Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Lessons of Clowns and Fairy Tales

Clowns. Yes, clowns. Those supposedly adorable things that everyone was secretly terrified of as children.

Psychologists say people are terrified of clowns for a few reasons. The first off? Big feet and hands, hair and noses. Giant baggy pants? It's like a blowfish, puffing itself to look... what's that word... oh year SCARIER.

The second is the facepaint. See the thing about the facepaint is it further distorts the proportions of the body. The paint around the eyes, the giant mouth that grins. The other thing is that the face underneath the paint doesn't necessarily match up. The face underneath the paint could be enraged but that dumbass clown would still look like he's wearing a shit-eating grin.

These two qualities, the outsized proportions and the way the facial expressions don't necessarily match up place clowns *quite* firmly in the Uncanny Valley. We interpret them as human-seeming, rather than human. Which in children, translates to a monster that looks like a person. Pennywise the Clown (of Stephen King's IT) is of course the quintessential example (though Ronald McDonald isn't too far behind (the creeper).

The other thing children have going for them is fairy tales. There's a lot of really important lessons you learn in fairy tales. And people seem to forget them as they grow up. Let's take a look at some of my favourites.

Hansel and Gretel: At first inspection, the story of Hansel and Gretel is intended to teach you that: A. Stepmothers are EVIL; and B. Don't talk to strangers. That's the lesson an adult would find in it. Look a little deeper, and there are two different lessons.
1. The woods are dangerous.
2. Stay together.

Little Red Riding Hood: Once again, at first inspection Red Riding Hood tells us to A. Listen to your elders; and B. Don't talk to strangers. Again very adult lessons. The second one is still important, but lets look at the other two.
1. The woods are dangerous.
2. Monsters can look like people.

Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White (the disney version at least, the character's name was stolen from another fairy tale). If the story has woods in it, odds are the woods are where bad things live. Fairy tales tell us that the woods are dangerous. Witches and wolves and beasties of all shapes and sizes live there. Some of them even look like us. But we've forgotten the lessons of fairy tales, haven't we. We thought we'd tamed the trees and the forest had no more surprises. How wrong were we?

So Nemo! What does this have to do with anything.
It has to do with Tall, Suited and Faceless. What do we know about him?
Much like a clown, he's right in the uncanny valley. Even the people who don't know what they're dealing with say he's impossibly tall. That should be the first hint. Also like a clown, his expressions don't necessarily match his intent. Trim and Slim has been described as looking like he wants to give you a hug.

Forests belong to him. He lives in the trees.
He's a monster that looks, vaguely, like a person.

If, as some claim, trim and slim is old and germanic? Then maybe we should start changing the morals of our tales. After all, Hansel and Gretel are german first and foremost. Perhaps the brothers grimm meant to educate about a certain tall, dark stranger, rather than step mothers.
The Gospel according to M has his three rules for Runners. Get up high, keep moving, keep your eyes open.
Rules in sets of three invariably bring me to Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics. In Asimov's case, a very clever robot devised what he called the "Zeroeth Law". A law that superseded all others by virtue of primacy. A robot may not harm the human race or through inaction allow the human race to come to harm.
Let me add a Zeroeth Rule for the Slenderstalked. I'm sure you're all familiar with it, but make this a reminder.

He lives in the trees.


1 comment:

  1. ... heh.
    Not always an option.

    It's almost ironic. We've got a whole generation who prescribed the Core Theory as good and proper medicine, and what does that entail?

    A hero's journey, and, by extension, the journey to the belly of the beast.

    Only difference is, they had no deux-ex, had no fairy-tale logic to save them.

    Most of them are dead now.

    So it goes.