Sunday, October 6, 2013

Cognitive Dissonance and the Turtlekid -- the shocking truth!

I've long been interested in hoaxes, scams, cons, etc.  I find them fascinating, and am always surprised at how many people are willing to fall for them, even when warned by those in the know. Some people want to believe what they believe, even when hard evidence to the contrary is right under their noses.

Recently, a friend sent me a link to this video -- go have a look at it if you'd like. It features a charming young fellow named Zach, age 3, finger painting a surprisingly good picture of one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (we'll refer to that franchise as TMNT from now on to save wear and tear on my fingers and my keyboard). Up front, we're shown a few other adult-quality finger paintings as well, all credited to cute little Zach.

Did you go watch?  Did you buy it? If you did, you shouldn't have -- and I'll walk you through why.

Zach starts finger painting here -- dipping his fingers in the paint, and making a few marks.

He continues. Note the position of his hand -- forefinger extended, middle fingers curled, but knuckles up.

A few dots of paint.

A few more. Again, note the position of the hand - thumb extended, hand bent at wrist, knuckles up. No real sense of a picture yet -- just a few dots on the paper.
(Oops -- sorry about that facebook friend/message alert in the corner!)

And now the fakery begins. In a series of sped up extreme close-ups, a prop (rubber? silicone?) hand on a stick is used by an off-screen adult as a paintbrush to create all the significant elements of the painting.

Note the position of the fingers -- not at all similar to what we see in the actual shots of "Zach" (in quotes, since it's probably not even his name -- he likely being a child actor hired for the day).
No extended thumb, all fingers curled under, hand not bent at the wrist, knuckles not up -- and it NEVER changes in ANY of these extreme close up shots.

Cut to the cute kid. We can see him moving his arms -- but we don't see the paper or what's on it.

More of the same.

Hand on a stick!

More hand on a stick -- note the unchanging finger positions.

Back to the kid -- but again, we see no painting here -- just moving his arms.

The hand on a stick continues to paint. There is a website that has a still frame that claims to show the bottom of the prop hand, and a portion of the stick -- but I've been unable to freeze the specific frame. I'm not convinced it's a legit pic -- even though I am 100% convinced this is indeed a hand on a stick.

Back to Zach's pudgy little real hand dipping into the paint. He's adorable!

And more hand on a  stick!

EXTREME close up! Looking especially fake here. 

It's still going! And still never changing position.

Cut to the cute kid!

Real hand, getting more paint.

Real again -- note the angle of the hand, the position of the fingers. All fingers dipped into the paint.

And the hand on the stick is back -- still in the very same position as always! And only the forefinger seems to be applying paint.

Go hand on a stick, go!

A different angle! Still the same rigid position.

More of the same.

Almost done!

Again with the cute kid -- but we can't see the paper, can we?

Hmm... where's the picture? We see the kid -- but not the painting.

Real hand loading up on paint. The camera moves over, and...


The return of hand on a stick!  It's also the farewell shot for the phony hand. Wave goodbye, as hand on a stick has now left the building.

The cute kid!

What's this? His real hand? Yes! But look how different  the position of his fingers is from that of the hand on a stick...

And note, too, that the painting is now basically done...

And he's now just dabbling paint on a finished picture.

Can't see much here. Head's in the way.

Dabbing more paint on an already (essentially) finished image.

And now Zach holds up the painting to show it off.  Check out the reflective glossy and entirely even surface of what looks to be a laser print of the finished painting. An actual finger painting would not have that sheen -- and wouldn't reflect evenly as this does.

And here's more evidence for the "it's a fake" file.  The video originally led you to the turtlekid site -- now defunct -- which was full of home-made-looking TMNT-related videos, designed to promote and sell TMNT toys and movies and such. Note the 2006 copyright by Playmates. If this were a real video of Zach, made by his dad -- why would the TMNT toy company own it? And if 3 year old Zach was painting like this in 2006, why have we not heard anything of him since?  Where is 10 year old Zach, and why haven't we seen a whole slew of astounding paintings by this kid?

We haven't seen anything more of him, of course, because he's a fiction. The whole video is a fake -- a clever fake, but a fake, nonetheless. If you were fooled by it, that's nothing to be ashamed of -- it's fairly clever -- and film editing can make you believe you're seeing all sorts of things you're really not. Many people, for example, are convinced they see a knife slashing away at the body of Janet Leigh in the famous shower scene from Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho," when there is not a single frame showing any such thing -- only one quick cut of the knife pressed against her skin.  It's all "movie magic," a combination of quick cuts, clever editing and Bernard Hermann's shrieking music adding up to making you think you're seeing something you're not.

