Stick men ok but weird hu­manoids too spooky

Don’t let fear of the Orange Elec­tion Guy stop you from vot­ing

The New Zealand Herald - - PUZZLES AND HOROSCOPES - Matt Heath

Does any­one else find the Orange Elec­tion Guy slightly ter­ri­fy­ing? What the hell is he any­way? A bal­loon? A clown? A fruit? He’s been around for eight years now and I can’t get a han­dle on him. A race­less half man with no gen­i­tals, feet or hands. Well, some­times he has hands. They kind of form out of his rounded orange stumps when needed. It’s all very odd. Scares the crap out of my kids.

I re­cently saw Stephen King’s IT at the movies. It’s so good and very creepy. It got me think­ing is our na­tion’s fear of the Orange Elec­tion Guy akin to coul­ro­pho­bia (the fear of clowns)?

The Un­canny Val­ley the­ory may pro­vide the an­swer. It’s a con­cept first iden­ti­fied by Ja­panese ro­bot­ics Pro­fes­sor Masahiro Mori in the early 1970s. In case you don’t al­ready know the Un­canny Val­ley states that “as the ap­pear­ance of a robot is made more hu­man, ob­servers be­come in­creas­ingly pos­i­tive and em­pa­thetic, un­til it reaches a point be­yond which the re­sponse quickly be­comes re­vul­sion”. The val­ley refers to the

rapid dip on the graph from grow­ing em­pa­thy to plung­ing dis­gust.

Pixar un­der­stands the Un­canny Val­ley. That’s why its hu­man char­ac­ters in movies like In­side Out are not too hu­man. They have mas­sive eyes, but­ton noses and big heads. Like homo sapi­ens crossed with koalas and pup­pies.

We can han­dle that. But when an­i­ma­tions get too real like in The Po­lar Ex­press view­ers are re­pulsed and refuse to watch. The movies flop. The the­ory works for clowns too. Clowns are very hu­man-like, but not quite hu­man. So we fear them.

It has been sug­gested that our near hu­man-like creations re­mind us of death. Dead peo­ple look hu­man but not quite right. There may be an evo­lu­tion­ary ad­van­tage in be­ing freaked out by the re­cently de­ceased. What killed them, might kill you.

The other day my co-host on Ra­dio Hau­raki’s Matt and Jerry Break­fast Show suf­fered a mas­sive hand cramp. His stricken claw be­came in­stantly corpse like. I was so grossed out I was forced to hiff a cricket ball at him. If I had sticks and matches I would have burned him alive.

What­ever the rea­son for the Un­canny Val­ley phe­nom­e­non it’s def­i­nitely not the cause of peo­ple’s un­easi­ness with the Orange Elec­tion Guy. He is a very long way from hu­man. Closer to the bal­loon car­ried by Pen­ny­wise from IT than the clown him­self.

In an ex­cel­lent Anna Thomp­son ar­ti­cle last month she asked Karol Wil­czyn­ska, an AUT Univer­sity com­mu­ni­ca­tion de­sign se­nior lec­turer, about Orange Elec­tion Guy. He de­scribed it as “a non-per­son . . . a generic an­i­mated im­age that has no real con­nec­tion to the pop­u­la­tion”.

So maybe Orange Elec­tion Guy cre­ates un­ease in the op­po­site way to the Un­canny Val­ley. For me he is a com­pletely un­hu­man soul­less kind of night­mare. Like the Stay Puft Marsh­mal­low Man who ter­rorised New York in the orig­i­nal Ghost­busters.

Mak­ing things much worse, re­cently the Orange Guy’s voice changed. He’s no longer Lionel Skeg­gins from Short­land Street. What a great voice John Leigh has. So warm. So friendly. Lionel was the only thing keep­ing peo­ple from run­ning from the polls in ter­ror.

I asked Philip Brough, CEO of in­dus­try leader Vinewood Mo­tion Graph­ics, to an­a­lyse Orange Elec­tion Guy from a 3D an­i­ma­tor’s per­spec­tive.

He put it like this: “Matt, as you know, you hired my com­pany to an­i­mate a drunk Orange Elec­tion Guy at a polling booth for your Ra­dio Hau­raki: No Sleep Til Polling Party. We found it very easy to do. It’s a prim­i­tive 3D rig. Rem­i­nis­cent of very early 3D an­i­ma­tion. Ac­tu­ally we felt guilty charg­ing you a whole day for the work. It was so sim­ple. Took a cou­ple of hours. Hope the peo­ple do­ing the real one aren’t charg­ing the gov­ern­ment too much.”

It’s elec­tion day this Saturday. I hope we have a huge turn out.

Every­one should vote. But if we do get good numbers, I be­lieve it will be de­spite the ef­forts of this evil amor­phous Orange Elec­tion Guy. Don’t let that non-hu­man and his part­time hands keep you away.

This is an im­por­tant day, so be brave. Be strong.

Just keep say­ing to your­self: “He is not real, he can’t hurt me, he can’t stop me.” Then get down there and vote. You’ll be fine.

Orange Elec­tion Guy is meant to be friendly and help­ful — but I find him down­right creepy.

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