of Internet curios without a background story. We are going to play cultural detective and attempt to discern, to the best of our abilities, the meaning and the rationale behind these curios, and hopefully invite some well-deserved critical discourse to them in the process.
Case File #5
Video Title: Blu Kids TV (series channel)
Story: YouTube is lousy with weird, knockoff cartoons designed by unknown artists for confused reasons. Bully, the inaugural entry in this review series, is one such cartoon: an incomprehensible, somewhat demented animated short produced by a mysterious Indian film conglomerate for no discernible emotional, monetary, or critical purpose (in all likelihood, our review is probably the most critical attention it will ever receive).
The Blu Kids TV Spongebob series is like Bully pushed to mind-numbing, terrifying extremes. It’s the absolute dead-end of postmodern media: constructed entirely of off-brand stock imagery chosen with such little coherence that all notions of cultural contrast are dramatically leveled. It’s certainly not “fun”, but it is pretty fascinating.
Basically, this series consists of a bunch of “Spongebob” episodes, animated horribly, written inscrutably, and presented in the vague, suspicious “full movie 2017” style that marks the freakish counterfeit. There are only a handful of these videos on the channel, and they are all insane.
The characters in the off-brand Spongebob series are basically Spongebob characters, but Spongebob characters disfigured in the name of copyright ducking (Patrick has hair, Mr. Krabs wears a cutoff t-shirt, etc.). Some non-Spongebob figures occupy these shorts as well, characters from other children’s media chosen, I initially guessed, because they were recognizable and possibly in the public domain. Spiderman pops up several times, as does Elsa from Frozen. The Joker runs around occasionally. The characters, by and large, are barely characters: their motivations are completely arbitrary and their journeys are meaningless. Their physical variations are grotesque, uncanny, and alien, and these traits are intensely amplified by the fact that they can only express themselves through royalty-free sound effects that range from a baby crying to a woman screaming. The stock noises have a surprisingly harrowing influence on the viewing experience: because the emotive palette is so limited, all the characters’ feelings are boiled down to their most primitive iterations and the cartoons feel, in their most absurd moments, like sinister, condescending mockeries of human expression. Not recommended for the easily unnerved.
You really have to see one of these off-brand shorts to “get them”, but if you insist on solely reading about them, I will relay the plot of one story here:
- Spongebob wants milk from the fridge (a thought bubble with a milk bottle appears over his head).
- Spongebob drinks some milk and is happy.
- Patrick also wants some milk from the fridge.
- Patrick accidentally takes wine out of the fridge and drinks it.
- He turns red and cries.
And that’s it. What is minimalism?
The Mystery: The mystery here is: who in their right mind could possibly enjoy these nightmarish, soulless, pointless videos? If Spongebob already exists, why would anybody take it upon themselves to serve up a deformed variation of the show that wouldn’t fool anybody of its authenticity except the most culturally illiterate parents alive/1-year-olds? How could the time put into making these terrible videos possibly translate into anything like money or success? And how aware are the creators of how strange the shorts are?
What We Know: Savvier readers will have been tipped off by the mention of Spiderman and Elsa appearing together that these videos belong to a lineage of shorts far more vast and bizarre than I’ve implied thus far. My initial guess as to the origin of the Spongebob knockoffs is that they were created by some kind of foreign get-rich-quick film house that figured dumb kids would watch anything with vaguely familiar cartoon characters and not be able to suss out any obvious shoddiness. But looking further into the dark universe of counterfeit Spongebob cartoons, I discovered that there is more to these shorts than simple view baiting (maybe only a little more, but still).
I originally thought that these Spongebob videos occupied an isolate space, but the more I poked around, the more videos I began to encounter that had similar structures but different creators. Several live action shorts became unearthed with the same stock-speak, bizarre plot lines, and nonsensical character mashing. Spiderman and Elsa, characters I’d believed to have been chosen arbitrarily, seemed to be constantly linked up together, as if there were some mysterious theatrical tradition to their union.
As it turns out, there exists a long-standing internet trend of Spiderman/Elsa cosplay that contains all the features of the Spongebob vids minus Spongebob. Online dissertations on the subject claim that Elsa/Spiderman cosplay is “for kids” and a derivation of toy unboxing videos (though the uneasy sexual undertones that color many of the live action performances suggest that, for some, the real inspiration might be a bit more complex). Regardless of motivation, the trend is crazy popular, popular enough to grant people willing to get into it a lucrative second career. Davey Orgill, for instance, is one of the reigning Spiderman/Elsa video titans, and runs a channel that boasts nearly 2 million followers. His simple theory as to the magnetism of this strangeness? “Kids stuff is huge right now.”
I guess I have to believe Orgill’s reductionist opinion, but it’s pretty hard to. It’s been a long time since I’ve been a kid and it’s almost impossible to imagine being entertained un-ironically by contextless, pointless culture jamming simply because it contains familiar imagery. But I guess what the Spiderman/Elsa phenom suggests is that kids are really, really generous viewers. And where there are generous viewers, there is weird media.
So Blu Kids TV? Still probably a get-rich-quick scheme, albeit rooted in a bizarro subculture; mysterious in a broad sense, but probably just as cynical as any other Blockblister-style racket. The addition of a triangular Spongebob to the brew was probably just a stab at audience expansion. Case relatively closed…and yet, a strange allure remains.
Even if Blu Kids TV is just a knockoff scam, the work produced loses none of its fascination. Watching the channel in a vacuum is still crazy.
If there is such a thing as “the opposite of art”, then it is Blu Kids. Art is a human construction, and the only human aspect of this series is the hand that organized the animation: there is not a single trace of genuine emotion or thematic purpose to be found at any moment in any of these shorts. It is art if art was made by other art; it’s aware of only the most rudimentary aspects of narrative (stuff happens), character (creatures that move), and emotion (behavior that corresponds to events), and totally unaware of anything that these elements might represent as a reflection of life.
This does not mean that this series is bad. In actual fact, there is no “opposite of art”, because upon achieving such a designation, a piece becomes artistic on merit of its uncanniness. Blu Kids TV achieves a level surrealism that would be impossible to replicate without the channel’s blend of pure cynicism, laziness, and total lack of pretension. It is something that actually has to be seen to be understood, and once understood, it can’t be shaken off or forgotten. I would love to show this series to Joseph Campbell and ask what he thinks: I have a feeling it would dismantle a lot of his assumptions about stories inherently following logical, human patterns. Art is lawless, and Blu Kids is the ultimate reminder.