In “Bird Box,” Sandra Bullock leads two children, all blindfolded because of a mysterious danger, on a journey to safety. The movie, which received mixed reviews, became an inexplicable well for memes over the holidays. Netflix announced that 45 million people had viewed it on the platform in the first seven days since its release.
And then, just as Bullock became known as “the lady from ‘Bird Box’” in a bunch of memes, doing things on camera while blindfolded for laughs has become the “Bird Box” challenge.
That challenge prompted a warning from Netflix on Wednesday to not take the joke too far.
Welcome back to one of the most reliable phenomena on the internet: a news story about a viral challenge that is 1) dangerous and 2) said to be loved by teens. At the beginning of 2018, people were freaking out over the idea of the “Tide Pod Challenge,” or eating Tide Pods on camera for views. The challenge started as a meme that involved joking about eating Tide Pods, which look like a cartoon dessert. And then, a few teens ate them for views, and the challenge became a weeks-long news topic.
A few months after that, panic about a “condom challenge” went viral, even though (as The Washington Post found) the challenge barely existed and was being discussed because of a news aggregation equivalent of a game of telephone.
Given that the jump from “a teen did this once” to “(x dangerous idea) is the latest viral TEEN TREND” is instantaneous in today’s internet machine, it’s wise to look carefully at any viral warnings about teen behavior online. But the “Bird Box” challenge is a bit different from the Tide Pod or condom challenges.
The “Bird Box” challenge really has gone viral, to some extent. And the warnings about its dangers are mainly aimed at those who would take it too far, of which there are plenty of examples.
The #BirdBoxChallenge hashtag started showing up within days of the movie’s release on Netflix. One early video, recirculated on a few meme accounts, shows a dad accidentally walking his toddler into a wall while trying to recreate one of the movie’s blindfolded scenes. Another mildly viral early adopter shows a group walking down a Brooklyn street. The video is staged to make it appear as if one participant bolts from the group and falls down the stairs of a subway station.
There are plenty of examples of people doing the meme without putting themselves in immediate peril, or pretending to. Another variation involves re-creating a scene where the movie’s evil force imitates the voice of someone important to the blindfolded family to trick them into looking:
A lot of the early videos feature families doing the challenge together, which is what happens when something like this goes viral over a holiday break.
Some, with relatively few views until Netflix’s warning, showed people driving while blindfolded (or at least pretending to). Another video follows a would-be “Bird Box” challenger to the hospital after, the caption says, she broke her foot doing a practice run.
As the challenge grew, YouTuber Morgan Adams got more than 2 million views for a “24 hour ‘Bird Box’ challenge” video, in which she and a friend attempt to do a bunch of things (order Popeye’s, go to a casino and gamble) while blindfolded. The pair have un-blindfolded chaperones for the entire challenge, who appear to guide and drive them around. The video also contains a couple moments that would be a bad idea to repeat, like walking blindfolded on an escalator.
The same premise was copied by other YouTube channels, and “Good Morning America.” One enterprising, young memer on Instagram combined the “Bird Box” challenge with the also dangerous KiKi challenge in which, you’re supposed to dance alongside a moving car.
Viral challenges have a way of encouraging participants to one-up each other in an endless quest for views – and this meme about a Netflix movie is no exception.