Cut It Out

By: Peggy Nelson
September 9, 2013

The lifesize cardboard cut-out refuses to be broken down and placed in the bin. Ever-crafty, it inserts itself into ever-more unlikely scenarios, popping up here and there in a paper foam of microtrends. Something about lifesize snaps our emotions to attention, while something about flat reassures us of our ontological superiority. With this unsubtle yet remarkably effective signage, we find ourselves at the edges of the Uncanny Valley.


The cardboard cutout was drafted into law enforcement this summer, when a lifesize version of a local cop was propped up near the bikes at the Alewife T Station in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Perhaps more surprising than even the cutout’s production and deployment was its apparent effectiveness: bike thefts dropped measurably.

“I was actually a little startled by it when I first saw it,” Silen told WBZ-TV. “Last month, just one bike was stolen at Alewife, compared to the five stolen in July of last year.”

Officer David Silen

The effectiveness of the cutout is no doubt aided by the dim lighting, and the almost-active nature of the pose selected. Early days yet, but worth considering whether a cardboard cutout might be more of a deterrent than our tech-mediated surveillance surround? Not to mention, cheaper…



Ever on-trend, next up is Donald Trump. In a way.


Bob Guillo poses with a cardboard cutout of billionaire Donald Trump in New York.

Trump’s latest construction is something called Trump University, a combination virtual and seminar curriculum on becoming a real-estate mogul like The Donald. Trump University, it should be noted, is currently being sued by the New York District Attorney’s office for misrepresentation, lack of accreditation and numerous other charges, all involving “not being real,” yet really taking people’s money.

Some, hoping to get advice directly from the man himself, were sorely disappointed. At one seminar, participants were told they would get to have their pictures taken with Mr. Trump; it ended up being with a cardboard cutout.

Editorial Board, New York Times

Students were promised, among other things, an opportunity to meet the mogul. What they got instead was a photo opportunity with his cardboard cutout. (And as long as we’re delving into details, we might note that this cardboard is not even a cutout, it’s just a rectangular advertising panel. We are shocked—shocked!)


On a classier note, the JFK Museum is disposing of the person entirely, pruning the cutout to what matters: the appearance; the clothes.


The result is not cardboard exactly, but an exquisitely detailed paper copy of Jackie Kennedy’s 1953 wedding dress by paper artist Isabelle de Borchgrave, which will be displayed in place of the real thing. Apparently too fragile even for eyeballs these days, the aging textile is safely stored away, but the museum box office is banking that the paper copy will click.


But it’s not all velvet ropes, MOOCs and deterrence. Do not mistake the humble cardboard cutout for a neutral player in the cultural matrix!


A convenience store clerk in Connecticut was badly injured this summer when attempting to prevent the theft of two David Hasselhoff cardboard cutouts from the store.

Connecticut police say a convenience store clerk has been critically injured trying to stop the theft of two signs featuring images of actor David Hasselhoff. Authorities say the 36-year-old clerk at a Cumberland Farms in Shelton saw a man put the signs into an SUV shortly after 1 a.m. Tuesday. Police say the worker was struck and dragged by the SUV and landed on his head.

The Hoff, ‘shopped onto a surfboard, stars in a marketing campaign for the chain’s iced coffee, a campaign that draws heavily from the aesthetic of—yes!—his proto-cutout crossover classic, Hooked on a Feeling:

Could the cheap video effects be skeuomorphism, invoking the edges of cut-out cardboard? The resemblance is uncanny

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