November 1999
s m u g
by Todd Levin


Si J'exécutais le Zoo

Jonathan Swift was right. True, he was a bloated elitist who claimed to "hate and detest that animal called man", but he was also an incisive social satirist who pointed out the grotesqueries of human nature, even as Europe was entering a "civilized" era of passionate scientific and artistic discovery. And, let's not forget -- Swift also made a delightful premium breakfast sausage. Swift's continuous assertion that humans exploit and abuse their natural gift for reason and, at their worst, are no different than, say, the common gorilla, for all its misanthropy, has some validity. And, coincidentally, Swift's criticisms never seem more salient than when one observes human behavior at the zoo.

monkey house

The monkey house is generally assured to be the most popular attraction at any zoo. Experiment any time, if you're not convinced. Head over to the rodent house - not a creature stirring. Stroll past the "Puppies in the Wild" exhibit, and if it's a really busy day there may be three or four people loitering, trying to pressure the puppies to roll over or attack a grazing antelope or such. But get within 200 feet of the monkey house and it's a complete mob scene. All zoo decorum is fractured violently by a sort of Day of the Locusts brand of chaos. People scrambling over each other to afford themselves a clear monkey view, pounding their chests, banging against the exhibit's plexiglass or bars, throwing feces at each other: whatever it takes to secure a good position.

And what for? It's not because the monkeys are handing out quarters or building dams or watching professional wrestling on oversized high definition televisions. On the contrary, they're usually climbing, scratching, de-lousing or clearing their nostrils with their fingers. Ordinary monkey stuff. But you wouldn't know it was ordinary if you briefly scanned the glazed-over expressions of the zoo patrons. That's because, while the monkeys climb on each other's backs or share a meatball hero, an enormous collective thought bubble floats above human crowd. And in that thought bubble are the following, crucially important words: "They think they're people!"

People are, by nature, self-absorbed and are therefore helplessly attracted to anything exhibiting recognizable human behavior. Animals, robots, convection ovens - doesn't matter; just give them a human voice or put a pair of cool-looking sunglasses on them and they have our undivided attention. This is why we are willing to buy greasy, ersatz Mexican food at the request of a talking chihuaua. Or vote contrary to our own political beliefs because we are so charmed by a goat in a sweatshirt that bears the legend, "Abortion is Baaaaaaaad". And, as everyone knows, monkeys happen to be the reigning kings of mock-human behavior.

Lancelot Link. Going Ape. Dunston Checks In. Ed. Bedtime for Bonzo. TNT's Chimp Channel. Magilla Gorilla. Monkey Trouble. Planet of the Apes. Every Which Way but Loose. Any Which Way you Can. Armageddon. Au Revoir Les Enfants. All of these titles feature the antics of monkeys, apes, or tamarinds assuming human characteristics for the sole purpose of eliciting from their human audience uncontrolled laughter or, in the case of Louis Malle's modern classic of adolescent friendship during the rise of fascism in France, perhaps un peu de tristesse. Other monkey movies have been made, in which monkeys act like monkeys in their natural surroundings, but they have proved far less memorable (and far less profitable). Not more than a handful of people could muster a single line of dialogue from Gorillas in the Mist, but if someone yells, "Right turn, Clyde", you can be sure that 9 out of 10 people are going to hit the dirt lest they catch the knuckled side of an Orangutan's deadly right jab.

All of this begs the question: why do zoos even bother investing funds in creating a sense of naturalism and conservation, when all people really want to do is point at monkeys' hairless, protuberant asses and giggle like schoolgirls? The educational aspects of any wildlife preserve are useful, but if one really wants to learn more about the endangered Okapi or the Pygmy Marmoset, they'll do what anyone else with a thirst for knowledge would do: watch the Discover Channel during commercial breaks for VH1's Fashion Emergency.

In the meantime, consider a zoo alternative. Embrace the human race's inner-buffoon. Open a zoo where people don't have to suffer through the formality of viewing primates frolicking in simulations their "jungle" environments. Instead, let the primates interact with several Hollywood-style, familiar looking sets. Wouldn't it be a kick to watch monkeys dance around in an Old West Saloon, or eat bugs and peanuts on a perfectly reconstructed, full-scale model of the "Central Perks" coffee shop from the television show, Friends. And why should these monkeys have to prance around shamefully naked (At a recent visit to the zoo, a woman at the monkey house was overheard making this comment about a playful baby gorilla: "Oh my. It's feet are so dirty!" She couldn't be more right.) when they would be significantly more entertaining dressed as cosmonauts, hairdressers, giant babies, curmudgeon-ey business executives, World War II Allied Forces Airforce Pilots, Tom Cruise as Joel Goodson in the infamous "Old Time Rock and Roll" scene from Risky Business. The monkeys won't know the difference, but the humans sure will!

This idea can easily be extended to the entire zoo population without much protest from its patrons. Kangaroos outfitted in adorable matching boxing outfits; deer mice fitted with miniature antlers; tapirs dressed as...well, maybe the tapirs are funny enough without clothing. (But it is highly recommended that, to exploit this inconsistency, the sign on the tapir den read "Totally Nude Tapirs".)

The zoo would instantly become an enormous profit center. The funds raised could be diverted to zoo-ey causes - saving extinct squirrels, rebuilding bird houses in low income areas, etc. - but the patrons don't have to know that. Instead, they will gleefully spend their money at the various retail franchise kiosks, such as Pizza Hut and Home Depot, without ever knowing or caring where the money is going. And why will people spend so furiously? Because the animals will instruct them to. Rather than boring zoo patrons with useless facts about the diet of a North American barn owl, they will get to read fascinating tidbits like, "How delicious are new Ruffles' Spicy Spud potato chips? You can bet this skink would love to know. Brooke Shields The Skink can't eat chips because she only eats leaves, fruits and the occasional snail, but that doesn't mean you can't enjoy the zesty hot crunch of Spicy Spud chips. Proceed to the Snacketeria for instant snack-ifaction -- Brooke Shields would have wanted it that way." If the world were a Speak and Spell, what sound would this zoo make? Ka-ching!

Yes, perhaps Swift was correct about the nature of humanity. Perhaps beneath these hairless, semi-erect bodies lurks a beast less civilized than the common Silverback Gorilla. If most had it their way, investments in the advancement of science and patronage of fine arts would completely give way to the immediate gratification of frothing spectacle and cheap amusement. But who more than Jonathan Swift would want to see this human condition played out to its logical conclusion, and in what better place than a zoo? In fact, since Swift was not necessarily an egoless altruist, what if he were alive today and saw the way people continued to behave? If he were approached as a potential investor for this zoo, he would most likely see the business plan for a park filled with anthropomorphized animals hawking snacks and low-price performance fleece vesting, do the numbers in his heavily-wigged head, see the potential for profit, and have but one word to say: "Yahoo!"




back to the junk drawer

and such
and such

·feature· ·net worth· ·ac/dc· ·smoking jacket· ·ear candy· ·feed hollywood· ·target audience· ·three dollar bill· ·compulsion· ·posedown· ·the biswick files· ·mystery date· ·and such and such· ·blab· ·kissing booth·

·contents· ·freakshow· ·fan club· ·junk drawer·

copyright © 1996, 1997 fearless media