The same effect is happening here. If you're not watching with a critical eye, and are unsophisticated regarding art and film editing techniques, well, you just saw a little kid paint a picture that should have been possible only for an adult! If you do know a little about art and film, however, you no doubt caught the many clues that should have led you to question the authenticity of the "3 year old genius." A little bit of investigation and a careful reviewing of the film ought to lead anyone to conclude that there is something fishy here.

And yet, if you read a selection of the more than 17 thousand (!) comments left on the facebook page for this video, you'll see that 90% or more of those posting are convinced they've seen something miraculous. He's gifted!  He's Picasso reincarnated! God has blessed him! Call Ellen!!! (Seriously -- there's always someone suggesting we call Ellen). And these comments are posted despite the fact that every ten or twelve posts there is someone suggesting it is fake -- or even posting a link to several places on the web where the video has been refuted.

Now this is where it gets interesting. Nearly every time someone suggests it is a fake (even with supporting proof) the response ranges from the laughable "don't be a hater" to "it's NOT fake -- I saw him do it!" to outright name calling! I was one of several people refuting this the other day and got called a bastard and a dick for my trouble! It was also suggested that I should trying painting a picture just to see how hard it is. No comment on that.

Now I'm not saying it's impossible for a child to have mysterious, unexplainable artistic talent. Let's consider the UK's Iris Grace Halmshaw -- an autistic 3 year old who paints lovely impressionistic images --  who has been filmed painting -- in an unedited standard speed long shot, showing both her and her canvas very clearly. Evidence seems to point to her being the real deal -- though her painting in the film doesn't quite have the abstract and etherial beauty of those that have been put on the market.  So some question may still exist as to whether she has any help with her work -- but at least the "proof" video plays fair, and isn't full of quick cuts, extreme close ups and sped up film.

I'm just saying that the Turtlekid video is a fake -- and the evidence is so heavily weighted in favor of that conclusion that once it's pointed out, it seems crazy to continue to insist it is real.  And yet that's what I'm seeing happen. Some people just do not want to let go of this, and admit they've been snookered. It has to be real -- it just has to be -- they saw it!

The upshot of this is that I worry about people. How gullible are most folks? This explains, I suppose why there are so many successful con men out there, and why all those emails keep coming from those deposed Nigerian princes who want to deposit a million dollars in my bank account, if only I'd send them five thousand first. 

Barnum said "there's one born every minute," and there's been a lot of money made by carnivals, mediums, psychics and salesmen due to that fact. A slick snake oil salesman can con just about anybody if his pitch and his personality are strong enough -- but why do some people want to believe in the snake oil once they've been shown, without question, that it's bogus?

Is critical thinking nearly dead? Are people just too stubborn and too embarrassed to admit they've been hoodwinked? Is cognitive dissonance such a shock to the system for some that they can't begin to consider that what they believed to be true was wrong? Does admitting you were wrong about one thing suddenly shake the foundation of all your beliefs?

Why, when being lied to, do some people want to defend the lie and attack those who are trying to show them the truth? When and why does telling the truth make you the bad guy in some people's eyes?  I suspect I'll have even more negative responses to this post from those who don't want to admit that Turtlekid is anything other than the miracle they "know" him to be. Copyright 2006 Playmates and all.

The whole thing makes me wonder about how people come to and cling to their beliefs. Makes me wonder about the veracity of eye witness accounts ("But officer, I SAW that kid paint a Ninja Turtle!") Makes me wonder if I couldn't make a whole lot more money selling swamp land and snake oil than I can as an artist. 

The whole thing makes me wonder.

UPDATE Oct 7, 2013:
Someone better at freeze framing video than I caught the frame that clearly shows the truth of the hand on a stick and posted it to the Facebook page today -- much clearer than any previous version I've seen. Thank you Alice Robins! Here's her pic. Proof!


Anonymous said...

Some people will believe anything.

Anonymous said...


Terry Beatty said...

Caps lock stuck?

I'll believe in magic when I see it -- but I refuse to be taken in by a parlor trick -- and a rather obvious parlor trick at that.

Anonymous said...

Well, guess I'm one of the gullible ones.. Feel in foolish.:/

Unknown said...

Don't worry. unless people spend the time to debunk stuff found on the internet we'd all likely believe it all.

Oh and Terry. I myself have paused the very same video and see the stick. This is so sad that they try to fool people into beliving anything

Anonymous said...

