The New Creepy

Happy Halloween time.  Let’s discuss something that’s been on my mind for a very long time:  things that are considered creepy.

I first started to pick up on this a couple years ago when I was on a very small kick of enjoying Youtube videos that featured laughing babies, the best of which I think is this one:

I think that most of us would agree, that’s pretty adorable.  However, around the time I first saw this, I had a coworker who deemed it “creepy.”  Granted, she was a bit “off” on most things as I saw them, so I didn’t pay that much mind, but then I saw other things here and there from people who would tend to agree with her.  I saw one person post something similar on Facebook and write, “this is going to give me nightmares!” or something like that, when it was literally the exact same concept as the video up there.  I also saw commenters on this video and others like it on Youtube that shared that opinion.  I tried to find some as an example, but that video now has over 167,000 comments, so I ain’t searching for nuthin!

So that’s kind of odd, right?  As time moved on, I also noticed a small movement in our culture that is starting to see children as a bad thing–as in having them, them being around, etc.  It’s a small movement, but it’s there.

A couple months ago, I went to the going-away party of an old roommate.  I went with my wife and a couple close friends, and only kind of knew one other person that was there (besides my old roommate), so we all had to get through the awkward sitting-in-a-room-with-people-you-don’t-know stage before we started to have some good conversation.  One of the first conversations that started up was the host’s unique brand of wines.  Someone made some comment about Welch’s Grape Juice (it was probably me), and another person responded, “Oh, I turned my back on Welch’s years ago when they started running those creepy commercials.”

I racked my brain for a few seconds, trying to pin down exactly what kind of “creepy commercials” Welch’s ran a few years ago.  The chances are slim that I would have missed them, let me tell you.  My first thought was that they meant something akin to the off-putting series of Skittles commericals out there, now, but I didn’t recall Welch’s ever doing anything similar.

No . . . no, no . . . this person meant the following:

Were you creeped out by that?  If so, why?  Because it’s a smart kid talking?  I can find literally nothing else in it that MIGHT be construed as creepy.  Unless you think it’s weird to see a kid drink something purple . . . but I can’t even really categorize something like that.  So where was this person at that party coming from?  Why would that cute little boy be seen as unsettling to the point that someone would openly denounce any usage of the product being advertised?

Well the horror genre would be where I would start.  From the twins in The Shining to that little girl in The Ring, children are an easy way to evoke terror in a story.  There are a million different angles to take when explaining why this works so well.  The easiest, I think, is to explain that children, to adults, are supposed to represent innocence and being care-free, and therefore we inherently trust them and/or see them as not only harmless, but as something that should bring joy.  To turn that on its head and have a child represent something dangerous, deadly, and evil, is an express ticket to the terror receptors in the brain.  (“Terror receptors,” that’s scientific; write it down).  One could take something of the opposite approach and say that children can be scary to adults because they represent responsibility and change and giving without receiving, but I would strongly disagree.  Damien is not scary to me because he represents the possibility that I’ll be a father someday.  I say anyone taking that stance does not have a fear of possible future children, but instead has hang-ups and hatred towards their own former existence as a child . . . but I digress.

So this concept of using innocence to invoke terror is not that new, and in a vacuum I’d say it’s a pretty effective way to get the desired response.  But I would argue that it’s having dangerous effects on culture in the long run.  Let’s take, for example, clowns.

Clowns are really the go-to source for creepiness, these days.  But once upon a time, clowns represented humor and happiness.  They were fun, and seeing one evoked good feelings.  (Sure, you may meet people that are older than, say, 50 that would argue that “clowns have always been creepy–I hated them as a kid!” but that doesn’t prove anything.  I had a friend years ago whose mom hates birds.  Not in a full-on phobia sense, but in that they are all unsettling to her and give her a case of “the willies” (“The Willies,” also scientific), but would you argue that means all birds are unsettling?)  The usage of clowns in horror stories has the exact same justification as using children in horror stories.  In fact, many people can trace their distrust and uneasiness around clowns back to the movie IT.

