Human disguise  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

A human disguise is a concept in mythology, religion, science fiction, and cartoon animations, where non-human beings (such as gods, angels, Satan, demons, monsters, robots, aliens, or shapeshifters) are disguised to look like human beings. The deception has been depicted in storylines as a means used to blend in with people, and in science fiction to raise questions about what it means to be human. The phrase is also used to ascribe inhuman characteristics to real people, as a suggestion that they are not as they appear to be.


In religion and mythology

In pagan religions, deities very often took on the form of a human disguise for various tasks.

In the Torah, angels only appeared to men in a human disguise, and never in their true form.

In Japanese mythology, Kitsune, or legendary foxes, often take on a human disguise; most frequently taking the form of an elderly man, attractive women, or child. In medieval Japan, the belief that any beautiful women met alone at dusk was a Kitsune was prevalent. In some legends, Kitsune cannot fully transform, but maintain a tale or other foxlike characteristic.

In the Old Testament apocryphal Book of Tobit, the Archangel Raphael takes on human disguise and the name of Azarias. The Book of Genesis tells of three angels visiting Abraham in human disguise (Gen.18), and two visiting Lot in Sodom (Gen.19).

Philosophy professor Peter Kreeft has asserted that when an angel is wearing its human disguise, we wont be able to detect it due to the superior abilities Angels possess. Kreeft cites Hebrews 13:2 as proof, where the Holy Bible tells us that people have encountered Angels without realising it.

Religions such as Hinduism , Buddhism and native American beliefs have traditions where gods and spirits are said to descend to earth in human form to help or hinder humanity.

St. Augustine and Christian scholars of that age agreed that the Devil could manipulate a person's senses to create illusions in the mind; fake human bodies would be made from particles of air, that seemed quite real to those who saw them.

Zeus's human disguises have been compared to Plato's use of communicating through alternate characters as a means to express that the "essential philosophical nature is divine rather than human" and "cannot be represented without some element of human "disguise". John Milton's poem Paradise Regained has Satan disguised as an old man.

Monsters like vampires and werewolves could purportedly take human form at certain times, and lore gave advice as to how to detect or drive away these seemingly human creatures.Template:Citation needed Various devils were said to appear in human form to offer tempting deals for one's soul.Template:Citation needed Stories are also told of fairies and even mermaids walking in human form.Template:Citation needed

Changelings are often described in Western European folklore as a type of legendary creature, left in place of a human infant, for a variety of reasons. They are usually not able to mimic the human perfectly, thus there are various ways to reveal them.

In Japanese mythology the supernatural Kitsune is a magical fox thats able to assume human shape. Its human disguise is said to be so good the only way to recognise one is by its long red hair.

In literature

The gods "of whom the minstrels sang" in Homer's Iliad watched the "human spectacle" as partisans, and came down to Earth invisible or in human disguise to interfere, sometimes to protect their favorites from harm (compare [deus ex machina]]). Their human disguises sometimes extended to them getting hurt in conflicts.

The Changeover: a Supernatural Romance, a young adult novel by the New Zealand novelist Margaret Mahy, features a vampiric lemur named Carmody Braque who masquerades as an antique dealer.

Aliens in science fiction

Various works of science fiction have described aliens disguised in human form.

The theme of alien infiltration in human form appeared commonly during the Cold War.

David Buxton's Avengers to Miami Vice discusses the use of human disguise in The Invaders, suggesting that though it might at first glance appear to be an extraterrestrial representation of the communist threat the show also picks up on deeper doubts regarding the American value-system.

The theme of infiltration continued in popularity into the the closing stages of the Cold War in the 1980s. In the science fiction series V, the reptilian aliens wear human suits to pass as humans, trying to make humans feel more comfortable around them. They Live deviated from the cold war fear of communists by having its alien infiltrators be the capitalist elite, exploiting mindnumbed consumers while The Thing featured a more visceral biological horror, with an alien that would infect and duplicate hosts. In the 1982 British Sci-fi film Xtro, a father is abducted by an alien spaceship and an alien returns disguised as him. The alien rapes the man's wife and she gives birth to a fully grown man in what author Barbara Creed describes as being a primal "phantasy" where man is born fully grown and completely independent of its mother.

Recently DC: The New Frontier returned to the cold war theme, using the character of the Martian Manhunter, "a shape-changing alien who adopts human disguise because he knows his alien form would scare people", to look back at cold war paranoia and fear of outsiders.

