After having five minutes of my life wasted (and subsequently wasting five minutes of some other peoples’ lives) with the short film “What am I?”, I contacted an old friend to see if he could discern what it was about the video that made it so viral. Without further italic-formatted ado, I present to you Bret Allingham’s opinion of the YouTube video, “What am I?”


But What am I?:

Five Minutes of Existential Questions

by Bret Allingham, author of Too Many Superfluous Words: A Look at Communication, God: “Dog” Spelled Backwards and Biblical Codes, and Why Do I Love Colons So Much: I Don’t Know.

What well and truly struck me first was the cake.

As the first scene carried on, I became more and more intrigued by how many bodily orifices a single slice of cake can fill up. At approximately the three minute mark, I came to the realization that I’d had the wrong window open, and was in fact attempting to review Baby Batter 3. How it got onto my hard drive, I’ll never understand; I personally believe it to be the Tube Demons or perhaps their distant cousins the Packet Snatchers.

Switching to the proper window, I discovered that “What am I?”, too, started out with cake (although it was quite a relief to see it on a table, as is proper, instead of up someone’s buttocks, which is rather not, unless the cake was, as it were, exiting). My heart sank as the first scene played out: A boy wishing for his stuffed dolls to come to life. How cliched. How dull. How disappointing.

But then: Shock! The video showed a significant improvement, much the way celebrities in rehab don’t. The dolls come to life and, with their first breaths, ask the question: “What am I?”

The boy patiently answers, and the dolls move onto their next line of questioning: “What is this?” they ask, indicating their hands. The boy explains. The dolls’ eyes widen with the gift of Knowledge as their understanding about the world broadens. It is here that the viewer cannot help but be moved to tears from the beauty of this scene – the dolls have received their first concrete information about the world.

Events take a tragic turn as they immediately begin beating their heads with their hands, screaming, “What am I doing? What am I?” While at first this seems an illogical direction for the plot to go in, one then remembers that human beings, given the gift of Knowledge, will eventually destroy themselves. Adam and Eve slapped themselves in the head by eating the apple in the Garden of Eden; the United States slapped itself in the head by inventing democracy; psychology slapped itself in the head just by existing. Humanity’s head-slapping happens so fast as to appear involuntary and indeed even inevitable.

The boy, representing a frustrated God, decides to teach his dolls to jump. He wishes for the dolls to ascend to his bed the way God wishes for His people to ascend to heaven. To the boy, it is a simple maneuver; to the dolls, happy with their head-slapping sins, it seems fruitless and impossible. Instead, they return to their original knowledge – the knowledge of their hands – in the same way that human beings, confronted with a new concept, look to old concepts to help them understand.

It is now, in the dolls’ moment of frustration at being unable to ascend to their God, that they look to each other and ask “Who are you?” This is distinctly different from the original question of “What am I?”, and yet similar in some ways. “Who are you?” contains the words “are” and “you”, presumably as replacements to the original words “am” and “I”, but both questions share the “wh”-type word at the beginning. They are different questions, and yet the same, but mostly different (by at least 70%).

The dolls take to attacking each other, blaming the other for shortcomings they realize are their own. The boy, as God, decides now is a good time to play hide-and-seek, as though to distract the dolls from self-destruction. God hides, but the dolls defy their god by pounding their chests and screaming. With God out of the picture, they return to asking questions, not understanding who or what they are. God returns to a scene of chaos: Humanity destroying itself, eating its hands (self-cannibalism) and banging its head against the bed. When God demands an explanation, the dolls can only offer the information offered to them in the beginning: “Hand!”

Annoyed at humanity’s lack of progress, the boy dumps his dolls into a box in a sort of reverse Noah’s Ark. After some time in exile, they return to Earth. This time, however, the dolls defy their God entirely, tainted by knowledge and sexual urges. The dolls’ utterances are filled with Freudian concepts and devilish desires. Humanity, now fully corrupted, ends the video by banging its head against the bed – a heaven it shall never be able to “jump” to, on account of trying too hard to “jump fuck” God’s mother.

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