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 part-time 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.