Kat Eschner's newsletter about animal-human relationships, Vol. 4 Iss. 6
|Dec 22, 2019|
This week’s issue of CREATURE FEATURE is brought to you by the uncanny valley.
One time I wrote an entire story off a dumb one-liner I remembered from being a kid. In 2017’s How the Nauga and its fictional friends helped make synthetic fabric cuddly, I explored how making synthetic naugahyde seem more animalistic by inventing a fictional creature whose skin it was enabled its makers to popularize the new material. Of course, some wiseacre had to come along and yell “Save the Naugas!” Today, the makers of Naugahyde (and Nauga dolls, which you can still purchase) are trying to capitalize on the vegan leather trend.
Naugas, like the cats from CATS (2019) are aping other beings. But in the case of CATS (2019) it’s unsettling, while in the case of the Naugas it’s kind of dumb and cute. To figure this out I went back to the translated text of the 1970 Japanese essay that gave us the idea of the uncanny valley. It’s a weird read but not as weird as I expected, maybe because its premise has been around longer than I have.
My basic answer: Naugas don’t move, and beings that look like other beings need to move in order to be truly creepy; Naugas don’t look like any specific animal, so there’s nothing to weigh them against; a musical about singing cats picking which one of them is going to die, based on the work of the same person who wrote The Wasteland, was and is always going to be creepy.
I saw CATS (2019) on Friday and it was dissappointingly fine. Sure the cats in their (admittedly, CGI) catsuits were weird, and the plot is bizarre, and the singing and dancing is fey at best. But I don’t know what all the fuss is about, because the same things would hold true of any stage production. The plot (such as it was) held together and some of the dancing and singing was pretty good. The thing that would have been terrible is if the cats, out of some strange notion of verisimilitude, had buttholes. Nobody needs to see that.
Image: A crowd of actors in full and uncanny CGI cat getup stand in cobbled streets. (Credit: Universal Pictures, still from trailer)
Short-ish or newsy things I read this week:
Top scientists warn of Amazon ‘tipping point’ (The Washington Post, Chris Mooney & Brad Dennis)
‘I’ve seen it 703 times!’: Cats superfans on the show’s magical appeal – and the new movie (The Guardian, Sirin Kale)
Foiled Lobster Truck Heist in Charlestown “Was a Very Boston Experience for Everyone Involved” (Boston Magazine, Spencer Buell)
Google AI tool helps conservationists (and the public) track wildlife (Engadget, Jon Fingas)
Longer or more involved things:
Those pigeons wearing cowboy hats? They’re no laughing matter (Audubon, Hannah Waters)
Two new bills would blunt the impact of factory farms on public health and the environment (New Food Economy, H. Claire Brown)
Everything that’s wrong of raccoons (The Toast, Daniel Mallory Ortberg, ca. 2016)
FDA reports major drop in antibiotics for food animals (University of Minnesota, Center for Infectious Disease Research & Policy)
Antibiotic use plummets on farms after ban on using drugs to make livestock grow faster (The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Ben Stockton, Madlen Davies)
In other news, to celebrate CREATURE FEATURE making Lifehacker’s favorite newsletters of 2019 list, subscriptions are on sale through this link! $3.75/month or $37.50 for the year. They make great gifts BUT ALSO support me writing this newsletter. I currently have 10 count ‘em 10 paying subscribers. When I hit 25, I’ll make something weird and questionable and fun for you all.
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All images in CREATURE FEATURE are used under Creative Commons licensing. Efforts have been made to ensure that photographs of living animals or natural scenes have been taken ethically, in responsible pet ownership conditions, at AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums or under safe, non-damaging conditions in the wild. If you see an issue with any image we share, please notify me.