When you picture cyber security, what springs to mind? Do you picture the inside workings of a company? People behind computers warding off data breaches and hacks?
Do you picture something literal, like Schwarzenegger’s The Terminator, slow walking down a decrepit hallway with a gun in a box of roses?
What about the word doll? Are you reminded of your favourite childhood Barbie? Or maybe something along a more sinister line, such as Annabelle or Chucky?
How about combining all three?
After making an absolute killing (excuse the pun) in US cinemas, meme-glorified horror flick M3GAN has hit the big screen in Australia and she’s not taking any prisoners. Literally.
Taking on the appearance of a teen girl, M3GAN is a hyper-realistic doll who is assigned with protecting her client’s child, as well as being her companion. The narrative details the ups and downs of friendship and violence as it demonstrates an interesting balance between comedy and horror.
Raking in a whopping $US45 million (AU$65 million) you would be forgiven for thinking that this is some sort of a crazy success story, branching off from older horror tropes and applying a quirky, modernised idea, but M3GAN, which was produced by James Wan (Annabelle) brings a fresh perspective to entertainment, one that has been specifically attracting a younger generation. And it’s all thanks to the film’s creative use of social media.
Featuring (now) incredibly notorious scenes such as the TikTok-inspired dance moves M3GAN displays before she kills her victims, the movie became a marketing success late last year. The popular dance scenes were used continuously for advertising as well as part of publicity stunts when groups of M3GAN lookalikes would appear together on breakfast television as well as during premieres of the film. A similar tactic was used on Australian Shores to promote the second season of The Handmaid’s Tale.
Dancing M3GAN groups have been successful both on social media (it’s been meme heaven!) and in mainstream entertainment with user-generated content being uploaded to platforms including YouTube and TikTok.
This, along with the interesting cover of Titanium, masked as a bedtime lullaby, M3GAN has left audiences springily satisfied with the film, with a current 79% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes.
As expected, TikTok has jumped right onboard the M3GAN gravy-train with the use of their ad placement garnering intense interest as TikTokkers are greeted with the dancing doll and her snappy uses of violence when you first open the app. This is super clever of TikTok as their audience’s appetite for content was built on rapid fire videos, something that companies like TikTok are renowned for and have gained huge success from.
The movie’s comedic take on the horror genre, has also gained public interest and attention on social media, both through film critiques and positive reviews, but also through content that was not advertised publicly until after the movie had begun screening, such as the Titanium scene, or M3GAN running on all fours through a forest.
We’d be naïve to think that M3GAN was the very first movie to use modern components of popular culture and social media in its story telling, in fact, this element was used within the wildly successful whodunit series by Rian Johnson which includes Knives Out and the latest instalment, Glass Onion, which has experience significantly large success, only releasing on Netflix in late December.
Glass Onion critiques the privileged, emotional, and downright stupid lives of the rich, where modern success stories of POC characters prevail, an immensely satisfying take on the classic murder mystery style of film derived from the 30s/40s predecessors.
But what do these films have in common? Both use social media, whether it be in their marketing or used as one of the fundamental components of their storytelling.
While the use of social media and internet trends to garner a response from a younger generation has been successful for M3GAN, the vitality of the doll’s dance has been able to attract a possibly, almost too young audience. With low internet restrictions at home, a lack of parental controls on social platforms, and the use of trending content by these platforms such as dances, younger users could be lured into watching the horror film, thinking it’s a movie with a significantly less sinister plot. And those kids that may find the trailer or content of M3GAN funny or cool, what will they do? Share it. Thus, the wildfire begins.
Could this movie be an issue for parents? Absolutely.
The concept of targeting childhood fears and memories, such as dolls, and turning them into horror-themed entertainment is not a new concept but one that can really challenge and skew a child’s perception of play. As mentioned in previous articles by Safe on Social, popular children’s video game Poppy Playtime uses a similar method, and in turn, engages a much younger audience than is recommended.
