Monday, September 17, 2012

I Can't Sit Idly By While Things Like This Go On

In honor of last Thursday’s discovery of a new species of monkey in central Africa, Paste magazine ran a “List of the Day” on “The 15 Best Monkeys in Pop Culture.” I consider myself a bit of an expert on monkeys of a certain kind, so I found myself highly interested in this particular list. Needless to say, perhaps, being a difficult-to-please critic of all things primate, I was not impressed.  Even given Paste’s disclaimer that they were “using the term ‘monkey’ loosely—and frankly, incorrectly,” this mishmash of gorillas, apes, chimps, cartoons, video games, and Clint Eastwood is practically unforgivable.

The list starts out strongly enough, with Chim Chim of Speed Racer fame, claiming the number fifteen spot.  But, almost instantaneously, the critical reader asks, “What is the criteria, here?”  Is this merely a non-ranked list of “monkeys” that the author can remember (or remember hearing about)? Or was there some sort of criteria-referenced ranking done by the boys and girls at the office?  It is perplexing—perhaps even disturbing—to consider the apparent lack of obvious criteria as we move through this list.

To wit, number fourteen is the bone-throwing pre-hominid of 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Over Chim Chim?  Really?  I mean, if we are assessing the occupants of this list on their dramatic impact or symbolic significance, then, yes, Moon-Watcher beats Chim Chim, hauntingly-human-like-hands down.  However, if that were the criteria, Arthur C. Clarke’s cheeky little hairball would be much higher than fourteen. (Not to mention that Chim Chim would have to break the top ten…not really.)

Grape Ape occupies the thirteenth slot.  I can live with that, if it wasn’t so high.  Thirteen?  I don't get it.  It seems kind of arbitrary, really. Here, for me, is our number fifteen. Our big purple pal, who used cars for roller skates and tagged along with his friend Beagly Beagly, didn’t have a ton of staying power, social import, or symbolic significance.  One might even ask what Grapey is even doing on this list, but there he is.  And, as large as he is, there he will stay.

As we make our way into the top ten, however, my problems really begin, for there sits the finest secret agent chimp the world has ever seen.  Lancelot Link was the star of probably the most affecting and entertaining show that television will ever create.  A concoction of voiced-over chimpanzees acting out ridiculous espionage-based buffoonery and loosely connected musical numbers, Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp was a watershed event in my development—not that that is part of the criteria…at least I don’t think it is.  It certainly had, not simply for me, but for the world at large, a significant cultural impact. For that reason alone, Lancelot Link should occupy one of the top spots on this list.

Then, let’s look at number nine.  It is that video primate who made a mark on the eighties that was even deeper than the mark Lancey left on the seventies: Donkey Kong.  Who but this barrel rolling, girlfriend stealing, ladder-climbing villain, who made millions one quarter at a time, has been a more socially significant simian?  Who among us did not spent an inordinate amount of our young life in front of a video game at the corner pizza joint trying to get past that one level?  Or, for the younger among you, who has not spent time racing with that powerful DK spin off character, Mario. The effect of the Donkey Kong franchise is still being felt today, thirty years later.  What could be more significant than that? But, again, does significance have anything to do with this?  I suppose not.

After all, as we move deeper into the top ten, we find Clyde, the completely irrelevant orangutan of Every Which Way But Loose. I don’t get this one at all. Rumor has it that, since Clint’s chair monologue, Clyde has shunned his old pal.  That may be the best career move the old ape has ever made.    

Finally, I have two further concerns with this list.  First, and perhaps most troubling, Curious George is number five.  That’s right: NUMBER FIVE! WTF? He was a good little monkey and always very curious; he is an icon who has entertained generations of children.  And he gets beat out by the cast of Planet of the Apes? I mean: are you freaking kidding me?

But, to make matters worse, Marcel, Ross’ capuchin monkey from Friends, holds the number two slot.  All I can say is….  All I can say is…. I don’t know what to say.  This over-sexed little squirrel is ranked higher than Curious George?  I’m sorry, what? When was the last time anybody went to FAO Schwartz and paid an exorbitant amount for an over sized stuffed Marcel? The answer is never! 

Yet, this misguided, undefined list is out there, proudly displayed.  And, occupying the top spot, high above the mean streets of New York City, 1939, is the king of the beasts, the eighth wonder of the world, King Kong.  Disclaimer or not, couldn’t the number one spot at least be occupied by an actual monkey?  I give up.

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