Like you, I fit it puzzling that so many people seem to lack a focus on critical thinking. I have to believe they must have the ability, but may lack the initiative or the training to do it? Sorry to get personal here, but every time I'm confronted with these examples, it reloads a life-long spiritual crisis in my life...I want to believe the things I've been taught by my loving family on the creation of the universe, the prophets, Jesus, etc. but my head keeps getting in the way. And every time someone uses the argument of eyewitness accounts, or the sanctity of the Bible, I go back to the question of verifiable evidence and these "TMNT" examples don't help the case for believing. Anyway, it was probably irresponsible of me to use your blog as an anonymous "confession," but it is therapeutic. So thank you, and apologies. Anonymous from Pictland.

Anonymous said...

There ARE children who are prodigies in all arts & sciences. This kid just doesn't happen to be one. I hope humanity doesn't become so cynical, that we stop believing that things like this DO happen and ARE possible. We're not naive and gullible if we believe what we {think} we see. Why shouldn't we? I don't want to live in a world where I have to question everything! I'm an artist and I thought it was real. Should I have known better? Does it really matter? There will always be phonies on the Internet, and there will always be people who debunk them. I just hope we don't become so jaded that we can't see miraculous things when they ARE real. That's the real sadness of this stops us from believing anything is possible & we become suspect of everything and that's how we stop enjoying the beautiful things in life.

Terry Beatty said...

Of course there are prodigies out there -- but they are few and far between. We'll have to agree to disagree on our views, though. I'm skeptical about all "miraculous" claims, and I think it's a healthy attitude. I'm not interested in being one of the "rubes."

Anonymous said...

I believe in miracles and prodigies, but like you I feel they are few and far between. If there were lots of them, then they wouldn't be miracles or prodigies. I've watched artists complete drawings or paintings through the miracle of time lapsed technology, and with the real deal there is no question that it's true, but I think the most obvious part that points to hoax is not really a breakdown of the video (although it is pretty much proof positive, IMHO) but in the fact that there are no other "drawings" or references to this child prodigy (beyond the arguments of its' authenticity). There should have been all kinds of TV media appearances of this kid if it was true, yet there are none. The sad thing is the kid is going to have to live with the fact that he was the brunt of this hoax that was engineered by adults who should have known better.

Anonymous said...

Actually, the kid doesn't add any paint at the end of the video when he puts his hands/fingers on the paper and rubs them around. This action produces no change whatsoever to the image, as it should if any wet paint were involved. The paper and the paint on the boy's hands are both dry at that time.

The only time the boy puts paint to paper is when he makes a green smudge on a blank page early in the video. That application of paint bears no resemblance to the drops that are carefully placed on the page in the subsequent shots where the outlines of the shapes are being established.

Cheers for breaking the rest of it down so I don't have to do all that work to show my friends they've been duped!

Anonymous said...

I am usually very careful and got caught by thi. Didn't even look for a date it was posted. To tell you the truth, I don't care. It's not something that will change the world, it was fun to watch, the fakers were very smart to have pulled it off. I doubt after a few days I'd never even give it another thought, unless of course it airs on Ellen!!! Wait! We don't watch Ellen so I will likely never think about it again. What does it hurt to think a little kid could do this? No one is making money, no rip off, no harm. But hey, we did get a sile imaging it could happen. No worse than watching a magic show if you ask me.

Suzi Campbell said...

Would I call the whole thing *fake*?? - that's pretty strong to be saying it...regardless of the what was on the site -etc etc re TMNT..
And Terry - I too am an artist - and we - as adults - have to remember that kids hold pens/pencils etc very differently. Like I said to a friend...I don't believe the video to be fake - but I do believe he got help with it.. We all need to remember - there are some kids who are genuinely gifted...after all- Mozart was barely 5 when he'd already composed his first few d this kid is just staggering too...

Anyway...I'm with the *this is not completely fake at all* folk... ;)

Terry Beatty said...

Once again, cognitive dissonance rules the day.

“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.”
― Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

Thanks to my pal Eric for the Sagan quote.

woolypear said...

Found your post when I was researching this video because I have a Kids drawing blog ( and wanted to feature this prodigy! Interesting that you mention the reaction from people when debunking this (as demonstrated in comments). I was challenged by someone else similarly when I told a friend who had posted it on FB that it was fake! It was as if I was saying that kids don't have that talent, and that was not my belief at all. If you look at paintings by toddlers, they are often more abstract than this video suggests. I think the hand and eye coordination takes years to develop and you just see improvement in likenesses of children's art as the age and mature. This surely would be a prodigy and that's what made it seem amazing. You took a lot of time to deconstruct the video! (Sorry if this is a dupe post due to technical issues)

Anonymous said...

