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14 April 2016

How to be creepy: a comprehensive guide

Being a man who is Ted Cruz is a good start.

By Eleanor Margolis

What makes a clown creepier than a writer? Clowns, according to something that claims to be the “first empirical study of ‘creepiness’” top the list of creepy professions. Writers come in at number eleven, sandwiched between “guard” and “actor”. Fair: “guard” seems vague. What is this guard guarding? A cursed Kleenex box full of spiders? For some reason, a corpse?

And actors? Well they’ve embodied the likes of Norman Bates, Buffalo Bill and Ross from Friends. So they’re at least creepy by proxy. But how is a clown any creepier than a writer? Both exist in an eerily prolonged childlike state. Both aren’t funny 97 per cent of the time. And both are guaranteed to ruin a children’s birthday party. Anyway, isn’t being weirded out by clowns a bit Eighties?

Creepiness – that base level of implied threat that feels like dipping your hand into an antique vase full of custard – has surely evolved. In 1816, compulsive masturbators were probably considered creepy. In 2016, they’re considered Twitter.

So here’s how to be creepy today.

Get caught being creepy

Anyone who claims not to have stalked someone on social media is way creepier than someone who will admit to it. And I use “stalk” not in the “an actually very serious crime” sense, but in the “I wonder what became of that girl in my class at primary school, who used to throw rubbers at my head. Let’s see if she’s on Facebook. Oh my god, she’s married and works in IT” sense. That compulsion to know everything there is to know about everyone else’s shit is pure human nature. It’s why we invented tabloids and Jeremy Kyle.

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But. The very moment you accidentally click “like” on a photo from the 2009 Santorini holiday of someone with whom you haven’t had a conversation in twenty years, you become a creep. Quite a big creep, actually. Arbitrary? Sure. Unfair? You bet. But them’s the rules: it’s only creepy if they know.

Ask a stranger how they are

“Hey, how are you?” says the Tinder message.

You don’t know how to respond because, “great since I started these new antidepressants”, is a bit much, and “good, thanks” is boring. So you settle for something vague but slightly informative like, “Not bad thanks. Having a busy week”.

“No your [sic] not,” the person replies, “Your [sic] in bed watching Most Haunted and eating Quavers.”

About to lick Quaver dust off one of your fingers, you stop dead.

Fuuuuuuuuuck.

Be Ted Cruz

There’s a certain skill, I think, to looking like bad fan art of yourself.

“MAUDE, get in here, you have to see this shitty waxwork of Ted Cruz on CNN. Ahh. No wait. It’s just Ted Cruz,” is something around 7,000 Americans have been saying every day since the beginning of this latest presidential race.

Donald Trump, as we have now exhaustively established, is literally every bad thing in the known universe. Except for “creepy”. Because true creepiness requires subtlety. Enter Senator Ted Cruz. Evangelical Republican. Possible Zodiac Killer. An exercise in creepiness so thorough that one man turned staring at the possible next POTUS’s unsettling, melty face into “dangerous” performance art.

All the media attention lavished on Trump’s far more noisy campaign has turned Cruz into an underlying stink. In a fridge full of cartons of orange juice, he’s the foil-wrapped half an onion lodged somewhere at the back, which is starting to reek. Nothing is creepier than that half onion. Or, lest we forget, this beyond chilling video of Cruz attempting to hug his daughter.

Be a man

For a moment, let’s return to the creepiness study, which, by the way, was conducted by a psychology professor at Knox College in Illinois. Professor Frank McAndrew found that 95 per cent of people perceive more creepiness from men than from women.   

Of course, men have been creepy from the moment they (or their ancestors, at least…) emerged from the primordial soup. At the same time though, being a man seems like a quintessentially 2016 way of being creepy. After all, it’s (mostly) men who have harnessed the power of the internet into the giant tantrum that is quote Men’s Rights Activism unquote. There’s a difference between being creepy and being outright abusive. But being abusive anonymously and in caps lock is a decidedly creepy way of doing so.

And it’s not just the “RAPE FUCK WOMEN SLUTS ARGHHHHHHHHHHHHHH MY HANDS ARE BINS” brigade who have been stalwartly upping men’s creepiness game for the past decade. The other week, a man I’ve never met sent me a Facebook message asking how my day was going (again with the inquiring into the wellbeing of strangers). Unsolicited messages from men on social media – I’ve discovered since Facebook introduced the “message request” feature, where people you aren’t friends with can try their luck at getting in touch – are commonplace.  And creepy to their core.

Use the blue shirt emoji

Sure, there are plenty of emojis that have literally never been used. The white circle inside a grey circle. The thumbtack. Any of the arrows. But, of all these unneeded, unwanted, unnoticed little symbols, the blue polo shirt is somehow the most… menacing. What does it convey? Existential ennui? Repressed sexual energy?  A general feeling of blue shirt-ness? Who knows. But picture this:

It’s 3am and your phone lights up. It’s a text from an unknown number. It contains the blue shirt emoji and nothing else.

Once again, about to lick Quaver dust off of one of your fingers, you stop dead.