Humans have made dolls for thousands of years. From clay figures created by the ancient Egyptians to the Barbie dolls of today, children have treated their dolls with love. But sometimes, dolls become so lifelike that they enter the uncanny valley.
Mori believed Bunraku puppets had passed the valley of negative response
Uncanny dolls have been featured on shows like the Twilight Zone and in movies such as the Chucky series. These dolls come to life, often bringing catastrophe to their unwitting owners. The focus of this section is not dolls that come to life, it is dolls that look so lifelike it is difficult to tell them from humans.
Bunraku puppets are used in Japan in a highly complex form of theater. Dr. Masahiro Mori used these dolls in his original formulation of the Uncanny Valley, believing that they were extremely close to humans and had passed the valley of negative response. Although on close inspection these dolls don't look human, when in a theater the viewer is watching from a distance, and the movements of the dolls are very lifelike.
Their eyes stare blankly forward, and their faces are incapable of any emotion.
The Realdoll is made by Abyss Creations, a name that seems particularly uncanny. The dolls can be moved into different positions, but have no motors or independent movement. Their eyes stare blankly forward, and their faces are incapable of any emotion.
Who buys these unusual female dolls? Someone interested enough to invest several thousand dollars, certainly. A male version of the doll is also available, giving heterosexual women and homosexual men a chance to explore this phenomenon too. HBO's RealSEX recently did an episode about the Realdoll, which shows some happy owners of the dolls. One purchaser was a young woman who bought the doll for her boyfriend, with the intention of using it for group sex.
Are Realdolls disturbing because they look human or because they break taboos that some of us don't want broken?
The lifelike collectible dolls discussed earlier may be uncanny to some, but others find them compelling. The majority of people are exhibit repulsion towards Realdolls in particular because of the purpose they are used for. Yet Real Sex 22 was the rated third most watched show during sweeps week of the year it first aired: clearly, more of us are interested than we're willing to admit. Are Realdolls disturbing simply because they look human or because they break taboos that some of us don't want broken?
Doll collecting is a well-documented phenomenon, and a prospering industry. Some women, like collector Anne R, claim that their dolls are "magical dolls that appear alive." Others say "it's obsessional. These women have a mental problem." Where would you put these dolls in the Uncanny Valley ? Are they human enough that they disgust you? Or do you collect them yourself? These are questions each of us must ask ourselves when confronted with overly lifelike dolls.
According to the Realdoll website, owners of the dolls "include futurists, artists, art collectors, film-makers, scientists, health professionals, housewives -- you name it." They want customers to feel like it is normal to spend thousands of dollars for their product. If you own one, however, you probably shouldn't leave it out for the neighbors to see: there is clearly still a stigma attached to owning an uncannily lifelike doll for purely sexual puposes.
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