By: Frances Molina
I was tagged in the comments of this video on Facebook by a close and ridiculous friend of mine. I didn’t know what I was expecting.
The video, entitled “Hi, Stranger” begins with eerie ambient noise and a view from behind of an ill-proportioned but pleasantly curvaceous Claymation doll. He (they? It? We’ll go with he) lays supine on a bed of satin sand dunes. He turns to look at you, his face rudimentarily drawn, and he says, almost seductively, “Hi, stranger. It’s been a while. I’ve missed you.”
He seems to recognize that the viewer’s attention may still be snagged on his bubble-butt. To this he replies, “It’s okay – you can look at my butt.” He giggles and the sound is so girlish and pornographic that you are almost compelled to exit your browser and maybe throw out your computer for good measure.
But you stay. Because this is what the void and vortex of the Internet has delivered to you today and you’ll be damned if you’re not a weird and bored millennial who doesn’t eat that shit up.
You watch as he produces a small pine-tree of fire, hovering in the air above the ground before flying off into some unseen ether. He heaves a sigh and confides in you how difficult and tiring it is to make something, to create from nothing.
And then suddenly – the video takes an unexpected turn. Whatever unease you might have felt at the beginning melts away. You settle into the unexpected comfort of his voice and the strange recognition in his gaze and you almost trust this uncanny little figure. Together you pause to look off into the distance at the sunset– a technicolor dream of black and neon planets. He admires you honestly, earnestly, like a longtime lover or friend. As if on command, a pencil and paper flutter down from above and he takes a moment to draw you, to memorize “all your shapes”.
Halfway through the video, I realized that this was one of the most intimate exchanges I’ve had in my short lifetime. But I relaxed into the distress this caused me, allowing my new fleshy friend to calm my nerves with the reassurance that I was wonderful and worthy of love. I could’ve cried if I wasn’t still a little disturbed.
This was precisely the sort of effect Kirsten Lepore intended when she set out to create “Hi, Stranger”. The character itself was adapted from a Post-It note that Lepore swiped (with permission) from the desk of Adventure Time creator Kent Osbourne during their time working together back in 2016. Lepore developed the character along with fellow animator Garrett Davis, who brought him to life with a voice that simultaneously soothes and disturbs. This is not the first of Lepore’s creations to attract serious attention and it certainly won’t be the last.
I don’t know about everyone else, but I sincerely enjoyed this amble down into the Uncanny Valley. I emerged oddly cleansed and empowered, the same way I feel after a long phone call with my mother.
So thank you, sweet and creepy clay man, for your kind heart and your delicious ass.