The Resemblance Is Uncanny

Call me a coldhearted animal-hater, but monkeys and apes have always creeped me out. They just look and act so human-like that I find them eerie. And recently I found out why they have this effect on me. It’s the same reason that many masks, dolls, wax sculptures, and even clowns make our skin crawl.

UAegtqa.jpg

The “uncanny valley” is a concept proposed by a robotics engineer in the 70s that explains why people are put off by inanimate things that look too human. The theory says that, in general, the more human an object (say, a robot or a puppet) looks, the more endearing it is to people. However, at some point, when an object begins to look extremely similar to a human but still fails to achieve a fully lifelike appearance, people feel uneasiness, aversion, and even disgust.

The term valley describes that sharp dip in the resulting graph line (as seen below), cleaving the otherwise direct relationship between people’s empathy and robots’ similarity to humans.

Screen Shot 2017-09-24 at 11.36.12 PM

As TV Tropes puts it: “[A]t some point, the likeness seems too strong and yet somehow, fundamentally different—and it just comes across as a very strange human being. At this point, the acceptance drops suddenly, changing to a powerful negative reaction.”

So basically, it’s like your brain thinks you’re looking at a human, but that human has something quite wrong with them. (No offense, Sophia.)

giphy

And if you think that’s weird, then I submit to you something that will tickle your “uncanny valley” even more: masks that look so authentically lifelike that your eyes really can’t tell whether the faces are artificial or real.

Screen Shot 2017-09-25 at 10.57.06 PM
This. Is. A. MASK.
Screen Shot 2017-09-25 at 10.57.12 PM
Yep, still a mask.

Landon Meier creates “hyperrealistic likeness masks” that fool the human eye into perceiving them as living beings. It’s only when our mind recognizes that the heads aren’t moving, or that they don’t match the body, that we realize we’re looking at latex.

So if you really want to freak people out on Halloween, now you know what to do. Just don’t come anywhere near me when you do it. 😉

Advertisements

Convince Yourself the Lion Is Not in the Room

Screen Shot 2016-06-20 at 1.21.42 PM

Alana: Normally I wouldn’t even broach this, but what do you think one of Will’s strongest drives is?
Jack: Fear.
Alana: Mm-hmm.
Jack: Will Graham deals with huge amounts of fear. It comes with his imagination.
Alana: It’s the price of imagination.

–From Hannibal, S. 1 Ep. 1

It’s FALL!

Happy FALL, y’all!!! Today is officially the first day of autumn. Can you believe it’s already here?

Screen Shot 2017-09-21 at 11.30.31 PM

I’ve put together a little list of Halloween tidbits to get you revved up for the amber-leaved days ahead of us. Consider it the textual equivalent of a bag of mini candy bars. Click each image below to read more about the topic.

You can’t kill me: In the “real-life horrors” category, behold the most indestructible organism alive!

Screen Shot 2017-09-22 at 3.50.09 PM
Who can survive 30 years without food or water and will outlive the human race? THIS DUDE!

Murder loop: Happy Death Day looks like it will be a fun cross between Groundhog Day and Final Destination. In it, a girl relives the date of her death over and over and over…

Screen Shot 2017-09-22 at 4.29.33 PM

Any Latin scholars out there? […*crickets*]: Some early spellbook manuscripts survived the 16th and 17th centuries despite religious censorship, and the Newberry Library is looking for people to transcribe them and translate many of them from Latin.

Screen Shot 2017-09-22 at 4.16.15 PM
At least check out Increase Mather’s handwriting in this manuscript from the Salem Witch trials.

Eat IT: Watch this adorable guy make, decorate, and then destroy a horrifying Pennywise cake.

Screen Shot 2017-09-22 at 4.24.07 PM

Scroller’s delight: Don’t forget that this blog has its own Tumblr page, where I visually log my Halloween exploits. It’s as if you can see into my iPhone.

Screen Shot 2017-09-21 at 11.29.04 PM

The nail in the coffin: OK, that’s it. I officially declare that the pumpkin-spice-everything trend is DEAD.

