Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
In 2019, the “The Momo Challenge” frightened parents in the United States into believing “Momo” would appear online where she’d lure their children into harming themselves. While this challenge is one of many recent viral hoaxes, “Momo” is not simply a product of our digital age. Known as the ubume (“birthing-woman”), the figure who provides the face for “Momo” has lived for centuries in Japanese folklore where yokai (supernatural creatures) often caution listeners against entering unchartered parts of the land. And once Japan industrialized, so too did their “unchartered lands,” the ubume reborn to fit the cities and technologies that assumed these new breeding grounds for uncertainty. On my Scalar website, a platform designed to host media-rich content, I trace three such transmutations of the ubume—the setsuwa (spoken story), illustrated encyclopedia, and viral hoax. Literary critic Frederick Jameson provides the framework for these analyses as he describes the myth as an “imagined solution” to otherwise “unresolvable social contradictions.” I take an ecocritical approach and focus on the contradictions that arise under our dominant technology-as-progress narrative, presenting my research on hidden environmental costs through a combination of text and original comics. My choice to incorporate comics reflects my aim to not only expand access beyond an academic audience but to ensure an authorial transparency that allows users to decide whether they agree with my conclusions (as opposed to computer-generated visuals many people associate with objectivity). Increased user agency is crucial if we are to uncover why certain histories are privileged over others, particularly in our current climate where the hands shaping our digital environments remain so largely hidden.
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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.
Risak, Sam. The Ubume Challenge: A Digital Environmental Humanities Project. 2020. Chapman University, MA Thesis. Chapman University Digital Commons, https://doi.org/10.36837/chapman.000138