Number 12 Looks Suspiciously Familiar

Most of you may already know that a Twilight Zone episode from 1964 is an early example of the dystopia presented in Uglies. It’s called “Number 12 Looks Just Like Me,” and is based on a short story by Charles Beaumont called “The Beautiful People.” Some enterprising soul has posted the entire thing to YouTube.


The poster has set the video to not embed, but click below to watch the three parts:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Until last night, I hadn’t seen this gem since I was a little kid, so I’d forgotten all the details. Especially the phrase “pure perfection of pigmentation” (appearing 15 seconds into part 2), which is particularly creepy given how white everyone in the episode is. (Despite what the US covers for Uglies suggest, in Tally’s world everyone is racially averaged, or at least pushed toward the middle of the bell curve.) Note also the disturbing moment when the protag’s mother says to her braindeadmaid, “I don’t understand why you people have so much trouble with first names.” Hmm.

I’d also forgotten that in “Number 12” people look so much alike that they need name tags (obviously not the case in Tally’s world—my future is bell curvy, not cookie cutter). Here the facial choices are so limited that all fourteen characters are played by four actors. And what is it about the extreme minimalism of sf sets? Get some frickin’ posters for your walls, future people!

And some, um, better clothes.

Of course, compulsory plastic surgery is a venerable theme in sf. Not surprising, given that the first elective nose job occurred about a century ago, about the same time as H.G. Wells was writing War of the Worlds. (Fun fact: the earliest known skin grafts were performed in India 2800 years ago!) Other early fictional examples of compulsory cosmetic/brain surgery include L.P. Hartley’s 1960 story Facial Justice, Kurt Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron” (1961), and of course Ira Levin’s Stepford Wives (book: 1972; films: 1975, 2004).

But it’s great to see this classic again. Thank you, anonymous copyright-flouting YouTube user!

(And look! The episode’s Wikipedia page mentions Uglies!)

YouTube Extravaganza

Yes, I may be in Thailand, but I’m working terribly, terribly hard on my next book.

No, really. So it wasn’t me who found these videos on YouTube, I swear. I’m working way too hard.

But here they are:

This video for So Yesterday has lots of cool split-screen energy.

And a smooth one for Midnighters. Check out the casting.

And this one, although it’s not really about Uglies, does give you some idea how much work goes into making people in magazine ads into pretties. (In some ways, Photoshopping inspired the trilogy more than cosmetic surgery.)

And here’s another really creepy one about extreme retouching. A must watch. It’s like the operation unfolding before your eyes.

And finally, I mentioned this excellent video review of Uglies in a previous post, but include it here for completeness.

Can you guys find any more? (One link per post, please, or my spam filter has a whole bag of zap with your name on it!)

Retouched Pretties

Since writing Uglies, I’ve been asked a lot whether I think it’s dangerous for kids to be exposed to so many images of beautiful celebrities. Well, yes, comparing your own body and face to “perfect” celebs leads to unrealistic expectations. But what most people don’t realize is how unrealistic these images are, because of this one important fact:

Celebrities aren’t as pretty as we think we are. Their flawless skin, gorgeous bone structure, and radiant faces are mostly the result of technology. No, not futuristic cosmetic surgery: Photoshop.

Here’s a great example from a Swedish site called G!irlpower:

The image on the left is the original photo; the one on the right shows it after typical magazine retouching.

Click here for the entire experience, which allows you to zoom in on all of the parts of the girl before and after the retouching.

But one word of warning: Don’t start thinking that this girl was in any way “ugly” before the retouching. She’s actually quite cute. And frankly, I think the original image is much more attractive and more human, less false and exaggerated. It’s only “ugly” if your eye gets calibrated to accept only flawless skin. (And blue eyes and blond hair . . . hmmm.)

It’s not just magazines that retouch people—films do it too. My sister-in-law does visual effects for Hollywood movies (like King Kong). And believe me, for every hour she spends making sure Naomi Watts and Kong have the same lighting, she’s spent ten getting rid of certain stars’ zits and pores and wrinkles.

For more retouching examples from magazines, check out Model 1 and Model 2. These examples will show you why photographs of you don’t look like photos of models in magazines. Because you don’t spend 20 hours Photoshopping your own image.

And really, why would you want to?

I got the G!rlpower link from E. Lockhart, via Justine, and the last two links from Boing Boing.

Pretties is OUT!

A trip to my local Barnes & Noble today reveals that PRETTIES IS OUT! On the local favorites table, there was a stack of ten, right between Eragon and Sisterhood of the Unwashed Pants.

And I also hear that Amazon is shipping them right now.
Excellent . . .

And now as part of Pretties Week, a quick note on fun with facial symmetry.