Screen Shot 2017-09-21 at 12.57.36 PM

Riddle Me This

Lately I’ve been into reading and writing riddles.

Screen Shot 2017-09-20 at 2.57.26 PM

Yes, I said riddles. (Don’t act so surprised; you already know I’m a “word nerd”!)

While researching riddles on Reddit, to my surprise and delight, I found some that relate to Halloween. Below are my favorites.

In case you’d like to try your hand at solving them, I’ve placed the answers waaay down at the bottom of this post (below the gif of Frank Gorshin, who played the Riddler on TV back in the 60s). Feel free to let me know how many you got correct in the comments!

1. The Black Cat

A black cat stepped out onto a black road, where there were no streetlights and not even the faintest glimmer of light from the moon. A black car approached with its lights turned off, and yet the driver slowed down and allowed the cat to cross the road. How did he know the cat was there?

2. Password

A man wants to go to a haunted house, but he does not know the password required for entry. The man observes other people being let in as they talk to the haunt’s security guard. The guard says “Twelve”; the first visitor says “Six” and gets admitted. Another visitor appears, and the guard says “Six”; the visitor then says “Three” and is allowed in too.

The man now understands the pattern, and he goes up to the entrance. The guard says “Ten,” and quickly the man says “Five.” But then the man is rudely turned away by the guard. Why?

3. Drawing Blood

I am an injury you inflict upon yourself, but not on purpose. I make your skin bleed and sting, but without the use of a knife or scissors. In fact, you can get me just by reading. What am I?

4. What’s Inside

I am inside you, but you didn’t eat me. I cannot stand up on my own, but I will outlast you. What am I?

5. Mass Murder

A man is the only man living in his building. Nobody lives around him for miles. One night, he goes up to his room, turns off the light, and goes to sleep. The next morning, he learns that without leaving his building, he has killed 39 people overnight. How?

6. The Container

Fill me with water; fill me with land.

Fill me with anything; hold me in your hand.

But be wary, and hear my cry–

For the day you boot me, you shall surely die. What am I?

7. Gargoyles

You stand in front of two large, ancient doors. One is the entrance to Heaven, and the other is the entrance to Hell. Each door is guarded by a terrifying gargoyle. You have been told that you may ask one gargoyle one question, but one of the gargoyles always lies, and the other always tells the truth. What is the one question you would ask to determine which door goes to Heaven?

Riddles from this Reddit page; I’ve rephrased a few of them.

giphy

ANSWERS:

1. It was daytime.

2. The password is based on the number of letters in the word the security guard says (e.g., the word “Twelve” has six letters in it, etc.).

3. A paper cut.

4. A skeleton.

5. He lives in a lighthouse. He turned off the light and caused a ship to crash, killing 39 people.

6. A bucket.

7. This one’s difficult. You would ask one of the gargoyles which door the other gargoyle would say leads to Heaven. Both gargoyles would indicate the same door, which is the door to Hell. You’d wisely choose the other one. (Read a more-detailed explanation here.)

From Graphite to Graphite

What could be more unsettling than watching a life-sized graphite skeleton “draw itself to death”?

Skele-pencil-GIF-11022016

Artist Agelio Batle created a realistic, solid-graphite human skeleton that makes pencil-like sketches on a vibrating table covered in white paper. “These large drawings, each unique, will be continuously generated throughout the life of the skeleton, until it erodes away completely,” said the press release.

Screen Shot 2017-09-19 at 1.47.26 AM

A fitting metaphor for the transient fragility of life, the disintegrating power of death, and also the ability to “resurrect” in another form.

Plus it just gives me a serious case of the Heebie Jeebies.

The Unquestioned Lord and Master of the World

Stop whatever you’re doing, get your headphones, and watch this video, NOW.

Believe it. You have just seen an entire band of Ned Flanders(es) performing a metal song inspired by a storyline from the Simpsons.