Speaking with Safe on Social’s Creative Director, Rikki Waller, she shared the following:
‘I see the potential of M3GAN having a Squid Games effect on young people. It was not too long ago that we reported on the dangerous repercussions in the playground with groups of children as young as 8 acting out the violent nature of the Netflix series, inflicting actual physical harm on other children. M3GAN very much has the ability to create something very similar.
I have an 11 year old daughter myself, and she’s now at the age where her curiosity has really peaked. She will often express a desire to watch the latest scary movie after seeing it advertised on TV – Annabelle is one I have fought off for a long time.
For kids, scary movies feel fantastical, even a little bit dangerous; it’s like they’re peeking behind the adult viewership curtain within a safe environment. What they don’t understand is the effects that such viewing movies like M3GAN can have on their emotions and their behaviour.”
What are these effects?
Transient fears such as an increased fear of the dark and strangers, trouble sleeping, and nightmares
Their ability to recognize what is fact and what is fiction in real life. They may exhibit irrational fears of dying, fears of losing control in everyday scenarios and feelings of not being ‘themselves’
Real disorders can develop including, anxiety, sleep issues, and self-endangering behaviours
They may recreate violent scenes, becoming aggressive with themselves and others
They may develop a ‘clingy’ nature
Decrease in compassion and empathy.
If you understand that your child is under the entertainment age rating, is sensitive to horror movies or darker themes, or you have heard them talk about M3GAN, perhaps start a discussion with them about what they could be seeing on social media regarding the movie. It’s important to distinguish fact from fiction, and get real about what’s ok and what’s not ok, though how you approach this is, all dependent on their age of course.
And remember, social media platforms work on an algorithm, feeding your child the content that they feel suits them best based on their previous viewings as well as what content is currently trending. If they are finding that scary or inappropriate content is turning up on their feed regularly, you may need to take a walk through their search history and have a chat about what they’ve been searching for and watching.
As Rikki went on to say:
“Social media platforms unfortunately don’t necessarily have the same level of or interest in reducing young people from viewing content that may be harmful or inappropriate. Views, likes and engagements are their top priorities and their biggest revenue raiser. In saying this, it is very likely that, even though you do your absolute best to protect your kids from seeing M3GAN or other content you don’t wish them to see, snippets, trailers and memes will pop up in their feeds as it trends. If this is the case, take screen shots, take note of dates and times and the platform(s) you witnessed it on so you can lodge a report to have it removed.”
M3GAN is an interesting approach and adaptation in the film industry, in order to engage an aware audience, as post-pandemic entertainment and media has been focused on the absurd and hilarious. With the movie’s use of social media, it’s no wonder the movie has been a box office hit in the new year and will hopefully continue an intriguing trend when shifting and warping the tropes of the entertainment industry. Before buying your kids a ticket to the cinemas, however, consider the following:
In Australia, M3GAN is rated M and promotes violence, sustained threat, and coarse language
Preview, ponder and then parent. After you have watched it, use your best judgement as to whether you think it is suitable for your child
Don’t fall victim to the ‘but all of my friends are watching it’ because it’s simply not true
Research the movie and the content themes
Consider the social media platforms your kids have access to – TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat will be especially high risk factors when it comes to snippets being seen
You know your child best, assess their fear factor but also their ability to bounce back
If you decide to let your kids watch M3GAN, ensure they know not to replicate anything within the movie. As Rikki mentioned, The Squid Games Effect was rife in Schools across Australia and the world, seeing many children become aggressive, violent towards others and get in strife. Also tell them that sharing content with others isn’t a good idea.
Heads up: There is a similar film coming out this year that has started gaining a lot of media attention - Cocaine Bear. Keep your eyes peeled and your ears on the ground.
If you have any questions or need assistance, get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
ABOUT THE AUTHOR, OPHELIA:
Just last year completing Year 12, I love studying all things cultural and sociological. What drove me to become a part of the Safe on Social team was contributing to fostering a more equal and safe online world and the opportunity to educate Australians to promote a healthy relationship with the internet. My skills regarding managing cyber/creative burnout and acknowledging and responding to online criticism and hate will positively impact readers and the community.