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Psychology Explains Why You Hate Jar Jar Binks
Jar Jar Binks is likely the most consistently hated fictional character in history. Aside from personally disliking the character immediately upon seeing him in Star Wars Episode One, I’d always wondered exactly what it is about the character that is so utterly loathsome and if there is a scientific basis for this reaction. What we find annoying or unpleasant is largely subjective; however, there are certain things that seem to almost universally irritate or annoy to some degree. Unfortunately for Jar Jar Binks, he is essentially a composite of things that we are naturally inclined to find unpleasant.
The acoustics of his voice fluctuate in volume and pitch. Rapid fluctuations in volume and pitch tend to annoy us according to the book Annoying: The Science of What Bugs Us (as cited in Palca, 2011). Much like fingernails on a chalkboard, Jar Jar’s voice often fluctuates to extremes going from high to much higher and louder. I recommend watching the video to see an example of this. Despite how irritating his voice is, it is his look that exacerbates this greatly. Let’s look at a couple of examples of Jar Jar’s voice without that awful face.
Yoda has much more traditionally pleasant features and Chewbacca, despite being very hairy, has a face that is far more humanoid than Jar Jar. While these clips are clearly much dumber with that voice, they are still less annoying with that voice than Jar Jar himself.
According to famed evolutionary biologist and paleontologist, Stephen Jay Gould (1980), humans feel affection for animals with juvenile features such as large eyes and an enlarged cranium. In a book written by Konrad Lorenz (1971), one the fathers of ethology (which is scientific study of behavior in animals with a focus on evolutionary traits), there is diagram that shows round youthful faces on one side and older, elongated faces on the other. The rounder faces are supposed to be cuter and more endearing whereas the images of the elongated faces do not the same effect.
Jar Jar clearly fits on the side of less cute, but the character is supposed to act cute and juvenile. Dr. Gould also noted that camels naturally appear more “aloof and unfriendly” than other animals. Interestingly, Jar Jar’s face, despite his revolting eyes, probably most closely resembles the facial morphology of a camel as anything else which further highlights his lack of natural appeal.
There is some significant discrepancy between the character and how we are supposed to feel about him. Things that are cute tend to have a big forehead, big eyes, short and narrow nose, and narrow mouth. Mickey Mouse a great example of features we interpret as cute naturally being used on a character.
Jar Jar literally is the opposite of all of those things. He exaggerated overbite, incessantly flared nostrils, sickening long tongue, and obnoxiously wide mouth don’t help either. However, he “acts” cute and the dissonance this creates in us results in anger, irritation, and annoyance. It is like your grandfather putting on onesie and trying to act like a baby. You are not going to think that is cute on any level, it is going to feel disgusting.
Even his name is attempting to sound cute with the childlike repetitiveness of Jar Jar. However, when you don’t find something cute, it just seems awkward and further incites irritation. Even if someone is to try and make the argument that he was created for children, the counterpoint to that is that children have an even stronger preference for the features I just talked about than adults. So Jar Jar is still a fail.
Eyes and Head
Now let’s talk about those gross, weird eyes and angular head. With the exception of his eyes, his head appears to be a combination of animal and amphibian. His relatively small and insect like eyes are naturally disconcerting to humans. We have an innate discomfort with bugs and spiders to some extent and his features mimic some of what bothers us so much (Cohen, 2012). As humans, we don’t particularly like angular parts on living creatures. That is why spider and bugs legs are so creepy. Jar Jar’s angular head, craggy eyes, and jagged ears are naturally gross to us. We automatically feel some level of revulsion just looking at his head and face.
Gait and body movement is another way we assess attractiveness in others (Fink et al., 2015). I don’t have much to say about this but that his clumsy shuffle just piles on the reasons we naturally don’t like him. Jar Jar resembles Disney’s Goofy to some extent and Lucas has clearly noted him as an influence. So why isn’t Goofy as irritating? They share a similar gait. It is because Goofy really has significantly fewer elements that we are naturally inclined not find endearing. Also, he was more representative of an adult with a deep voice than the other Disney characters where Jar Jar acts and sound juvenile. Regardless, if Goofy had Bink’s revolting face, Walt Disney certainly would have been getting trolled by telegram back in the 1930s.
Beauty is Relative but….
Beauty has been shown to relative to culture as far as what we find attractive. However, ugliness is not culture specific (Sorokowski, 2013). We have already established that Jar Jar is objectively ugly and this perception is culture proof so he can enjoy being loathed worldwide. We innately associate unattractive people with negative characteristics (Eagly et al., 1991) so to try to make Jar Jar relatable takes some serious mental gymnastics.
As humans, we like predictability. We find things that we cannot predict disconcerting at best or anxiety proving and annoying at worst. This is the only point that I’m going to make that will be effected by whether or not you watched the original trilogy before seeing episode 1. The tone and expectation set forth by the original Star Wars trilogy were a balance of action and comedy with the silliness fairly well reigned in. The introduction of Jar Jar in episode 1 was contrary to most people’ expectations and his character’s tone and behaviors were so different than what we expected, it engendered an almost instant feeling or irritation that didn’t relent until after the film was done.
Cognitive dissonance is when try to reconcile incompatible attitudes such as loving Star Wars, but hating one of the main characters. The mental stress we feel what trying to put the pieces of Jar Jar Binks together into a relatable “good guy” is unpleasant. He talks like a child, has repugnant features, is anti-cute, and yet the purpose of the character is meant to embody all the things he fails at. Trying to accept and make sense of this in the context of movie franchise that is beloved and such an important part of so many people’s childhood’s is what makes the abject hatred for Jar Jar Binks so near universal.
You no longer need to wonder why you hate Jar Jar so much. Now you know it is just because you have an efficient brain.
1. Cohen, T. (2012, June 13). The shape of fear... why spiders scare us so much: Humans are hardwired to fear their angular legs and unpredictability. Retrieved January 20, 2016, from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2158452/The-shape-fear--spiders-scare-Humans-hardwired-fear-angular-legs-unpredictability.html
2. Eagly, A., Ashmore, R., Makhijani, M., & Longo, L. (1991). What is beautiful is good, but . . . : A meta-analytic review of research on the physical attractiveness stereotype. Psychological Bulletin, 110, 109–128.
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6. Lorenz, K. (1971). Studies in animal and human behaviour: II. Trans. R. Martin. Oxford, England: Harvard U. Press. (as cited in Gould, S. J. (1980). The panda's thumb: More reflections in natural history. New York: Norton.)
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8. Paunonen, S. V., Ewan, K., Earthy, J., Lefave, S., & Goldberg, H. (1999). Facial features as personality cues. Journal Of Personality, 67(3), 555-583. doi:10.1111/1467-6494.00065
9. Sorokowski, P., Koscinski, K., & Sorokowska, A. (2013). Is Beauty in the Eye of the Beholder but Ugliness Culturally Universal? Facial Preferences of Polish and Yali (Papua) People. Evolutionary Psychology, 11(4), 907-925.
10. Winerman, L. (2011, November). Annoying science. Retrieved January 21, 2016, from http://www.apa.org/monitor/2011/11/annoying-science.aspx