I’ve mentioned the uncanny valley in a few other articles of mine. Why? Well, I find the concept really interesting, I suppose. It can explain a lot about human nature, especially when it comes to what horrifies and repels us. So, what is the uncanny valley and what does it have to do with TV?
Let me break this down for you (or you can just watch this clip). Basically, the more human-like we make something, the more we like it. If you give a robot arms and a head, people will find them much more endearing than, say, a toaster. But if you keep making them more and more humanlike, you hit this weird creepy zone where the robot starts to look utterly horrifying. Big Dog is a perfect example, because it moves kinda like two people with a box on their head, but it’s still totally creepy.
I think that’s one of the big problems with Toddlers & Tiaras, but most people don’t really realize that it’s a problem.
There are already a ton of very real and f’d up problems with the show. For one, the people in the show try to turn prepubescent girls into sexual objects. When we see that kind of stuff, it makes us feel — what’s the word for it? — skeezy. Inappropriate. Like that uncle who’s not allowed around family reunions anymore, or those people who get married to giant plastic Barbies.
What I personally think is the most disturbing thing about the show is that the little girls get dolled up so much that they gradually become less and less human looking, so they slowly start to slide down the uncanny valley and start looking creepy.
Let me to refer to an episode of Criminal Minds appropriately titled “Uncanny Valley.” In this episode, some crazy woman kept petite women drugged up and comatose so she could use them as dolls. When my girlfriend and I were watching it, I distinctly remember her shivering and giving one of those, “yeegh,” groans to capture just how weirded out she was.
Spencer Reid seemed like the only one who wasn’t bothered by it.
These girls were clearly human, but their comatose state and doll-like poses made them cease to be human and become only human-like, at which point that built in creepometer started beeping in the back of our minds.
The same thing is going on with Toddlers & Tiaras. The parents try to make these kids look like adults, except that they’re not equipped with the facial features to pull it off, so they just end up looking creepy. I hate to call a little girl who isn’t in a Japanese horror movie creepy, but honestly, which one looks more like a human: this little girl –
or this, an actual robot?
Which of these actually looks more like a real person?
If you hate Toddlers & Tiaras, it’s probably because you’re disgusted by the poor parental choices, spoiled children, and questionable sexuality laced throughout the shows. If there’s something about the show that you just can’t quite place your finger on, it’s probably the uncanny valley reminding you that you’re supposed to be creeped out by this.