Kevin (erf_) wrote,

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anko anko pai: the cult of asherah

Just woke from a nightmare in which my high school friend Isaac had joined a Japanese nihilism cult called Anko Anko Pai. (cougarfang, too, who had joined when her boyfriend had disappeared under mysterious circumstances. And a bunch of my other younger Japanophile friends.) It was an apostate splinter of Shinto Buddhism. It spread its message exclusively via short anime clips on the Internet, featuring a cast of ominous minor "gods" who were the characters. The core ideal was to literally want nothing.

Members met in convention centers in an experience that was the precise intersection between evangelical conferences and anime conventions. It was horrifying. You'd walk into a screening room and there'd be a crowd of people watching anime projected against the wall. But the anime being shown was a 3-second repeating clip of Osaka from Azumanga Daioh waving her hands back and forth to a loud droning noise like an excited clothes dryer. And the audience would be lying in their seats (or in the ground) with 3D glasses on, all wearing the same neon-on-black "MIND OVER DREAM" t-shirt, heads limp against their shoulders, as if they were dead, chanting "CHU CHU CHU. NOTHING REALLY MATTERS. CHU CHU CHU. MIND OVER DREAM."

If you took the 3D glasses off any of the worshippers you'd see a glassy-eyed expression of shock. Like a person who had died having a heart attack. Except her mouth would still be moving.

There were also shorts consisting mostly of shots of empty rooms, with an unseen narrator--a giggly, flirty female voiceover (with English subs)--talking casually about changing her name so she could have a funny death certificate when she committed suicide. The stoned-looking convention volunteers, most of them college-age, would smile at you and tell you how liberating it was to finally know the truth that nothing mattered, and would wax poetic on how they wanted to die.

Anko Anko Pai was Emo: The Religion.

The cult's chanted mantras were spread as Internet memes (image macros and copypastas). They began on 2ch and spread to Nico Nico, and from there propagated to YouTube and 4chan, soon assimilating Anonymous's agenda. The wave of suicides (to which all members ultimately aspired) did little to stem its growth. By the time the New York Times, NBC, and Fox could do the obligatory panic piece it was already unstoppable, with the death toll in the tens of thousands and growing exponentially. No virus spreads faster than an Internet virus--especially one that grants instant identity and community to disillusioned young people in a weak job market who have been raised to obsess over their uncertain futures. It was weaponized otaku culture.

I was sent by Isaac's older sister Michelle to infiltrate an Anko Anko Pai convention and rescue him--my qualifications being that as a former convention volunteer and Former High School Anime Club President (lol) I knew how to social-engineer my way into restricted areas, and that as a former role model I may have been able to talk some sense into him.

The whole time I kept track of Twitter messages from cougarfang about how everything made SO MUCH SENSE NOW omg because MIND OVER DREAM had finally given her life some semblance of warmth, community, and purpose by encouraging her to simply give up on all three. A Facebook quiz app had given her a choice of 20 shikigamis to guide her into the neverlife and she was having trouble picking which one. This train of thought was occasionally interrupted by updates on an actual anko pie she was baking. There was not a single mention of her missing boyfriend.

Eventually even I was corrupted by the Lovecraftian horror that was the Anko Anko Pai movement. I don't know how it happened, but in the midst of my investigation I started seeing single frames of animated characters--the Major from Ghost in the Shell frowning disapprovedly, a little Totoro ghost, a cartoon version of the 4chan Anonymous mask--briefly superimpose the corners of my vision. A rictus-smiling Taiwanese teenager grabbed my wrist and reality bled out into a two-dimensional, minimalist hand-drawn version of itself. As my body slipped into a coma and all I could perceive was the smiling, crudely imitated hand-drawn face of my father staring at me sunlike in the distance I finally came to realize what MIND OVER DREAM meant:

Reality was but an illusion to these cultists. They were going to dispel it, through meditation and denial and ultimately suicide. They were going to trap themselves in a world in which there was no uncertainty. It was for the same reason a generation of geeks turned to model railroads, video gamesm and computer programming: They knew the parameters, they were not powerless, they were experts in the tropes that governed the universe. They were lucid dreamers, asleep. That is, until the moment they got up from their chairs and returned to waking lives full of insurmountable loneliness and powerlessness and futility. And now Anko Anko Pai was giving them the option to never return to their waking lives, even if it meant giving up their earthly ambitions and leaving their mortal bodies behind. It was the reverse act of looking away from the television screen to face your broken marriage. And in my unconsciousness I was trapped in my own mind, never to wake.

Do you have any idea how terrifying it is to be dreaming this? Especially if you are convinced you will never wake up?

Why am I telling you all this at seven in the morning? Because it's plausible enough to almost actually happen.

I guess there are two things to take away from this experience:

1) Nothing scares me more than institutionalized apathy, and
2) Never read Internet media essays before going to bed.
Tags: dreams
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