Viking Call

Upper Merion High's Student Newspaper


The Mundane Horror of the Literal Uncanny Valley

Pennsylvania: translated literally, it means “Penn’s Woods” (Wesser). Yet all that remains
of them is a skeleton of dirt trails and tree stumps, continually replaced with ornamental fruit
trees and recycled tire-based pavement. Where nature was once in control, any fraction of
wilderness is now confined to Valley Forge or small groves of trees beside the highway.
Admittedly, there are a number of frightening things in this world. People are aware of their
phobias and of their worst nightmares. However, lurking just below our cognizance, there are
few things I find more disturbing than a literal uncanny valley.
This summer, I had the privilege of visiting Mount Vernon, the Virginia home of
America’s first president. Driving up to the estate, the suburban community surrounding the
gravel parking lot could not have prepared me for the staggering view across the Potomac. There
I learned that the non-profit maintaining Mount Vernon had worked with the federal government
to preserve the exact view that Washington would have seen when he stepped out onto his porch
three hundred years ago (“A History of Preservation”). Having lived all my life here in King of
Prussia, where housing developments spring up like weeds in a garden, I hadn’t even been able
to fathom the idea of untouched, unaffected nature. Standing on the hill of Mount Vernon was
exhilarating– gone was the provisional feeling of liminal suburbia, replaced with miles of deep
blues and greens that defied the man-made boundaries between river, land, and sky.
Now, the autumn afternoon light casts a scathing glow onto the Pennsylvania suburbs. I
sometimes feel as if I’m trapped in a very specific scene in A Wrinkle in Time, on the planet of
Camazotz where the grass is too green and every action is slightly too precise. This kind of
mundane horror is effective because it is so realistic. Neat white picket fences separate the
normal and expected from the natural, creating an eerie effect as the forests and meadows of
“Penn’s Woods” give way to modern Pennsylvania. Frankly, there is nothing more dystopian
than a rural landscape, carefully parceled out into geometric plots of manicured lawns and farms.
Here, the valley becomes its most uncanny, at the intersection of infinite rolling hills and neatly
aligned cornfields.
Victor Frankenstein tried to take pieces of something beautiful and craft something better.
Instead, the result was a monster so horrifying and misconstrued that his life was fundamentally
changed for the worse. Human interference with nature, however unknowingly, is bound to be a
mistake. There will be a certain point where the artifice is irreversible, and it will become all we
have ever known. Someday, we will have replaced enough nature to destroy all of its soul. And
someday, we will look out the window of an airplane and see nothing but a Frankenstein of
arsenic green squares.



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