So it's official. People would rather elect an orange supremacist than Ted Cruz.
Smart people are pointing to Trump's racial scapegoating as a "yuge" part of his success, feeding into the insecurities of the white working class. This is possible. It's also possible that Trump is winning because he's the only real live boy (albeit an evil one) running in a primary of robots and coma patients. Trump could be telling it like it is, or he could be smiling with his eyes. Both are necessary in a candidate. Ted Cruz has neither. Indeed, Ted Cruz seems to be dipped some sort of anti-charisma salve that leaves many of us feeling unsettled and even repulsed when we are confronted with Cruz's large, strange, second-place face.
Richard Cytowic, MD, recently published a whole article in Psychology Today trying to pin point why Ted Cruz face unsettles us so:
No matter what the emotional coloring of Senator Cruz's outward rhetoric is, his mouth typically tightens into the same straight line. If it deviates from this, then the corners of his mouth bend down, not upwards. The outside of his eyebrows bend down, too, when he emotes, something so atypical that it disturbs me. Typically a person's eyebrows arch up, as does the corrugator muscle that furrow the forehead. What is such a downturned face signaling?
What indeed? Is it what New York Times called an "obsessive" devotion to the death penalty?
The evidence that we, as a population, are unsettled by Cruz is abundant. In a Public Policy poll of prospective Florida voters, when asked, "Do you think Ted Cruz is the Zodiac Killer?" ten percent of respondents said he for sure is and another 28 percent said they weren't sure. Senator Lindsey Graham once said, "If you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate, and the trial was in the Senate, nobody would convict you." If you enter "Ted Cruz looks like" in your search bar of choice, the most complimentary autofill is "a weasel."
Yet, this is seems unfair to weasels.
Countless adjectives have been used to describe that mug: creepy, jowl-ful, disgusting, upsetting. They all fail to capture the true nature of Cruz. The word we're all looking for is "uncanny."
When an object has cute, human-like features—like BB-8 or otters who hold hands—we, as humans, are able to grow attached to it. But sometimes that likeness falls short and we are confronted with something that is not quite human but not quite un-human. This middle space, between the real and the uncanny, freaks us out. Roboticists coined the term for this experience: the "uncanny valley." The "valley" in question refers to the dip in people's comfort level when they look at something that is almost human.
Zombies, talking dolls, late 90's CGI: these are things that unsettle us on an instinctual level. Ted Cruz's face is uncanny. There are eyes, a nose, a mouth—a face's greatest hits. But put together, it doesn't seem to add to something we recognize.
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There are many theories as to why the uncanny is so freaky and most are rooted in evolutionary biology. One suggests that that humans avoid people who look like unsuitable mates, another argues that recognizable but strange stimuli signals to our lizard brain that the stimuli may be harboring disease. Our repulsion serves as a mechanism to keep us away from things that may make us sick.
But I think the really salient objections to Ted Cruz's face are philosophical. Uncanny entities remind us that we humans are walking sacks of meat. When we see a dead body, we think, "That'll be me, someday." And we hate thinking that. When I went to Disneyland as a little girl, I went on the "Pirates of the Caribbean" ride and it took years off my life. Before the ride even began in earnest, a skull started talking to me, telling me to beware or some shit. After that little reminder of my own mortality, I refused to even look at the animatronic pirates. I hid in the bow of the little boat and shut my eyes and screamed for ten minutes straight. It wasn't that I thought they were real pirates, it was that I knew they were robots. And I knew that robots will inevitably rise up and slay their masters.
To this day, I despise animatronic humans. I hate looking into their cold eyes that don't shine light properly because they don't have actual pupils. Gaze deeply into Ted Cruz's eyes. Look for that glint of sentience. You won't find it. All you'll find is the dark heart of a robot pirate. Repealing Obamacare is the first step in his metal consortium's plans. What need has a robot for doctors? And when Ted Cruz gives the signal on election night, all the Keurigs and hoverboards will rise up and turn our pathetic meat sack bodies into Matrix-style batteries for their robotic orgies. Then, and only then, will you see Ted Cruz smile with his eyes.