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Oct 05

The FT Top 23 STRANGE PHENOMENA: No.12 Dopplegangers

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Make mine a double
Dopplegangers have become confused in the public mind, it seems to me. In modern parlance, it seems to be much more ‘someone who looks like me’ rather than ‘my malevolent double’. That meaning still exists in pop culture, as it’s a much richer seam than an quirk of genetics and environment. You’ve got Gerry Anderson’s ‘Far Side of the Sun’, and many Star Trek episodes where some accident with anti-matter (always the anti-matter!) brings an evil Spock onto the Enterprise where hilarity ensues, or where our heroes are thrown into an evil world where they’re all psycho-leather fetishists. Even so, it’s SCIENCE, not mysticism that creates and compels these dark doubles into our world. That progression from mysticism to science goes one step further and ends up as fascination with the idea that we could all have been so different.

In Hollywood Wives we see the degeneration of the doppleganger into a common-or-garden tale of when heredity turns bad. There, the charismatic Buddy Hudson turns out to have a twin, separated at birth, who has grown up without any of life’s advantages and is EVIL. In a piece of make-up genius, the badboy brother was disguised with a heavy beard, so we never found out that they were identical until badboy shaved.

I think underlying this is an anxiety (No! surely not etc) about the self. What would we be like if we weren’t us? How much of us is nothing to do with us and capricious fate? What would we be like if we’d not grown up in the same way, with the same influences? But even that’s degenerating. Now, it’s just about narcissism (which it surely always had elements of) in a kind of ‘oh, look there’s someone who look like me!’ with a frisson of family history skeletons (did dad have an affair etc).

Last year, a good friend sent me a text from her office overlooking the Betsey Trotwood. She’s seen me going into the pub at about 3.30pm, and joked that it was early even for me to be hitting the pub. Trouble was, I was till at work when she sent it. Sadly, I was in a meeting so I didn’t get it until later, and wasn’t able to check who it might be. A few years back, a close colleague came bounding into work saying ‘you looked distracted at Victoria Station this morning’. Having been nowhere near Victoria at all, I was surprised, but not half as much as him. He’d seen me at a distance, and shouted. Seeing no response, he’d moved closer. He’d gone past the point where you’d realise you’d made a mistake and veer away or turn on your heels. He’d been about 2 feet away from me, and said ‘Hi Dave’ and ‘I’ had looked back with a blank stare.

‘He could have been your brother!’, my colleague exclaimed. I’m adopted, and maybe he was.

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