First Lecture

Day one of specialized courses on human awkwardness and uncomfortable situations.

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Good morning, class, and welcome to our first lecture of “How to React to an Ugly Baby”!

My name is Dr. Ryan Feldstein, and I will be your professor for this course. If you’re unfamiliar with my work, pick up this quarter’s Journal of Human Developmental Aesthetics and read my article entitled “Humor Development in Unattractive Preschoolers: Why Ugly Children Turn to Comedy.” It should give you some idea. I’ve dedicated my career to better understanding the unique childhood experiences of busted-faced youths.

This is a three credit-hour course, so expect to spend–

My—someone sounds fussy! Did one of you bring a baby to class? Wonderful!

Young lady, would you mind if I took a closer peek at your little one there? My god! Look at that face…. Babies in general to tend to have cute little faces, don’t they? And look, your little munchkin has your eyes—look how they similarly have irises, pupils and presumably retinas and optic nerves somewhere in the back! And what silly faces! The random movements of human babies—as a class of living organism—can look extremely adorably sometimes, can’t they? Alright then, bye bye little baby.

Ok class, did everyone take note of what happened there? The layers and subtexts of that interaction likely eluded you, as novices, but that will serve as your blueprint for reacting to any hideous-looking baby in the future. Today, we’ll break it down. Then, for the remainder of the semester, we’ll analyze each step in more detail. We won’t analyze that donkey-faced baby in more detail—we’re not masochists—just my reaction.

Step 1: Show your authentic surprise.

When you unexpectedly encounter an infantile grotesquerie like that one over there, you will feel shocked. No one is emotionally prepared to be visually assaulted by a slobbering apricot with eyes. Surprise is the brain’s natural response. I’m sure you all saw the eyelids disappear into my skull? I’ve spent my career studying unsightly whelps, and even I was caught off guard by that naked mole rat over there. What matters, however, is how I followed up…

Step 2: Imply the baby’s cuteness has shocked you.

You’ve just been shocked by the lumpy appearance a fun-sized ogre, but the parent doesn’t know that. They only know you’ve been surprised. If you imply the baby’s cuteness has shocked you, they will believe you. No need to lie. Merely make a general statement about the cuteness of babies and the parent will automatically apply it to their Frankensteinian creation. Example: My goodness, humans at this early stage of development certainly have the capacity for cuteness!

Step 3: Attribute one of the baby’s features to the parent.

This step may confuse you. You wonder, why would I tell this poor parent they share a facial feature with the Lovecraftian Rumpelstiltskin lurking within that stroller? Simple. The parent of an ugly baby is, at all times, in a deep state of denial. Despite the objective repellence of their spawn, they will take this as a compliment. Again, don’t lie. Be general, and let that parent’s delusional inferences do the dirty work. Example: She has your nose—just look how you both have nasal openings through which you can take in air for respiration!

Step 4: Imply the baby’s creepy movements are pleasing.

Remember, this baby is blameless. It did not choose to defy the laws of nature by resembling a genetic union between Howie Mandel and a chicken nugget. You should express nothing but positivity towards this child. Yes, when it moves, a part of you expects Ellen Ripley to appear with a flamethrower and incinerate everything in the room—but you can imply something very different. Example: Babies as a category have a tendency to flail adorably, am I right?

Let’s practice. Everyone form a line behind that intensely unattractive baby over there, and remember: be general, and be positive!