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...


Edit!


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!