Scary Monsters IX – Live From Hollywood!

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!