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April 08, 2024


By Alexandra Queen

Somewhere in southwest England, a group of monkeys were given access to a computer for a month. The idea was, of course, to see whether or not they would produce Shakespeare. The project, conducted at the monkey enclosure of Paignton Zoo, was meant to be less an actual scientific experiment than a philosophical statement, or a piece of performance art. This is a good thing because, the monkeys were quick to point out, they were quite a damn bit shy of the infinite amount of time and monkeys required to actually produce MacBeth. In the spirit of "do more with less", the six Sulawesi crested macaques who got stuck with the job -- named Elmo, Holly, Gum, Heather, Rowan and Schmaser -- did their best, but after thirty days, they had only managed to churn out several pages of gibberish and a third season episode of "ER".

Although the experiment was aimed toward the art community, scientists have managed to draw several important conclusions. It is now believed that given an infinite number of monkey enclosures in an infinite number of zoos, nearly half of the monkeys will be discovered to have been named after Piker Press staff writers. In a related and equally exciting theory, researchers are fairly certain that if the Piker Press editor is given access to a computer or typewriter for an infinite amount of time, she will defecate on it.

Meanwhile, back at the Paignton Zoo, the drama continues to unfold. The six monkeys have recently begun demanding internet access and a better sound card. They have also demanded better career options. "Writing for the theatre is the pits," Elmo the Macaque has been quoted as saying. "The hours are terrible, the pay is crummy, and the critics wouldn't know art if they peeled it, ate it, passed it and flung it at a hyena. We have heard that there are large quantities of jobs out there that even we could do, and we want equal opportunity in the workplace." The list of demands does not stop there. "We also want legal rights protecting us from being spanked," Elmo said. "We've heard there's rather a lot of that sort of thing going on out there and we want it stopped."

While many professions such as rocket scientists and brain surgeons have been hard pressed to meet Ape Affirmative Action requirements, other industries have responded well to new primate-friendly legislature. The world of fashion and cosmetics has leapt wholeheartedly into the new trend. Revlon has announced that Holly and Heather have been picked up to be "the new eyes and lips of Summer 2003", while Tommy Hilfiger, Giorgio Armani and other top labels have plans to showcase simians knuckle-walking down the catwalk in the upcoming season.

Hollywood appears to be another haven for primates in the workplace. A gibbon has been reportedly cast in the lead role for a Baywatch pre-quel due out this fall, starring as a young David Hasselhoff. Pop diva Brittney Spears is reportedly using one for a face double and actor Ben Affleck has recently announced his plans to marry an ape. A striking resemblance between certain simians and the members of N Sync and New Kids On The Block has also lead to a large number of new baboon boy bands. "It's worked before," pointed out the head of a major record company. This particular announcement drew protest from a lobby of horses who stomp in morse code. "It's not a 'sour grapes' issue, but rather one of funerary customs. We just want the entertainment industry to stop brutalizing our dearly departed," a spokes-equine for the group stated.

Monkeys already compose a large portion of the workplace in a surprising number of areas, however. The success of simians on the silver screen is nothing compared to the success of monkeys behind the scenes. The television industry is currently enjoying something of a Gibbon Golden Age, with large numbers of lower primates employed in writing and producing reality TV shows. In fact, most of the executives of Fox network are chimps. Monkeys are also prevalent in the design and marketing sectors of the automotive industry, where in response to unhealthy air quality, increasing traffic congestion and an ever-diminishing reserve of fossil fuels, gorillas continue to design gas-guzzling SUVs in larger and larger sizes.

The political arena has also been very kind to primates. George W. Bush announced that he has chosen a monkey for his running mate in 2004, saying that Vice President Cheney feels that it's a very successful campaign strategy. The plan has been derailed, however, by a second announcement from Bill Clinton, declining the offer to run as Vice President with George W. Bush in 2004. Clinton was quoted as explaining, "Ah've been far too naughty and Ah really need to be spanked."

If the goal of performance art is to provide a crucible for social change and to prompt society to reexamine itself, than the Paignton Zoo project was a success, for it has certainly opened a barrel of issues. As human awareness of the monkey's role in society expands, we may find that it is safer - and less crowded - back in the trees.
Article © Alexandra Queen. All rights reserved.
Published on 2003-05-12
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