Friday, July 17, 2009

Scare crows? Scare me more like!

Why are scarecrows scary? To scare crows I suppose is the obvious answer but there's more than that to it. We were up in Whipsnade earlier in the week and took some photos of some brilliant scarecrows created for the Scarecrow Festival.

While I could appreciate the creativity involved in making the scarecrows, I couldn't help feeling a bit disturbed by them. Some more than others including a rather lascivious looking Postman Pat and a deranged Wizard of Oz scarecrow that makes Worzel Gummidge look like Cary Grant.

I wondered if my feeling of discomfort has something to do with the theory of the Uncanny Valley, something S is very interested in. Posited by Masahiro Mori in 1970 the hypothesis is 'that as a robot is made more humanlike in its appearance and motion, the emotional response from a human being to the robot will become increasingly positive and empathetic, until a point is reached beyond which the response quickly becomes that of strong repulsion. However, as the appearance and motion continue to become less distinguishable from a human being, the emotional response becomes positive once more and approaches human-to-human empathy levels.' (Wikipedia).

The theory is known as the 'uncanny valley' as, plotted on a graph, the transition from empathy to revulsion back to empathy makes a valley shape.

So do scarecrows fit the bill? Well, some of them are disturbingly human like but not enough to allow you to ignore the fact that they are not human and empathise with them in a human-to-human fashion. Scarecrows occupy, with clowns, that uncomfortable territory where humanity is expressed in a grotesque and exaggerated form; 'like' us but in a form that distorts and plays with notions of humanity.

As someone who has always been afraid of clowns, I've never really understood why some people expect children to think them funny and endearing rather than creepy and unpleasant. Equally, while Jon Pertwee was a marvellous, dashing Dr Who, Worzel Gummidge was , quite often, the stuff of nightmares.

Recently the current Dr Who, David Tennant, was seen battling some homicidal scarecrows, although I'd have been happy to be exposed to those if I could have run screeching along a few corridors holding David's hand. There are some compensations! But sadly Dr 'David Tennant' Who was not in evidence in Whipsnade. So with motherly indulgence, I allowed my daughter to use my camera to photograph the scarecrows while I waited in the car. Nothing to do with my plan to hit the accelerator should one of them start walking, of course!

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