Tim Curry, wrecking childhoods one way or another

But so what, right?  We, as a society, don’t really NEED clowns to remain fun and innocent.  They’re fair game.  Except that now clowns are practically synonymous with “scary.”  Innocent clowns are the exception these days, and even then, guys like that first one I have up there are sometimes seen as horrifying or evil.

Now let’s consider dolls.

Just look at that porcelean princess up there.  I guarantee that at least 90% of the people reading this flinched at the sight of that thing.  But look closer.  LOOK AT IT!  What’s off-putting about it, in a strictly objective sense?  Why . . . absolutely nothing!  It’s a semi-realistic representation of a little girl, nothing more.  It’s the kind of craftsmanship that suggests it needs to be handled with gentle hands, but a real little girl would certainly be as welcome to it as would a collector.  So why did many of you consider scrolling the page so that photo is out of sight?  Like clowns, dolls (especially somewhat life-like ones) are used to evoke terror by placing them in settings where you don’t feel safe, and sometimes, like in movies such as Child’s Play or Poltergeist, they become the object of evil themselves.  But ask yourself, “If I find dolls creepy, WHY do I find dolls creepy?  To what can I trace this emotion to understand why I don’t like looking at or being around a toy that 50 years ago would have been treasured by a three-year-old girl?”  Is it because others around you have suggested that they’re creepy?  I have seen those same horror movies, but no one ever told me that dolls in general were supposed to be creepy until I was in my late teens.  So when I stay with my grandparents as an adult, I’m not phased one bit by the dolls my grandma has covering the walls in the room I always stay in . . . but my wife has told me she will NEVER sleep in that room.  And how many of you remember the episode of Seinfeld with the doll that looks like George’s mom?  Huh?  Do you?  Well . . . I can’t find any way to tie that episode in to this post, so I’m just bringing it up and posting this clip because that episode is freaking hilarious.

So again–so what?  Times have changed a bit and who cares if little girls aren’t as attached to realistic dolls of that nature anymore?  The problem, I submit, is that dolls, like clowns, are now synonymous with horror.  While you may have the occasional person who likes to collect such objects, they’re now first and foremost an object to represent terror and evil.  All of this ties back into conversations like I had a couple months ago, where some people are now equating cute kids with feelings of dread as a reflex.  Don’t believe me?  Pop quiz–which of the below do you ultimately find scarier?

Still not convinced?  Fine.  Which of the two videos do you find more likely to give you nightmares tonight?

Exibit A:


or Exibit B:

I rest my case.

It’s disturbing to me how culture is so rapidly eating through its images of innocence.  What will be the next object of our affection that we turn into horror movie fodder, to the point that we no longer look upon them adoringly in real life?  An easy answer might be something like puppies, kittens, or bunnies, but I would suggest that next in line is definitely something of a human nature (though Bunnicula did keep me awake at night years ago).  Perhaps . . . mothers.  Laugh all you want at the idea now, but I don’t doubt for a second that psychos like Andrea Yates or Dena Schlosser will become the real-life basis for more terrifying cinema and literature down the road.  And what happens when that becomes commonplace?  What happens when the common perception of a mother with her children is not one of protection and caring, but one of impending danger and doom for the kids?  Well–it might not actually matter in the end, because the kids are creepy to begin with.


2 responses to “The New Creepy

  1. Great post! I suspect it has something to do with control issues. If one can “decide” what is predicitably scary or creepy, then you can control what you are exposed to and know what to expect. This idea that anything at all, even the most harmless and innocent things, can be terrifying suggests a person has an anxiety disorder of some kind. “I can never know what will scare me next, it could be that doll! Or that little kid!” I mean really, if you think that laughing baby or the grape juice boy is creepy, seek immediate medical attention! LOL. Happy Halloween!

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