Don’t Hug Me, I’m Thinking (and Scared)

By: Emily Zuo

Don’t Hug me I’m Scared.

This puzzling and grammatically incorrect sentence is the title of a three-and-a-half-minute-long video that was uploaded to YouTube in 2011. Five years later – after going viral and gaining over 41 million views, a vast cult following, and five sequels – it has become an iconic piece of internet legend. I feel it is best seen without any prior knowledge:

(Warning: contains shocking and disturbing content)

Back then, I remember seeing people talk about it all over the place. I first saw it mentioned in YouTube comments. However, I still didn’t really know what to expect before watching it (the weird title didn’t help), and I definitely was not prepared. See, I’d experienced the beautiful and horrible internet enough to know mid-video that the cheerful vibe would take a dark turn, but at the end, I was still left with my mouth hanging open. What had I just seen?

Some may see this video as going for mere shock value. And I do see where that opinion could come from: something that looks like a friendly, happy kids’ show descends into insanity, complete with hearts-and-crafts, ‘death’ smeared on a wall, gore-cake, and puppets. But is there a method to the madness? Behind the shocking and disturbing imagery, one can’t help but wonder if the creators had a deeper meaning in mind. There are countless theories out there that analyze every detail of the video, but I would like to discuss a more general theory about what the main message of this short film is. Out of all the theories I’ve seen, it’s the one that makes the most sense to me, and I’ve added my own interpretations as well.

I think this video is about creativity. Obvious, right? But more specifically, it’s about how our society treats the concept of creativity. From the time we’re kids, we’re fed information. We’re told what we should and shouldn’t do, what we should think, and how we should feel by adults, the media, and countless other sources. A common anthem of kindergarten curriculum and kid’s shows is to “Be creative!”, but much of the time, ideas or ways of thinking that are outside the norm are shut down before they can begin. We are taught to do things in a planned way. And what is often the result? People, in a way, become unable to think creatively. Or, even worse, they may not learn how to express their unique thoughts in a healthy and constructive way, after being suppressed for so long.

“Don’t Hug me I’m Scared” is eerily reminiscent of this idea. At the beginning of the video, the puppets are sitting at the table, not doing anything – three blank slates. Then the notebook, a symbol of education, encourages the puppets to “think creatively.” All is fine at first; the puppets begin to engage in their world, imagining shapes in the clouds. However, when the yellow puppet paints a picture of a clown, the notebook deems that he “might need to slow down,” and black paint pours over his picture in a creepy, silent moment. The notebook, for whatever reason, has harshly decided that painting a clown is not right, even though obviously, there’s nothing wrong with it. Another example of such an unnecessary rule being put in place is when the notebook tells the yellow puppet that “green is not a creative color.” The notebook is dictating everything to these puppets, who have no choice but to follow. It’s not teaching them how to be creative at all. In the end, when the puppets are finally allowed to act freely, they don’t know what to do with themselves. They go crazy. They haven’t learned how to express their ideas in the right way, and as we see with the crazy dancing and gore-cake, it all ends very badly. Even more ironic is that the notebook decides they should “never be creative again.” Was creativity the problem? Or was it how these puppets were taught – in effect, not creatively?

Either way, the video is sure to leave you either pondering, or horrified out of your mind – or both.



5 thoughts on “Don’t Hug Me, I’m Thinking (and Scared)

  1. OMG! I remember when this came out! I like the first three! I don’t think I have seen 4 or 5 but I’m about to do that after commenting on this lol. I think you’re right when you said this short film (?) is about being creative! I always thought of it as a response to modern day media and how popular material has become incredibly redundant (such as recycled song lyrics, book/movie tropes, etc). I think they’re also critiquing how when someone makes something truly original and not mainstream, they tend to get a lot of backlash. I think the scene with them not liking the puppet’s creativity was strong evidence of that critique. Regardless of whether or not there is a deeper meaning to this, I think it’s incredibly creepy!

  2. I have never heard of this video, and I am scared I have now! This was a really amazing blog post, and I am most definitely horrified and left pondering after the video. Your description of creativity and the direct message impounded on us was really well-written!

  3. Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared is one of my favorite YouTube videos about the rigidness of creativity. I feel it discusses society’s push for young people to be creative, but always within certain bounds. We see this in elementary and middle schools with projects where teachers push creativity, but time limitations and a need to push real content remove true creativity from them. I highly recommend watching the other videos in the Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared saga. Once done, you can look at other peoples’ videos analyzing them, as there is some deep meaning in them.

    • Oh my god what did I just watch?! I’m sitting here in the dark about to go to bed and now I don’t think I’ll ever be able to sleep haha, that was so unsettling. And I love your perspective on the film!! My sister was an art major at the school of art and design here, and instead of encouraging students to be creative, they tried to push the art students in her class all in the same direction. For her final project in the course, she made a puppet out of all of her past homework assignments to symbolize how she felt like a puppet of the school and how her creativity was trapped. Your description of this video reminded me so vividly of that.

  4. I had never watched this before and as soon as I turned it on, my roommate told me that she had watched them all and that I had to as well and we proceeded to watch the other 5 that you mentioned in the post. It was definitely unsettling, in the way that The Shining kind of is: you know something is off and they come on slowly, but it doesn’t really come together until it’s obvious that the entire situation has gone off the rails. I completely agree with your analysis on the idea of stifled creativity and that it’s okay to be creative until it isn’t anymore. With the educational system in America, especially very beginner education, there are strict restrictions placed on what is “okay” and what is not. Instead of letting minds grow at their own pace, students are forced to be creative in a way that they may not identify with and when they DO get the chance to freely express themselves, they don’t know how to handle that freedom. Great post!

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