Ur a dumbass to put ur time and energy in to "disproving" this childs talent. There are plenty of pictures ZOOMED OUT showing him working on his painting and plenty of moments when his fingers were in a different position. You need to watch this again, maybe pick on some one ur own size also.

Terry Beatty said...

And here we are again -- despite clear proof (hand on a stick) and a thorough analysis of the video -- I'm told I'm a "dumbass" and a bully for "picking on" this kid. Sigh.... cognitive dissonance wins again. Care to buy any snake oil today, Anonymous?

Anonymous said...

Yes, cognitive dissonance at it's finest! The same applies to those who believe so strongly in their religion. There is a video of a guy saying that if the bible said 2 plus 2 equals 5, he would not question it, he would believe it, and accept it and then do his best to understand it. The video is not staged and the guy really believes what he is saying. No amount of evidence can convince these people that they have been duped and have been indoctrinated when they were very young into a belief that has many times over, been shown through the logical process of critical reasoning, to be false. Cognitive dissonance was Christopher Hitchens' favorite way of putting it. People's brains really amaze me sometimes.

Unknown said...

So hilarious that some people will still insult you and want to believe this is true, despite everything in your breakdown. Makes me think they didn't even read or look at it at all, just scrolled down here to post how mad they are at you for picking on a poor but very special kid. It would be very funny, if it didn't also make me worry about what other ridiculous things these people are duped into believing.

goprairie said...

oh come on, the iris grace stuff is clearly faked. the paintings they show completed are very different from the stuff in the videos of her actually painting. yes, she paints. but in a way pretty typical of an average kid. i'm guessing that to get a painting for show, they give her a limited number of colors and let her put down some base and then an adult looks at it and finishes it for her. those ones with the lines that kinda look like stems and the round shapes that kinda look like flowers? no way she has the attention span or focus to finish a painting that consistently. she probably used her stamp to accidentally make a few 'flowers' and an adult finished it by making consistent lines and circles on the rest of it. some of the paintings have the hallmark of some sort of resist process, something being put down first and then the painting over is does not muddy up that part. adult intervention. significant adult interventntion to finish those paintings. just the whole idea of the fame thing. this is an adult narcissist looking for attention and glory. the severely autistic kid does not care if she is recognized and never probably will. but the parent is digging the fame. if the parent's motive was helping other autistic people, she'd be involving doctors in discussing how and why certain things are helping. and maybe linking to some autistic charities. all she offers is 'this might not work for every kid' as a disclaimer. this is ALL about the parent making a wave. and if you DARE to question it, you will be blasted and cursed and poo pooed and hunted down even and sent private messages to shame you for daring. this sort of thing annoys me and just harms the people trying to make real progress caring for autistic kids because they have to answer to 'have you tried painting' and the comparison and implied failure for not achieving this fake success. it is wrong, but people suck it up and try to crush anyone trying to be real about it.

Terry Beatty said...

Please note my comments about young Ms. Grace contain plenty of disclaimers. My point was to make a comparison of the film of her painting (no edits, etc.) and the ultra-phony super-edited Turtle Kid film.

Anonymous said...

Another scam is the "Candy Waters Autism Artist" art. The mother paints the colorful designs that they market on Zazzle and PAOM (among others). The videos that they show of the child actually painting are mostly her smearing and making dots, but never the more intricate designs on the merchandise they brand as being hers (like flowers or birds). The videos and photos are highly edited with jump cuts, overdubbed with music so the viewer can't hear Candy being coached or using clicker training like a dog, and "mystery hands" making some feather strokes on the painting at the end. Obviously fake. If you ask a question about the art on their facebook page, the mother deletes your comment and blocks you. Then, the parents will say that you are "harassing a special needs family". They are living off of their kid's disability. It's a disgusting scam. Go check out the Candy Waters Autism Artist page, and then go check out and see the ridiculousness.

Anonymous said...

Even the hand with the stick looks fake. The fingers never move on the fake hand. Once the finger paints dry they have a very dull texture as opposed to a high gloss texture. This fraud hurts all Autism artist where they have to prove they did the art now. Because of this blog as well as the "Candy Waters Autism Artist" scam and the Iris Grace art scam I feel like my own artwork is now in question though I've been painting professionally for years. I'm also an Autistic artist who was non-verbal until around 7 or 8 years old.

Anonymous said...

We get the same song and dance from the mother of Candy Waters, though we, like you, have solid evidence that others did the artwork, not the child. But, Candy's mother has become so vicious with her attacks that she is trying to destroy the livelihoods of others.