Kage Baker much admired sleight of hand. She knew well that people see what they expect to see. The human mind fills in the gaps in what the eye actually reports, and it fills those gaps with what is most familiar – what it has seen before. Almost as often, people see only what they want to see, and all they need is encouragement to choose that favoured outcome.
Working in reverse, this is notoriously why people watching a (carefully doctored) film of an exciting football game or a “crime” in progress completely miss the gorilla strolling through the background. The gorilla was chosen as the most obvious anomaly the researchers could come up with – but their subjects have been asked to pay attention to the game or the crime or at least the foreground, and the unexpected and absurd addition of a gorilla gets routinely edited out by the common-sense brain.
Kage said you could use this technique to hide anything, and the Company would and did.
Right now, the internet is in love with a bit of 1928 footage from the premier of Charlie Chaplin’s The Circus. It appears to show a lady talking on a cell phone. Kage would have adored this footage, and the attendant flap – it’s gorgeous, if inadvertent,sleight of hand, and it perfectly illustrates the phenomena discussed above.
Why did no one ever notice this before, asks the Irish gentleman who found it. Well, until very recently, audiences had no reference for the lady’s actions: it is only now that we automatically interpret her hand-to-ear actions as cell phone use, because only now do we see it everyday. Voila, it’s a cell phone. People saw what they expected to see.
What else could it possibly be, asks everyone who sees it. Well, without some basic research, the answer has been: a time traveling cell phone user! Wow! Partly this has been happening because it’s entertaining; partly because research takes time and is not so amusing; and partly because it’s a lot more interesting to assume the lady is, indeed, a time traveler. People saw what they wanted to see.
I, however, like research, and have a personal interest in proving/disproving time travelers. So my first reaction was to investigate what it could have been, other than a cell phone. It took me about 10 minutes to find an alternative answer – apparently, it took other enterprising research sluts even less time to find the same answer. For several days, the wonks have been posting this information hither and yon on the Net – only today is it being widely heeded.
I guess it wasn’t as entertaining to most people.
I thought it was fascinating, though. What I found (in a very modest Google search) was a retrospective history of hearing aids on the Siemens site, a normal corporate self-aggrandisment, that showed a 1924 hand-held amplifier for a portable hearing aid machine. The promotional photos show the now-familiar hand-to-ear posture we associate with cell phones. The amplifier seems to have work on bone conduction, and to have been attached to a larger unit that could be carried in a purse. It is almost – almost – certainly what the lady in the Chaplin footage is using.
Too bad, so sad, the lady at the preview of Charlie Chaplin’s movie is not a time traveler from the future. No, not from the future … though she is on her way there, to be sure.
She is an operative of Dr. Zeus, of course. And she is indeed being careless with a Section Seventeen violation (thank you for that observation, Kara!), although a case can also be made for her just putting up her hand to shield her eyes or adjust her hat. I’m sure that’s how she explained it to her facilitator. No, that’s all quite ordinary. Most viewers have missed what is really fascinating about this.
She’s a Neanderthal.
The fellow who found the film most unkindly suggested she is a man in drag, but that is just rude. However, observe her short legs and long torso; she is quite robust and even stocky, but does not move like an obese person: no, she walks at a brisk, well-muscled gait. Judging her against the zebra statue and the signs, she is short, although that hilarious hat adds height. Her feet, and even more so her hands, are squared and broad but display an agile grip: Neanderthals had fine hand coordination.
And her face … note the large protuberant nose and the broad cheekbones. The upper orbits of the eyes cannot be seen under the brim of the hat, but they appear quite deeply set above that wide zygomatic arch. The mouth is broad, and the chin – while not actively receding – is slight, appearing to descend at a straight flat angle from the jaw rather than the outward-jutting chin of Homo sapiens sapiens.
No, there is just no doubt about it. This lady is an Operative of Dr. Zeus Inc., of Homo sapiens neanderthalensis stock, and she is strolling the streets of Kage’s home town 36 years before Kage was even born! That’s just incredibly good stuff, Dear Readers. That’s better than an ordinary time traveler with a mere cell phone.
It’s just a matter of knowing what you’re looking at.
Tomorrow: almost Halloween!
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When I saw this story on the internet, I thought of Kage immediatly. A wonderful, wonderful post. Thank you.
Thanks, Kim. I was looking at this frame by frame, trying to get details on the thing in her hand – and suddenly I SAW it. It gave me the shivers, lol.
A Neanderthal! Of course! …Wait, Budu’s troops had a ladies auxiliary too? Uh oh.
Did Kage ever mention what the other section violations were? The only two I can think of are 16 from To the Land Beyond the Sunset and 17 from Angel in the Darkness.
Kara – Remember, the Enforcer’s are deliberate hybrids, only partly Neanderthal. However, there a lot of Neanderthals among the operatives – recall Mendoza’s career counselor as a teenager? It’s just that it gets harder and harder for them to get out among modern humans; depending both on the year ans state of modern humans, and how strongly the individual operative exhibits the “classical” Neanderthal traits. The hyper-muscularity, pronounced brow ridges, enlongated skull, etc., are all less notable in women, anyway.
This lady could obviously pass – at least, bundled up in a coat and a floppy hat, and being plain enough of face and figure to be mistaken for a man in drag …
Ah, yes. Then at the very least she’s in trouble for leaving base. Does this whole internet tizzy over cell phone vs hearing aid prove or disprove Nefer’s remark in Garden of Iden that nobody notices slip ups?
And am I the only one annoyed that the articles all focus on the fact that it might be a man in drag or refer to the woman in gender neutral terms of “them” or “time traveler”? Gods forbid women time travel too!
Kara – I think it proves Nef was right. In the long run, inattention smooths over most temporal slip-ups. Also, women are more successful at being invisible. But I still think it is insulting that the lady was adjudged too homely to be anything but a man – NO ONE looked good in those fashions!
Someewhere, I have a list of various violations – don’t have it committed to memory, though.
I have a photo of Kate in a “cat” costume that Mom made from odd scraps of leopard print material, along with myself as a bunny, and other various siblings in equally odd and varied hand-sewn outfits. We must have been 5 and 6 years old. Very 1950’s. I wish I could attach it here but, alas, I am too tech-challenged. It is also the birthday of our oldest sister, Betty Jean, who was the subject of Kate’s story “So Sweet A Changeling.” It was a tradition in our Mom’s Southern Anglican family to decorate family graves, something she passed on to us, so I am off to decorate BJ’s grave with tiny pumpkins and flowers. Sort of Dia de los Muertos, I guess.
Anne – It’s a good, good tradition. Healthy and comforting. I have a battery operated jack o’lantern sitting on the box of Kage’s ashes on my desk … right besides the lava lamp.