Bird Box blindfolded challenge? Experts say think twice before trying it

Updated: Jan 28, 2019, 10:04 IST | Dalreen Ramos | Mumbai

The latest post-apocalyptic online hit, Bird Box has inspired a fad of blindfolded challenges around everyday tasks that led the media company to issue a public service announcement. Here's why experts warn you to think twice before attempting it

Do you understand?" Uttering this question repeatedly, a very cautious Malorie Hayes, played by Hollywood biggie Sandra Bullock, is laying down orders for her kids - named Boy and Girl - in the opening sequence of Bird Box, where under no circumstance are they allowed to take off their blindfold, because all hell has broken loose in the outside world.

Leaves float in mid-air; there's a mysterious force that's causing mass suicides around the world. You see it, you die. So, a blindfold is pretty much the oxygen you need. But people around the world have taken Hayes' advice a little too seriously. They've put on blindfolds - manoeuvring about everyday tasks like eating, walking around the house or driving - and the result has led to a series of unfortunate events under the #BirdBoxChallenge. While blindfolded, a man accidentally slammed a toddler into a wall, a 17-year-old in Utah crashed into oncoming traffic, and a tattoo has been attempted in Brazil with an unsurprisingly undesirable outcome.

Sandra Bullock in stills from the show. Pics/NETFLIX
Sandra Bullock in stills from the show. Pics/NETFLIX

No harm intended
Closer home, the challenge has taken an awry turn. Last week, a meme page on Facebook called Unusual Facebook Events, where events are created purely out of satire and not organised in reality, fell under the radar of the Mumbai Police for creating an event called Bird Box Blindfold Challenge at Marine Drive. To the admin's knowledge, no one was actually planning on attending the event.

Sharing what unfolded, the admin told us, "There was a disclaimer added, again, in a comical manner that the people attending the event would be responsible for their own actions and that it isn't our responsibility. Nothing significant took place until a well-known local comedian sent a message to the page, stating how a DCP in Colaba had contacted and questioned him since he hit 'Going' on the event. He asked me to cancel it, and though he asked for my number, I wasn't made aware that the police were looking for me, and I didn't deem it right to give out my number to someone I would have no dealings with."

But ultimately last Monday, the admin landed at the police station. "I was taken to the Regional Commissioner at DCP Zone 1, then DCP Zone 2 and finally Marines Lines Police Station, where I had to explain that the event was a satire. Yet, they still kept sticking to their point that the event would have been a huge health and safety risk for individuals and property. So in the end, they asked me to write a statement/apology letter describing the nature of the page as well as how no events like these would further take place. This entire process started at 12 pm and ended at 9 pm, which was a bit too stretched," the admin says.

In Brazil, a blindfolded man attempted a tattoo using a tattoo gun
In Brazil, a blindfolded man attempted a tattoo using a tattoo gun

Cult context
Although it perhaps is way too early to call Bird Box a cult classic, the resultant following from its challenges is very much a cult-like obsession among younger audiences. Age is critical, and according to clinical psychologist Preeti Asgaonkar who works primarily with children, various factors are at play that encourage children and adolescents to take up such challenges.

"Children primarily learn a certain behaviour through modelling, so when they observe someone close to them practising a certain behaviour there are high chances that they too might join the brigade. Also, if such behaviour has occurred as an offhand incident but has received some kind of reinforcement, the behaviour dresses itself into a pattern, unless consciously broken," she says adding that it's a biological process for adolescents. "The age group's high vulnerability towards risk taking, and poor impulse control leads them to taking up such challenges. Apart from the brain development, it is also a stage of identity formation, an unstable self-esteem for some and a developing self-concept for few - not to miss, the heavy peer and social influence. This extensive and constant search of self-identity and the social need to fit in, can also be a key contributor."

Popular YouTuber Jake Paul attempted a 24-hour blindfold challenge and walked into traffic with his friend George Janko
Popular YouTuber Jake Paul attempted a 24-hour blindfold challenge and walked into traffic with his friend George Janko

The larger picture
In 1964, Canadian professor Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase "the medium is the message," implying that the channel of communication has a symbiotic relationship with the message it conveys. With the advent of social media, the medium of the web itself plays a significant role in building a cult following. According to sociologist Kamala Ganesh, "from a societal point of view, there is an increase in cult following because highly advanced technology and communication is accessible to (almost) everyone, which leads to an overload of information, especially through images available.

A 17-year-old from Utah drove a 16-year-old in a pickup truck, lost control of her vehicle and crashed into another car and a light pole
A 17-year-old from Utah drove a 16-year-old in a pickup truck, lost control of her vehicle and crashed into another car and a light pole

But the unprecedented choices are not easy to digest, process and distil into a relevant and actionable format. The technology and communication does not empower people to develop a sense of discrimination on what is useful and what is garbage. So, people are looking for charismatic leaders who will help them navigate this thicket of choices. A canny leader can channelise this felt need for his or her own cultish following…I think civil society must keep the opposition to such phenomenon alive and kicking."

Preeti Asgaonkar

Risk factors
*It is not always that these types of traits could lead to addictions and addictive behaviour per se. But overexposure and societal pressures to fit in could make some children/adolescents more vulnerable to these challenges.
*Underlying factors contributing to overall mental health can lead to such perilous actions or become a manifestation of a particular symptom in case of pre-diagnosed or undiagnosed mental disorders. For instance, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), conduct disorder, personality disorder, or mania, where again impulse control is poor.
- Preeti Asgaonkar, clinical psychologist

Preeyal Bhagchandani

De-addiction steps for people to implement
*Be aware and acknowledge the problem.
*Make a decision to change and decide how the change will look.
*Try not to start with cold turkey, as the possibility of relapse increases. Opt for moderate goals instead.
*Once you are clear with your goals, prepare for the change. Remove triggers and create substitutes.
*Goals can make you feel lonely. So, make sure you hang out with friends who have different interests.
*It's also easier if you verbalise your goals to family and friends who then can become your support system.
*Remember, quitting is a different experience for everyone. Reach out for professional help if you feel that you have tried and the results are not effective.
- Preeyal Bhagchandani, psychotherapist

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