In Uglies, there’s a scene in which Tally and Shay choose which side of their faces is prettier, and use that side to base their future pretty-face on.

You see, everyone’s face has two different sides, but the pretties in my world have perfectly symmetrical features. So the two sides are exactly the same. Scientists think that symmetrical faces are more attractive (to most people) because major differences between the left and right half of your face can result from malnutrition and other developmental problems. Attraction to symmetrical faces is evolution’s way of steering you toward well developed mates.

But it’s really fun to see what you’d look like with symmetrical features. Take a picture of yourself, then take one side and flip it over. However, as the result above shows, you have to get a good, straight-on photo. And as these pictures from a Regents Exam Facial Symmetry activity page show, make sure NOT to tilt your head when taking facial symmetry photos!

Because this:

can turn into this:

Which is not a good look.

The Future of Pretty 2

Get ready for some scary, fresh from Boing Boing.

My book Uglies is set in a future in which readily available cosmetic surgery has lead to an “arms race” of attractiveness. Everyone is forced to have huge eyes, super-clear skin, full lips, and all the other signs of neotony that evolution (supposedly) makes us look for when choosing a mate.

But what never occured to me until today is that you don’t need a lot of surgical technology to create this dystopia. All you need is . . . Photoshop.

Behold the world of Angels with Attitude:

From the contest rules:
These photos will be judged on facial beauty, expression & fashion, and overall appeal . . . but should not be extremely or overly retouched. (We are judging the child – not the retoucher!) Overall Winner will receive 50.00 Angel Dollars.

“Angel dollars?” you make ask.

Well, “angel dollars” are just like real dollars, except you can only spend them to enter certain teen and pre-teen beauty contests. These contests are run by the same people who run this “not overly retouched” photo contest. It all fits hand in glove, from digital camera to computer screen to real-life angelic beauty smackdown.

By “angelic,” interestingly, these folks seem to using the same criteria as my Uglies dystopians: creepily huge eyes, clear skin, full lips. But what’s amazing to me about these photos (go gaze at them, if you dare) is that they show how a small group of people can go into a feedback loop and wind up off their collective rockers. This site is not a satire. Nor is this one. This is nothing less than an honestly held aesthetic about what human children should look like.

Can you imagine what will happen when cheap cosmetic surgery is safe and reversible enough for little kids? These won’t just be photos anymore.

Of course, maybe “angelic” is the right word. I mean, angels in the Christian Bible were actually terrible to look upon, right? (Jud 13:6, anyone?) But the word that comes to my mind when I look at these pictures isn’t “terrible.”

It’s more like . . . “eww.”

The Future of Pretty

The New York Times had an article today about how high-definition TV makes it harder for celebs to hide wrinkles and skin conditions. It contains the quote: “Celebrities are considered attractive at least in part because they’re suited to the technology of the age.”

Too true. Why should looks be any different from talent? After all, we don’t imagine Bill Gates amassing atonishing wealth if he’d been born back in the 12th century, or someone with Michael Jordan’s talents becoming a famous athlete in cricket-mad India. (I’ve seen him try to bat, after all.)

In Hollywood, the era of black and white had its high-cheekboned ice queens, and the current era of small screen rental seems to favor exaggerated features. Some of today’s beauties in HD may well look as bad as Jordan did swinging a bat.

But I’m not here to talk about anyone’s bad skin. What’s interesting to me is, what kind of pretties will emerge from the HD era? And how will that go on to affect our society’s ideas about beauty?

The Times article quotes a make-up artist who works in HD. She says the medium favors stars like Halle Berry, with her flawless skin. (The article also says that plastic surgery is problematic, leaving seams and ridges that the camera will capture and emphasize.)

Of course, TV will eventually do what movies do, and use CGI Vaseline to blur away every imperfection. (And eventually plastic surgery will become undetectible; the market will demand that it does.) But at some point in the race between digital fidelity and digital deception, I predict we’ll get a wave of movie stars with really amazing skin. Stars that won’t have to be fuzzed out to look good on HD. Stars that seem to glow on screen.

And when that happens, even people who don’t have to be on TV will emulate the celebs of the moment. And we will all obsess a little bit more than we already do over every zit.

Those of you who’ve read Uglies may remember that the pretty operation gives you perfect skin. As a marker of lifelong good health, clear skin is one of those things that evolution selects for. It seems to make people react positively, no matter what society we’re born into, like symmetry (mirror features) and neotony (big lips and eyes). But the images in our culture influence us to obsess over some factors more than others. Sometimes it’s neotony, sometimes symmetry.

So maybe the era of perfect skin is upon us.

Of course, when everyone has it, all that smooth skin may start to look really creepy . . .