I’ve never been afraid of clowns, but I’ve known a lot of people who are quite terrified of them. Since I could never relate to this, I thought I’d research it to try to understand it, and that’s when I stumbled into Uncanny Valley.
For some reason it never occurred to me that people would do scientific studies about what we humans find to be creepy, but sure enough, they have created this graph.
It seems that we can find recognizable things that aren’t anything like us to be cute, such as ET, and we can find things that are exactly like us to be cute. But when something is almost like us, but not quite, that’s when it falls into that valley in the graph and it freaks us out. It’s like our brain just about recognizes something, but also senses that there’s a quality about it that is a tiny bit off. Just enough to want to assume humanity, but not enough to be able to do so, and that’s when your brain starts sending you that “Danger, Will Robinson!” signal.
Apparently clowns fall into that Valley for a lot of people. For me they don’t because I can discern the facial features and the real expression beneath the makeup. But there have been instances where I’ve found myself in Uncanny Valley, and once you’re there, you never forget it.
One time when I was about 5 years old I was at the neighborhood Girl’s Club and I went down the stairs in search of a bathroom. I opened a door, only to find several armless mannequins staring back at me. I still have the occasional nightmare about that.
I can get lost in the Valley when people make strange movements as well. One that always gets to me is seeing that girl scuttle down the stairs upside down and head first in The Exorcist.
For me, the Valley is also a place where people do the unexpected and impossible. I remember vividly a scene from The X Files in which a man who can shape shift decides to hide. Mulder is looking for him inside this hospital, and he leaves an examining room and the camera zooms in on this one shallow little medical instrument drawer, and it slides open, and there’s the guy. Well, there are his blinking eyes embedded in a drawer-shaped entity, anyway. I actually had to stand up and pace around the room after seeing that.
In my search for photos to include with this entry, I literally camped out in Uncanny Valley for hours. Now I feel a little queasy. Don’t say I don’t make sacrifices for you, dear reader!
So here, for your viewing “pleasure”, are some images that give me the willies.