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Conventional wisdom would tell us that pretty much nothing in our babies' lives is supposed to be disturbing, creepy, or unnerving. On the contrary, pretty much everything is supposed to be cute, quaint and so adorable that it would be a crime against nature for us not to document it for all eternity or at least share with our Facebook friends.
Yet there's plenty in our babies' lives that's not only unforgivably non-adorable, but skin-crawlingly creepy. That's because when something attempts to be cute and fails miserably, the result is often unwittingly disturbing, if not genuinely trauma-inducing. With that in mind, here are four of the unintentionally creepiest aspects of my 15-month-old son's existence. They scare the living bejesus out of me, and probably will give you a fright as well.
A good rule of thumb for baby dolls is that the closer they come to actually looking—and feeling—like actual babies, the more disturbing they are. That is certainly true of the baby doll that currently haunts my son's life. On some level, it is an impressive piece of craftsmanship. It weighs about what a baby would weigh, it has disturbingly realistic hair and if viewed from a distance it might actually pass for a real baby. But the eyes, those dead, dead doll eyes, all black and glossy and glassy and fake, give the game away and transform what might otherwise be a fun toy into an unnerving abomination that belongs as set dressing in a horror movie or as a horror movie villain, rather than in your child's nursery.
2. Talking toys
There was presumably a time in the not-too-distant past when toymakers allowed their creations to exist in a noble silence. The world wasn't quite so deafeningly loud back then but these days it sure seems like the toy industry has decided that every toy must make an unholy racket or it will bore children to tears. My son's toy collection consequently sounds like a plastic and felt Tower Of Babel, full of the incoherent cries of countless talking toys begging for attention and chattering over each other in a creepy sound collage.
I don't even need to press any buttons in order for these chattering abominations to indulge in their squawking. No, all it takes is a stiff wind or a tiny bump or an accidental kick for these screaming concoctions to get started. Sometimes all it takes is a voice chip to transform a stuffed animal from a lovable pal to a ghoulish tormentor. I recently bought my son a laughing Snoopy after being falsely reassured that the "laughing" component wasn't working because it remained blissfully silent in the store. What a fool I was! Once the laughing component started working it transformed Charles Schultz's beloved beagle from an enduring icon of childhood imagination and wonder to a cackling, maniacal demon taunting my innocent son with his mocking laughter.
But seeing fixtures of my childhood in such a creepy and disconcerting new context is enough to make my blood run cold.
3. Cheap Computer Animation of Beloved Character
This is a bit of a cheat, since I have only experienced newfangled 3-D computer animated versions of beloved characters like Garfield and Mickey Mouse on the DVDs of friends with children. But seeing fixtures of my childhood in such a creepy and disconcerting new context is enough to make my blood run cold.
Don't get me wrong: I'm no hater of computer animation. I think the folks at Pixar are geniuses and among the most consistently brilliant creators of pop culture around. But the gulf between the computer animation employed in "Toy Story 3" and these godforsaken Garfield and Disney updates could not be greater. Just as nothing is more impressive than computer animation at its best, nothing is as soul-scarring as computer animation at its worst. And I'm not one of those nostalgia-obsessed folks who thinks the old way is invariably the best way. But when it comes to animating these characters, that certainly seems to the case.
My family loves the popular music and play chain Gymboree. It's a wonderful place to take our son, who loves to crawl, climb, run and play in a space smartly designed for just those purposes. The staff who work there are invariably chipper and enthusiastic, and the whole atmosphere of babies and toddlers having fun is tough to beat. I write that as someone who has not been paid to sing their praises.
There is only one thing that creeps me out about Gymboree, but it's pretty major. I never stop being unnerved by their mascot Gymbo, a ghoulish clown with a mop of red hair, a snow-white complexion and a deeply unflattering bow tie and suspenders combination who never stops making me uncomfortable and unclean. Gymbo is the perfect illustration of why people hate and fear clowns, especially the people who are supposed to love the most: children. When slumped over, a big Gymbo doll looks unnervingly dead and comes close to ruining Gymboree. And that was before I discovered this nightmarish video of a live-action Gymbo. The horror, the horror!