When I was growing up, my father always told me one thing before he put me to bed. It left me terrified, and I’ll always hold it against him. He told me to watch out for the greatest terror my ancestors had ever known. He told me to keep an eye out for the ancient Mexican demon known only as Charlie. There was a great amount of lore around him. For instance, he liked to hang out with the ancient Germanic Valkyrie Guadalupe and the Japanese god of thunder and lightning, Bob.
If you haven’t heard, school kids are stacking pencils on top of each other – one goes up and down, the other left to right. Then they summon the Mexican demon Charlie and ask him questions. Depending on what direction the pencils fall, it corresponds with an answer. It’s called the Charlie Charlie Challenge.
There are those out there who can’t believe kids are trying to summon a demon with such dangerous implements as a pair of pencils and a piece of paper. My god, I hope they don’t allow those in schools.
First off, to the religious folk who are getting upset: Let me assure you all that there is no such thing as Charlie the demon. I’m not saying demons can’t exist. I mean, X-Files is coming back and I’m in the mood for it. Also, I’m re-watching the first few seasons of Supernatural. (By the way, if you watch Supernatural with closed captioning on, every other subtitle is “[sharp inhale]” or “[sharp exhale].” It’s really inspiring when you’re at the gym. It does make the worst drinking game ever, though.)
Where was I? Oh, Charlie! See, ancient Mexico didn’t really have demons. They had a range of gods and spirits that fit into animist beliefs. If kids were summoning the spirit of a river or the goddess of bees, I’d think it was nice that kids were finding a way to learn about ancient Mexican belief systems. Wait, can we summon the goddess of bees? She’d be really useful right about now. I think Mila Kunis plays her on weekends.
Charlie, on the other hand, is a far more horrifying thing for youngsters to get into: cultural appropriation that can’t even bother to appropriate anything real. Charlie never existed. If you believe ScaryForKids, which is far riskier a proposition than balancing pencils on top of each other, you’re not even playing the game right. But whatever, using six pencils, using two pencils – schools can’t afford the number of supplies they used to.
I mean, “Charlie,” really? Not even Carlos? Or to keep the nickname thing going, Carly?
How could anything named Carly be evil?
Oh. Oh, I think I’ve answered my own question there.
Look, it’s just kids having fun. Why is everyone losing their minds over it? Because it involves a demon? Even if you’re religious, there’s no written record of a demon named Charlie. If a cookie goes missing from the kitchen and your kid says they didn’t take it, you’re not going to believe him. But you’re going to trust him with the discovery and classification of heretofore unknown supernatural beings from Hell?
Besides, are you really able to keep a straight face criticizing kids for doing this when you come from the generations that gave us looking into a mirror and saying, “Bloody Mary,” 30 times in a row? Or the generations that made Ouija boards popular? Or the generations that popularized sleepover levitation?
But what about the time two girls attempted to kill a third girl at the behest of Slender Man? Getting the most obvious thing out of the way, I’m pretty sure Slender Man didn’t do that. Why risk his lucrative video game career?
If you were ever a kid (I’m guessing at least some of my readers were), and you really wanted to do something, you’d find an excuse. If those kids hadn’t found Slender Man as their cop-out, they’d have found something else.
We blamed Slender Man anyway, as if he were real, and we blamed the site Creepypasta for daring to feature such a meme about dangerous fantasy creatures. Then we all went to go see Maleficent that weekend. What we failed to blame were a range of life factors that shaped the girls’ version of playing fantasy into something dissociated from real world agency and consequence.
That’s not because they encountered the Slender Man meme. Maybe they were a quirk of scheduling away from playing Hunger Games, or velociraptors, or Lambchop and Shari Lewis and we’d be blaming those things instead.
So let’s make sure we don’t blame the Charlie game for something it’s not. It’s not undermining children’s understanding of right and wrong. For Charlie to have any effect on someone that way, that system would already have to be completely undermined in their heads by other factors. Games like this will always exist. You played Bloody Mary with a mirror. I played Ouija with a cheap board made in China. Children today play Charlie with pencils. Their children will play Zombie David Hasselhoff 2032 with the sticks they use to build their campfire in the collapsed ruins of our civilization.
It’s all the same. You didn’t kill anyone (I hope). I didn’t kill anyone. They won’t kill anyone. Their children won’t kill anyone. Unless it’s to protect the last can of green beans in the collapsed ruins of our civili…sorry.
My point is that there are more important things to worry about. We could freak out over a game if we really want. Or maybe we should freak out over why we’re so easily freaked out by the media…so easily freaked out that we become convinced the morals we instill in our children day after day are shaky enough they could be easily subverted by a pair of pencils. Maybe games like this don’t reveal that the kids are at fault, so much as they reveal that the adults are.
Do you think the Charlie Charlie Challenge is just children playing? Or do you think they’re contacting something real?