The group goes by the name of Okilly Dokilly, and although they might be kind of a gimmick, they’re pretty damn good.

Yes, they sport Ned’s meek uniform of green sweaters, pink collared shirts, and round glasses, but it’s safe to say that they sound nothing like they look. Their music is rife with pounding double-kick bass drums and distorted Devil’s tritones on guitar. Not to mention all the guttural screaming from the frontman.

Their unique sound has been called “Heavy Nedal” and “Nedcore.” Most of the band’s lyrics consist of direct Ned Flanders quotes (other tracks, for example, include “Godspeed Little Doodle” and “White Wine Spritzer“). And of course their album is called — what else? — Howdilly Doodilly.

Nice work, neighbors!! I think the good Lord would approve. 😉

Screen Shot 2017-09-16 at 12.38.19 AM

When a Coulrophobe Voluntarily Watches IT

TODAY THE SKELETON KEY IS VERY PLEASED TO PRESENT AN ARTICLE WRITTEN BY GUEST BLOGGER AND FELLOW HALLOWEEN-LOVER RUBY. ENJOY!!  -K.O.

IMG-2899
I went to see IT and almost hyperventilated in the movie theater.

The day I watched the new remake of Stephen King’s IT, I saw a kid inexplicably dressed in a full-on clown costume on a scooter scooting around in my neighborhood. When looking for parking at the theater, a car drove by us, and its driver was a man in a clown costume. What an ominous tone for the night.

I only make note of things like that because I’m a part of that 12% of adults in the U.S. who are afraid of clowns. (Yes, I am that friend.) When I see a foolish-looking harlequin, I feel uneasiness and panic. I find myself having difficulty breathing and my palms get sweaty. It’s almost kind of embarrassing. When people know you’re afraid of clowns, they become total dicks. How could anyone be afraid of something so harmless?

IMG-2479
Sweet baby angel me, age 6, looking very uneasy.

But they aren’t harmless. Clowns are weird-looking, with large exaggerated physical features like big smiles, overly large feet, and bulbous red noses. They have painted smiles on their faces, but you never know what they’re really like underneath all that makeup. Take, for example, the most famous killer clown, Pogo the Clown, better known as John Wayne Gacy. He dressed as Pogo for kids’ parties and fundraising events in Chicago, all the while murdering at least 33 young men and burying them in his basement. As police were interviewing Gacy as a suspect, he remarked, “You know … clowns can get away with murder.”

JWG
NOPE.

No thanks. And let’s face it: It’s not natural that 20 clowns can fit in a small car.

The fear of clowns, or coulrophobia, is a relatively new phenomenon. It’s not even listed as an official phobia by the World Health Organization. But it’s real. Clowns are often perceived as terrifying, as exemplified by the string of reports around the world of the lone clown standing on the side of the road or in a park, silently glaring at anyone who encounters him. Or the allegedly haunted Clown Motel in Nevada, keeping it creepy thanks to the clown décor and neighboring graveyard. (By the way, this motel is on the market if anyone out there is interested in owning a nightmare come to life.) And who could forget where it all began, the original television mini-series IT from the 90s (starring Tim Curry as Pennywise)?

Clowns and clown-like figures have actually been making people feel uneasy for centuries. The jesters of medieval times not only tried to entertain the king’s court with jokes and magic tricks, but they also had the task of relaying the daily news — even the bad news that no one wanted to tell the king.

Fun fact: If the king was not pleased with his jester, the fool would face some serious repercussions. As Harvard Medical School psychiatrist Steven Schlozman (who teaches a course on the psychology of horror, a class that I would have probably taken in college) explains in an article in Vulture:  “[C]lowns in the Middle Ages, if they didn’t make the king laugh, paid a pretty steep price. A lot of the jesters were mutilated to make them smile all the time. They would have the muscles cut that enabled the mouth to frown.”

WTF.

Attachment-1
Laughing jester (unknown Early Netherlandish artist, circa 1500).

