Thursday, June 24, 2010

Uncanny valley and botox

The other day, my wife, sister-in-law and I were talking about plastic surgery and how unreal a lot of people are beginning to look because of botox and the like. We discussed how that unreality kind of inspires an unconscious revulsion in some people – admittedly, this is not a universal reaction, but I would argue there are enough to make the statement valid. Thinking along those lines, I was reminded of the theory of the Uncanny Valley.

Please take a moment to check out the link – it’s a quick read – but, basically, the Uncanny Valley theory deals with robotics and animation. It postulates that when robots and animation look *almost* like humans, it inspires revulsion. TV Tropes has a good section with some practical examples. Thinking in terms of animation, there’s a reason why animators cartoon-up their products. Think about the movie the Polar Express or the CGI in Beowulf – they were both *realistic* but still not quite right. For a lot of people, this was a huge turn off.

Now, to take this a step further and into the realm of plastic surgery, think about stars who have been accused of using botox (or Google). The Wiki Uncanny Valley link has this to say about the phenomenon as it pertains to what they call transhumanism:

According to writer Jamais Cascio, a similar "uncanny valley" effect could show up when humans begin modifying themselves with transhuman enhancements (cf. body modification), which aim to improve the abilities of the human body beyond what would normally be possible, be it eyesight, muscle strength, or cognition.[29] So long as these enhancements remain within a perceived norm of human behavior, a negative reaction is unlikely, but once individuals supplant normal human variety, revulsion can be expected. However, according to this theory, once such technologies gain further distance from human norms, "transhuman" individuals would cease to be judged on human levels and instead be regarded as separate entities altogether (this point is what has been dubbed "posthuman"), and it is here that acceptance would rise once again out of the uncanny valley.[29] Another example comes from "pageant retouching" photos, especially of children, which some[30] find disturbingly doll-like.

The TV Tropes link specifically mentions botox in their categories of where to find examples of the Uncanny Valley:

Botox (or any plastic surgery disasters for that matter) tends to send a real flesh and blood person sliding into the Uncanny Valley. Examples: Dolly Parton, Joan Rivers, Dr. Frederick Brandt (who is a client to his own products).
- Collagen injections make some vict... er, patients have faces bloated like someone with a shellfish allergy at an all-you-can-eat shrimp bar.
- You've seen nothing. Say "Hi" to Marijke Helwegen, a walking advertisement for plastic surgery.

All this to basically say that I’m fascinated by all of this. It makes perfect sense to me and it explains exactly why you can look at a photo of a recently botoxed film or TV star and think they look great, but feel quite put off when you see a video of them. Because that’s another part of the theory – the uneasiness is far more extreme in motion than in stills.

Again, I’m not really going anywhere with this. Just thought it was interesting.

3 comments:

祁禾 said...
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Crotalus said...

I've heard about this tangentially, but didn't encounter a direct reference to it until I watched the extra material for 'Avatar'. James Cameron was talking about the valley and trying to make sure that the animators got the Navii beyond it so that empathy would arise instead of revulsion. Interesting stuff. Also makes me think of 'Westworld' and how that movie used it to create the creepiness that ensued. Plus, Yule Brenner was just strange looking anyways.

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