Doppelgangers, Bronies, And The Perils Of Google Image Search
(DISCLAIMER: All of the photos below, I pulled off Google. If I have violated your copyright, please let me know.)
You know, I was really going to take the night off.
This NaBloWriMo thing has been great. But after eight days it’s starting to catch up to me—and with this being election week and all, I’m feeling pretty tired. So I was going to sit down, write up something pithy and quick, and call it a day.
The piece I planned to write was going to be about doppelgangers. It would have been inspired by this wonderfully random conversation I overheard between two guys in Joe Van Gogh this afternoon, because there’s nothing so wonderful as randomly-overheard coffee-shop conversations:
GUY 1 (to GUY 2): Hey—do we know each other? You look so familiar.
GUY 2: I don’t think so. But people do tell me I have a doppelganger who lives around here.
GUY 1: Oh. (pause) Are you German or something?
GUY 2: Umm…no. (pause) But I am interested in ghosts.
(This made about as much sense as you think it did.)
But I can write about doppelgangers, no sweat. I don’t know about you, but I’m constantly having the experience of seeing someone, thinking, “Oh! That guy looks exactly like—!” …and then drawing a complete blank and having to wrack my brain for hours, days, months, trying to figure out how that sentence is supposed to end. I’m not the only one who does this, right?
Case in point: it took me half the 2012 campaign and three-quarters of the tennis Grand Slam before I figured out that Paul Ryan and Novak Djokovic were the same guy…
And I’ve never been able to take former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seriously—not so much because of his crazy ideas as because he looks exactly like Ringo Starr…
And all of this was going to lead me to this one little insight that occurred to me on Election Night—namely, that Public Policy Polling director Tom Jensen looks kinda like a young Holden Thorp.
(Which may not mean much to you, but I’d been playing the “oh God, who does he look like?” game with Holden Thorp for years. You have no idea how much of a relief this was.)
But there was just one catch: in order to prove this to you, I had to find one picture each of Tom and Holden. And therein lay the rub—for that led me, blithely and unawares, into the darkest, weirdest corner of the squelchy, icky, moving thing we call the Internet.
Google Image Search.
Google Image Search is where you go to find what mankind’s most popular, accurate, technologically mindblowing algorithmic program thinks is a pixchure of you face. It’s a tad unpredictable, but it’s really useful if you know what you’re looking for.
Trouble is, we don’t always know what we’re looking for.
I did find that great shot of Tom Jensen right away…
But then I discovered something weird: that picture was coming from a celebrity website. Seems there’s a cameraman named Tom Jensen who works in Hollywood, and this site had somehow mistaken a picture of our Tom Jensen for that Tom Jensen. Probably because they relied on Google Image Search.
(Ironically, given how successful PPP was in 2012, our Tom Jensen is probably more famous.)
But they certainly wouldn’t be the only ones who’ve been tripped up by Google. Fox News has been victimized a few times—like when they used a picture of Tina Fey in a story about Sarah Palin, or when they posted a shot of a “traditional” wedding ceremony in an anti-gay marriage op-ed, only to find out it was two women in the picture.
It’s actually really easy to be led astray by Google Image Search if you’re not paying attention.
How far astray?
Well, shoot, now I had to know.
If a search for “Tom Jensen” led me to a Hollywood celebrity photo site—what could I get by searching for, say, “Mark Kleinschmidt”?
(It comes from this blog, incidentally.)
How about “Sammy Slade”?
(You can read about the escapades of “Sam Slade, Robo Hunter” by clicking here.)
In fact you can find yourself going awry pretty quickly by searching just about everyone in town. Searching “Mark Chilton” gives you an international cricket star:
Searching “Roy Williams” gives you either of two pro football players:
And searching “Aaron Nelson” gives you a bunch of people, all of whom look absolutely nothing like the Aaron Nelson we know today:
But it was “Penny Rich” that took the cake:
This is a drawing of “Penny Rich,” an original character created by a California-based brony. (That’s an adult male fan of My Little Pony, if you didn’t know.) What makes it especially uncanny is that this drawing was commissioned from the artist–so on the page itself, it’s actually labeled “Penny Rich—Commish.”
I’m still not entirely convinced this has nothing to do with our County Commissioner. Even the hair isn’t too far off.
But if I was going to spend all this time searching for other people, it was only fair that I put my own name to the test.
“Aaron Keck” brings up a variety of pictures not of me, each one scarier than the last:
But no matter—because for me, at least, Google Image Search came through with a gem. I promise I had nothing to do with this, but I’ll take it anyway:
So there you go. Doppelgangers, non sequiturs, bizarre pictures, and a roundabout trip down the Google Image rabbit hole…
And that’s called “taking the night off.”