The forefather of the modern clown was Joseph Grimaldi, a popular entertainer during the early 1800s. His makeup — a white face with bright red spots on his cheeks — is the standard clown’s makeup that we see today. But underneath that cheery façade, Grimaldi’s life was filled with sadness. Grimaldi’s wife died during childbirth, and his son was an alcoholic who died at the age of 30. In fact, his profession was hurting him: All of his acrobatics left him with painful joints and respiratory problems.

Even Native American tribes had their own version of clowns, used in religious ceremonies and to provide social commentary through humor. What’s interesting are the striking similarities between the modern clown and the Native American jesters, who also covered their faces with masks or face paint to conceal their identities. The Hopi believed that when a member donned the mask of a clown during a ceremony, he abandoned his own personality and became possessed by that figure.

But yet I went to see IT. Why? Honestly, as I cautiously watched the first trailer to come out, I had to admit, this movie looked pretty dang good.

So, I decided I would go see IT the week the movie opened and chose the aisle seat in case I had to make a quick getaway. But even picking out when I would see the movie was a bit of a challenge. I had to make sure I chose the right day and time because, as a special event, my local Alamo Drafthouse was having an all-clown viewing of IT that I obviously needed to avoid. The day after that, they showed Killer Klowns from Outer Space. Why were they doing this to me??

IMG-2901
I’ve made a huge mistake.

In all, I actually enjoyed the movie. The first glimpse of Pennywise could creep out anyone, with his glowing orange eyes peering at little Georgie from the sewer in the opening moments of the movie. And the final scenes in the Neibolt House were nail-biting.

But I didn’t really see IT as a traditional horror movie. One might even say that the true focus of the movie wasn’t the creepy supernatural clown stalking children and eating their souls, but rather a group of prepubescent teens trying to deal with the fears and uncertainties of growing up. These characters — Bill racked with the guilt of his brother Georgie dying, Mike being an isolated homeschooler and the only person of color in Derry, Bev growing into a woman with no strong female role model and an abusive father — struggle to maneuver within the lives that they were given. Pennywise interacting with the kids acted as a manifestation of their stresses.

Clearly, I’m not the only one who liked this movie. IT had one of the best openings for a horror movie in September, making $123 million its opening weekend, and pumping everyone up for the Halloween season.

Am I cured after exposing myself to clowns? I don’t really know. I clearly survived and only felt a panic attack coming on once, during a particular scene (you’ll know when you see it). The story, the way the young actors brought their characters to life (now I’m more afraid of teen psychopaths like Henry Bowers existing), and the cinematography were so good that the movie ended up having much more to offer than just a freaky-ass clown.

Also, it helps that Bill Skarsgård is kind of attractive in real life, so I don’t know how to feel anymore (and apparently, I’m not the only one).

Bill2
THIS is Pennywise?? My body is confused.

Unspecified Gourd Bread

It’s time to reveal the naked truth lurking behind the mask of … pumpkin puree.

It turns out that canned pumpkin is not actually made of pumpkin at all! It’s a mix of various other winter squashes. Even if it says “100% Pure Pumpkin” on the label (and I’m glaring at you, Libby).

FullSizeRender_1

What is the reasoning behind all of this deception? Well, pumpkins are apparently “too stringy” and not sweet enough.

But, in my opinion, this excuse isn’t worth even a pinch of nutmeg. I make pumpkin bread every fall with fresh pie pumpkins, and it’s far more delicious than the version I have to make with canned “pumpkin” during the other parts of the year (when fresh ones aren’t available).

The dearth of our favorite vegetable within the cans bearing its name means that you’re eating butternut-squash pie and your favorite seasonal drink is a Squash Spice Latte. Libby’s, the company that makes about 85% of all canned pumpkin puree, has even created its own proprietary strain of squash that is far more closely related to the butternut than the jack-o-lantern.

I now question the entire world in which we live.

Photo by K.O.

