For five years, the webseries Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared has been amusing and befuddling viewers by combining cute puppets and animation with disturbing, gory violence, dream logic, and a heaping helping of dark surrealism. But is it all just random internet nonsense, simply a series of weird images strung together with no meaning at all? MatPat, host of the YouTube program The Film Theorists, doesn’t think so. In fact, he believes Don’t Hug Me creators Rebecca Sloan and Joe Pelling have a definite message they want to convey with their videos. The Film Theorists lays it all out with an episode titled “Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared DECODED.” The key to the webseries is to understand it as a comment on children’s television, particularly in Britain. The show’s three main characters, Red Guy, Yellow Guy, and Duck, are all cast members on what’s supposed to be an educational show for children. The Film Theorists points out numerous shots that reveal the protagonists are actually on a set with lights and cameras. In each episode, they try to teach a lesson about a worthwhile topic like time or love or healthy eating. But things invariably go off the rails, and the show’s lessons are incoherent at best and malevolent at worst.
The reason for this, suggests MatPat, is advertising. The characters in the Don’t Hug Me universe are too focused on money and commerce at the expense of delivering positive, worthwhile messages to children. Visual clues to this theme include a board game called “MONEY WIN” and a headline about storing stocks. The real key to understanding Don’t Hug Me is knowing why the series makes so many references to 1955. That was the year when the BBC’s monopoly over the television airwaves was broken, leading to the rise of an independent, non-government-backed channel called ITV. That sounds like a positive move, but it also meant that advertisements were seen on British television for the first time in 1955. When program creators have to make money and sell products, it’s inevitable that their messages will be corrupted. And that’s what’s happening in Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared. Or so the theory goes, anyway.