I admit, before visiting Madame Tussaud’s this past Monday, I’d never heard of the “uncanny valley,” but my friend Colin explained that’s exactly why the place is so damned creepy. Tussaud’s, which insists upon being called an “attraction” rather than a “wax museum,” is in fact, an attraction filled with wax figures. (Some might call that a “wax museum,” but hey.) I had been to Tussaud’s in London about a thousand years ago as a teenager on a family trip, but I didn’t know they’d opened a Hollywood branch until Goldstar was offering “free” (with a $6 service charge) tickets. I bit. I’m always up for free kitsch. And it was well worth the price of admission. (Note, Goldstar’s tickets, as of today, are $9-12.50.)
We took the red line from the very canny San Fernando Valley. Tussaud’s is right next to Grauman’s Theater and, as such, is focused on red carpet wax folk. Joan Rivers greets you at the entrance and everyone from James Dean to Justin Timberlake is hanging around inside. The place is undeniably spooky in a bright lights/big city kind of way. If you’ve seen enough horror movies, the effect is, needless to say, even worse. Tussaud’s figures are just lifelike enough to make you want to shy away from them. There weren’t a lot of visitors when we were there and that made it seem more than a little like Elton John was going to come to life and start chasing us around trying to choke us with a boa.
Welcome to the uncanny valley. The theory has it that people react positively to robots and other fake people (like wax figures) as the robots become more lifelike–until a point where the robots become so lifelike that people become repulsed by them. If you graph the reaction, there is a quick dip at some point–a “valley”–in the positivity of people’s reactions.[As an aside, there surely is a correlative theory that describes the uncanny quality so many Valley denizens themselves possess–the revulsion they inspire as the work they get done renders them less and less lifelike–but that’s material for another post altogether.]
Creepy or not, the place was both more entertaining than I’d anticipated. Admittedly my bar was pretty low; I wasn’t hoping for much aside from an air-conditioned alternative to the ubiquitous Labor Day weenie roasts and pool parties (ew and ew). Maybe if I’d been keening for the visit I would be disappointed, but as it was, it was pretty damn fun. Evidence follows.
The place is totally set up as a Facebooker’s paradise, photo op-wise. If you go, you really should bring a camera and bring goofy friends. As you’ll see by my cruddy iphone pictures, I had the latter but not the former.