Williams-Sonoma Makes Me Feel Inadequate

Looking through the W-S catalog is a painful experience. Don’t get me wrong; they have great stuff! But their prices make most of their items unattainable, sending me careening down a dark spiral of jealousy, self-criticism, and worthlessness. 😀

Therefore, methinks a gentle ribbing is in order.

Screen Shot 2017-08-11 at 3.58.40 PM
When I saw the $80 price tag, I assumed this stuffed cat would be ginormous–8, maybe 9 feet tall. But no; it’s 5 inches. Basically a Beanie Baby.
screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-11-56-10-am
*Eye roll* … Of COURSE W-S shoppers would name their kids Harper, Mason, and Jayden.
screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-11-58-16-am
First impression: Oooooh–what a cute spooky gingerbread house! And only $12!
screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-11-58-45-am
Second impression: Oh. -_- It’s the size of a marshmallow.
screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-12-06-28-pm
$23.95 for an apple. ONE APPLE!!
Screen Shot 2017-08-11 at 3.47.30 PM
I feel sharp pangs in my solar plexus when I look at this item. I WANT IT! But I can’t justify $70 for a 6-inch mini-cake.
Screen Shot 2017-08-11 at 3.47.54 PM
SO cute, but forces me to make a tough decision: Hmm. Do I dine out, twice, at a nice restaurant … or eat four candy bars?

N.B. Prices don’t include shipping.

OK, OK; in Williams-Sonoma’s defense, there are a few items that even plebs like me can afford, like this neat bottle opener.

Screen Shot 2017-09-09 at 12.46.43 PM

And there are some things that might actually be worth the price tag, like this super-cool haunted house cake pan.

I also discovered that I’m not the only one who enjoys W-S bashing in order to compensate for my insecurities. Check out this guy’s hilariously vitriolic rant.

The Skull

It’s a spooky, rainy night here in Manhattan. The only sounds outside my breezy open window are the storm and cars’ wheels on the wet streets. It’s an excellent evening to read some creepy stories.

Unfortunately I don’t know the name of the artist who painted the image below, but I’ve had it on my desktop for years now. It’s finally found its perfect match in the words of Ray Bradbury (R.I.P.), below.

Screen Shot 2016-03-16 at 11.55.38 PM

“His heart cringed from the fanning motion of ribs like pale spiders crouched and fiddling with their prey.

Drenched with sweat, he lay upon the bed one night while Clarisse was out attending a Red Cross meeting. He tried to gather his wits but only grew more aware of the conflict between his dirty exterior and this beautiful cool clean calciumed thing inside.

His complexion: wasn’t it oily and lined with worry? Observe the flawless, snow-white perfection of the skull.

His nose: wasn’t it too large? Then observe the tiny bones of the skull’s nose before that monstrous nasal cartilage begins forming the lopsided proboscis.

His body: wasn’t it plump? Well, consider the skeleton; slender, svelte, economical of line and contour. Exquisitely carved oriental ivory! Perfect, thin as a white praying mantis!

His eyes: weren’t they protuberant, ordinary, numb-looking?

Be so kind as to note the eye-sockets of the skull; so deep and rounded, somber, quiet pools, all-knowing, eternal. Gaze deep and you never touch the bottom of their dark understanding. All irony, all life, all everything is there in the cupped darkness.

Compare. Compare compare.

He raged for hours. And the skeleton, ever the frail and solemn philosopher, hung quietly inside, saying not a word, suspended like a delicate insect within a chrysalis, waiting and waiting. […]

‘One hundred and fifty pounds,’ he said, the following week to his wife. ‘Do you see how I’ve changed?’

‘For the better,’ said Clarisse. ‘You were always a little plump for your height, darling.’ She stroked his chin. ‘I like your face. It’s so much nicer; the lines of it are so firm and strong now.’

‘They’re not my lines, they’re his, damn him! You mean to say you like him better than you like me?’

‘Him? Who’s ‘him’?’

In the parlor mirror, beyond Clarisse, his skull smiled back at him behind his fleshy grimace of hatred and despair.”

-From “Skeleton,” by R. Bradbury (1943)