In Pandemic's 1950s-themed Destroy All Humans video game, the Furon character Crypto, a gray-skinned alien, uses a holographic human disguise to infiltrate suburban America. "In human form he cannot use weapons but is still able to use his mental powers to hurl objects and hypnotize people into becoming obedient slaves."

Some authors portray the mannerisms of aliens using human disguises as awkward, indicating that the aliens are not comfortable in their false skins, for instance Vincent D'Onofrio's portrayal of an alien insect wearing a human suit in Men In Black.

The motives of aliens in human disguise are not always sinister: in Meet Dave, a group of aliens arrive in a spaceship shaped like a human being, and pilot it, to interact with the humans without getting noticed. In Star Man, the alien appears in human form, explaining it was so "you not be a little bit jumpy." In the Men in Black movie and comic book, alien immigrants disguised as humans inhabit the Earth; the alien prince of the Arquillian Empire lives as a human being with a pet cat.

Galaxy Quest, Third Rock from the Sun, and Meet Dave also use the meme. Third Rock from the Sun features a group of aliens given human bodies to observe aspects of human society.

An episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer incorporates a praying mantis in human disguise, posing as a substitute high-school teacher who seduces her students before eating them. The mantis in disguise is used as a metaphor to suggest to younger viewers that being unprepared and rushing into becoming sexually active can result in being "devoured".

In the film Mimic, insects native to Earth are genetically modified to stop a cockroach-borne disease, but as a side-effect later evolve in size and shape to mimic and prey upon human beings.

In Marvel Comics the Skrull, a race of aliens, commonly disguise themselves as humans to move about unnoticed on Earth.

Gary Westfahl wrote that Stanislaw Lem and other writers use a standard argument: that "science fiction writers, as human beings, are inherently incapable of imagining truly alien beings, meaning that all aliens in science fiction are nothing but disguised humans."


In the movies A.I. Artificial Intelligence, and the Alien series, robots are made to look and act human. In The Terminator, Arnold Schwarzenegger played a cyborg that wore a human disguise.

Isaac Asimov considered humanoid robots (androids) in the novel Robots and Empire and the short stories "Evidence" and "The Tercentenary Incident", in which robots are crafted to fool people into believing that the robots are human. Some of Asimov's robots respond to human distrust and antipathy by passing as human and influencing human development for its own good. In Asimov's novella The Bicentennial Man, the robot Andrew gradually replaces his mechanical body with organic components, but only on the 200th anniversary of the start of his organic conversion, when he allows his positronic brain to "decay" and thus abandons his immortality, is he accepted as "human".

In the television series Star Trek: the Next Generation, the android Data's desire to become more human was used as an ongoing source of commentary on the human condition. (Data's positronic brain is a nod to Asimov's stories.) An earlier pilot film by Star Trek's creator Gene Roddenberry, The Questor Tapes, had featured an android left on 20th century Earth as the last of a series of advanced alien technology, with the same subtext.

In the movie Bladerunner, the replicants are biological robots indistinguishable from humans except by specialised testing.

Similarly in the remade series Battlestar Galactica, robots known as the Cylons have evolved to be able to make bodies that appear quite human. When killed, they transfer their consciousness from one body to an identical model elsewhere. This seeming immortality, the uncertainty of who is really human and who is Cylon, and the love between characters who are revealed to be human or Cylon, are used for discussion of what it means to be human.Template:Citation needed

In cartoons

Human disguises sometimes occur in animation for cartoon characters. In a short story by Haitham Chehabi a human disguise is worn by Trix, a cartoon rabbit.

Outside fiction

Outside of fiction, commentators can use the phrase "in human disguise" as a metaphor to describe a real person allegedly pretending to be something they are not. Former Kenyan Prime Minister Jomo Kenyatta was described by a Kenyan judge as a "monster in human disguise". Doug Parker, chairman of US Airways, was described as a "Klingon in a human disguise", after he "vaporized much of what was left of USAirways in Pittsburgh."Template:Sic The human disguise does not always carry negative connotations - in the US, a well regarded murder victim has been described as "an angel running round with a human suit on", while Manoel de S. Antonio, (Bishop of Malacca between 1701 and 1723) was refered to as an "angel in human disguise" for his conversion of 10,000 people to Christianity.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Human disguise" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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