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Performing objects and human need for control

by on October 29, 2012

I’ve just been catching up with a few of the recent blogs and as I was reading them, it occurred to me that one of the things that I think has a big part in performing objects and their charm (or lack thereof) is control. 

In terms of the uncanny valley, a lot of the examples that we’ve looked at as falling into the uncanny valley are the type of object that seem to be able to defy the control of humans: for example, robots with more human like characters seem more likely to be able to make decisions for themselves.

When we looked at the Jaquet Droz automata, they were bordering on the uncanny valley, perhaps because of their lifelike appearance. However they weren’t anywhere as near to the valley as some of the other robots we’ve looked at. In my opinion, this has something to do with the fact that we can control the movement of the Jaquet Droz automata. 

Looking at the renaissance gardens and the hydraulic powered gardens at St Germain-en-Laye, it is easy to say they don’t come anywhere near the uncanny valley, could this perhaps be because we know that we control how these objects perform? 

On the opposite end of the scale, those objects that appear to have a life of their own and the ability to make independent choices tend to make people freak out and back away. For example, I’ve been seeing a trailer for a horror film coming out this week (on halloween obv.) called Silent Hill: Revelation. I don’t know what the film is about (I don’t cope well with horror) but from the trailer it appears as though vulnerable female gets over taken by nightmare-ish creatures trying to get her. ( A lot of these creatures resemble toys and objects that have come to life. I think part of the horror of this film is that lack of control over what are meant to be inanimate objects.

Another example of this is, is Derren Brown. His use of hypnosis, sleight of hand and illusions often makes it look like he is able to control other people, or makes it look like objects have a life of their own. In one of his more recent episodes (Derren Brown: Svengali, it’s on 4od if you fancy a watch) he uses an automaton and makes it appear as though this doll is controlling a man who is under hypnosis. It’s all very clever and obviously mind tricks, but I can’t deny that it didn’t massively creep me out. I don’t think anyone likes the idea of human’s being controlled by inanimate objects or them having any control over themselves.

When you google the human for control, you get all sorts of different kinds of links explaining what this need is, why we have it, etc. Perhaps this need for control is why we find certain performing objects charming and others disturbing; we’re all just massive control freaks…


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One Comment
  1. Yes, I agree Jenny. I don’t like the idea that something I don’t fully understand could control me, and I think this is the case for many people. We do not feel comfortable with things we do not understand. For example, some people say that they don’t believe in ghosts because they are actually afraid that there may be something there. By saying they don’t believe, they convince themselves that they are immune to the effects that may come as a result of whatever they are afraid of. I am terrified of hypnotism – not because of the change it can cause to a person, but because of the lack of CONTROL I would have during the procedure.
    So, I agree that control is a very important factor in how performing objects are received.

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