The Uncanny Valley

In body-snatcher type movies, there’s always one little detail that the aliens or whoever get slightly wrong, which makes our heroine go, “waaaait a minute, something’s not right here.” In some of the poorer-quality movies, it’s very noticeable, like, maybe the guy’s thumb is on backwards or something. In the better class of film, it can be as subtle as a slightly-altered hairline. This is what I’m dealing with now.

Yesterday, we took The Artist Formerly Known as Cletus The Pirate to the dentist to get his tooth [temporarily] fixed. Easy enough! He had a root canal a few weeks ago and so now he has a temporary crown in place of the snaggletooth he’s been sporting for the past two months. It looks… normal?

BUT IT DOESN’T, ACTUALLY. Let me explain.

Are you familiar with the concept of the “uncanny valley?” It’s a term coined in 1970 by a Japanese scientist named Masahiro Mori. It’s how he described his observation that as robots/computers get more life-like and “real” looking, our acceptance of them rises… TO A POINT. There’s an undefinable line which, when crossed, we start to back away slowly. So it really IS a fine line between “cute” and “creepy” as anyone who owns a Cabbage Patch Kid can tell you. Mori noted that as a robot’s looks (and, I guess, behavior?) approached this unseeable borderline, our feelings toward it drop into a valley (see what he did there?) of strangeness and dread and a general feeling of freaked-out-ness.

This does nothing to explain why I feel like that all the time, unless you’re all robots, which would EXPLAIN SO MUCH.

So all of that is to say that now we have this [temporary] tooth replacement and it’s maybe a half-millimeter too short and IT IS FREAKING ME OUT. It’s a tiny, tiny, TINY difference but y’know I’ve been looking at his face for almost 30 years now (we first met in 1993) and while we’re not the fresh-faced weirdos we were in the 90s, I’ve been there for all the changes the years have brought so I’ve had time to get used to them. This is very subtle but also VERY SUDDEN and IT’S SO WEIRD.

To compound the weirdness, I’m a Cute Deaf Lady and rely on reading lips to understand most of what people say so I *have to* look directly at his mouth when he talks. This all seems like some kind of cruel taunt from the universe, which… I probably deserve it but oh my god enough already.

The permanent crown will be installed on December 2nd and it will probably not be exactly “right” and I will have to figure out how to hike through the uncanny valley and come out on the other side. Or maybe I’ll just feel weird about it forever, who knows. He’ll probably wonder why I always seem like I’m just about to laugh but I do that when I’m nervous!

Still, even my not-exactly-right-looking husband is preferable to the toothless wonder I’ve had! And getting this tooth fixed is a HUGE relief to him, too. I know he’s been struggling with handling video calls and whatnot (although, the other day I heard him say “put the video on, you have to see what my tooth looks like!” I assume he was talking to a client or the president of the company or someone equally important. Who knows). One step closer to 100%!

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