Irrational Fears in an Irrational Time

Two presidential candidates, attractive, bright, Harvard scholars both, stand before us in a crowd. Spring is warm, much like summer, and the candidates have removed their jackets. Obama rolls up his sleeves as well. Mitt leaves his sleeves long, pressed, and buttoned at the cuff. Obama reaches out to people with both arms. Mitt methodically shakes hands with his right hand, trying to give a formal hand shake, over and over, despite the fact that folks are all around him. I see a world of choice in this election. One man is real. His ears stick out as do ours. While the other man looks computer rendered. “Mannequin man,” I call him.

Beware of mannequin men, women, and children. As a child I believed that mannequins were simply posing by day, but came alive at night. The grandest department store in Hartford, Connecticut at that time was G. Fox & Co., where legend had it, female mannequins were modeled after Katherine Hepburn, also Hartford born and bred. Her father, Thomas Hepburn, a prominent physician, and her mother, Katherine Houghton Hepburn, head of the Connecticut Suffrage Association. Now as fond as I am of Kate, I know her to have been formidable. Twenty years later in La Jolla, California, the seamstress on my wedding dress, a close friend of one of Kate’s nieces, confided that Kate had nothing to do with her niece because she had failed to complete her college education. Aunt Kate held her standards as high as she held her neck, and, like a mannequin, she did not bend.

Anyway, back in Connecticut, back in time, my best friend shared this fear of mannequins with me and together we fed each other’s fantasy. On sleepovers, in that moment just before sleep, one of us would mechanically move an arm, raise a leg, or turn her head, and with all the woodenness and soullessness of an android, come alive at night as a mannequin. Apparently the only way to deal with a mannequin was to become one yourself, and so we terrified both ourselves and each other by never wanting to be the first one to snap out of it.

Whether it’s your best friend acting, plaster, or plastic, now I know what this phenomena is called: The Uncanny Valley Effect. Coined by robotics professor, Masahiro Mori, in 1970, “The uncanny valley is a hypothesis in the field of robotics and 3D computer animation which holds that when human replicas look and act almost, but not perfectly, like actual human beings, it causes a response of revulsion among human observers. The ‘valley’ in question is a dip in a proposed graph of the positivity of human reaction as a function of a robot’s human likeness.” (Wikipedia).

These are strange times and we stand at a precipice. While “mannequin man” tips us into an uncanny valley, the president, on the other hand, is one of us. I’m just saying….


Filed under fear

5 responses to “Irrational Fears in an Irrational Time

  1. Craig Kelly

    The Uncanny Valley is hardly another Pleasant Valley Sunday. Perfect description of Romney. Just brilliant.

  2. Martin

    It’s funny you call Romney a Mannequin,it’s funny his first name is Mitt ! Also funny that his republican predecessor George Bush-who’s mannerisms reminded us of an ape, we called “Chimpy” They both share an “Unnatural ability to relate to the general public in my opinion……..

  3. Beth Yourgrau

    Since I’ll never be on a first name basis with Mitt, he is now etched in my mind as “Mr. Mannequin”. Another red flag is his perfectly groomed hair. Look what happened to Edwards. And Trump thinks he has good hair which is even worse. It’s about time we start to judge our leaders on important features like their ears. I can (only) back this up with one example. My Dad once had ears that stuck out (had them stitched to his head) like Obama and he’s a very smart, honet and good man.

  4. Margot

    LOVE this!! I completely remember the mannequin’s at G.Fox’s and always wondered what they would do in the dark of night! Change the outfit they didn’t like and put something cuter on. Perhaps try to get out of the store entirely and break away to a new life. Mr. Mannequin creates a real fear in me, not the perceived one created by imagining a mannequin coming to life. I have been struggling with how divided our country has become and how people no longer are willing to agree to disagree respectfully. The fact that Obama is willing to stick this out and continue to try and work with those that clearly are doing all in their power to work against him gives him props in my mind. Change wasn’t ever going to come overnight and 4 yrs in the time space continuum isn’t much more than a few nights.

  5. Alexander Finn

    Good piece. I think I know why you’re going political, but why?
    I’ll bet G. Fox and company was a multi-storied operation.
    With all the mannequins out in public, seated on every city councl, speaking on every ‘slative floor and weighing in on each and every school board situation, where’s the revultion? Why, it’s in the basement of G.Fox and company. Mannequins packed in every position to overflowing, a torso here, a head there, arms akimbo. They’re all moving around looking for cast off parts, like some darkened scene from a Star Wars robot recycling center. Would you and your friend care to have a sleepover there?
    Pssssst. Don’t look now but there’s a coco colored one from a retro fashion fad. It couldn’t be. The news of the day said he called a press conference but after only a few, how ya doins, excused himself. I’ll be right back he said. He was just going to the corner store for a pack of smokes and we never saw him again. But, you know it’s him. His ears stick out and his sleeves are still rolled up. Only he’s naked from the waist down. Some customer must have bought his pants and without so much as a “domo origato,” they sent him down here. Where’s the revultion?
    Rising to the top floor is Mannequin Man with Otis and company. No stairways for him. One long stop on the floor for sundries and undergarments then, a quick stop on just a few other levels collecting percentages. Where’s the revultion?

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