Episode 115 – “The New Exhibit”

Several Twilight Zone  episodes feature animated mannequins, dolls,  or puppets.    In “The After Hours”, store mannequins  take turns participating in living among humans.  “The Dummy”  features a ventriloquist’s  life-size “dummy” companion who breaks free of the ventriloquist’s control of its linguistic output and revolts like a rebellious child.  In “Five Characters in Search of an Exit” and “Miniature”, small figures in human form move, speak, think, perceive, and  interact with one another.  While bringing these figures “to life” is unrealistic, since in the real world, a doll is a doll, dolls, wax figures, and statues of human forms serve as catalysts for the imagination, enabling the viewer to imagine a life of the individual represented in plastic, ceramic, wax, or some other medium. Each episode unfolds an imaginative path triggered by some perception of the model.

A doll, a “dummy,” or a wax figure, then, can be a work of art. It can be a representation of an historical individual, an actual or merely possible individual, and it can also represent a role an individual plays, or a kind or type of individual.  Individual toy soldiers represent the class of soldiers, and there are individual toy soldiers representing different types of soldier.

In some episodes, no actual human beings believe that there are animated non-human figures.   (As we noted, ventriloquism is a special case, where the audience suspends disbelief in the dummy’s inability to speak in order to participate in the art form.) In others, the belief that a figure is “alive” is limited to just one person, a person who is at least suspected by others to be mentally ill. This is the case in “Miniature,” “Living Doll,”  and in this episode, where  a display of life-size wax figures of famous murderers, including Jack the Ripper, are introduced to the public by Martin Senescu, a museum employee who leads tours of this group of wax figures who possesses a great deal of knowledge about the individuals immortalized in wax. The figures appear wholly inanimate to everyone other than Senescu.

When one of the viewers of the wax figures is frightened, her companion comforts her: “There is nothing to be afraid of. They are just a lot of wax.” Senescu responds “Perhaps not… Who knows what evil lurks in the heart of the man standing next to you?” This is a reversal of the skeptical argument concerning other minds.  The original argument goes as follows: We know our own minds directly by awareness of our thoughts and sensations. When we look out the window at busy street below, as Descartes described it, it is possible that what we take to be men are really just machines covered in hats and coats. We don’t know that the person next to us has a mind.  The reversal is that we don’t know that a wax figure doesn’t have thoughts or sensations. We can be certain neither of the presence of mind nor its absence in others.

The museum visitor who is frightened and her consoling partner each represent appropriate, though very different, responses to the wax figures. As works of art, the wax figures are created to evoke affective and cognitive responses from their viewers. As representatives of the kind, “serial killer,” they are intended to prompt reflection on serial killers. What, if anything, do they have in common, other than that for which they are famous? Is there any way to tell from their outward appearances, that they are serial killers? This is yet another instance of the problem of other minds.

In contrast, Martin Senescu’s responses to the wax figures reflect his total absorption in the phenomenon of serial killing.  While the imagination of a typical wax museum patrol is stimulated by the visit, Martin’s imagination is overstimulated.   He infers mind where there is only wax covered in clothing. He finds it confusing that he is the only one who really cares about the well-being of the wax figures.  His understanding of serial killers is so complete,  that he ultimately becomes, as he describes it earlier,  “immortalized in wax…remembered as we never will be.”

Further Reading:

Descartes, Rene, Meditations on First Philosophy, Meditation 2.

Russell, Bertrand, (1923), “Analogy”, in Human Knowledge: Its Scope and Limits, London: George Allen and Unwin, 501–505.

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