Aping Culture


Yes, yes, like most primatologists and researchers into primatology, I am excited about “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” coming to cinemas so soon. (I watched all through the original franchise and the Tim Burton remake and fairly enjoyed the primatology-informed “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”, if only for the excellent chimping by Andy Serkis aka King Kong aka Gollum. On a side note: Try watching the movie without subtitles in the Ameslan-scenes. Even if apes learned to communicate on a wide scale with sign language, I wouldn’t understand a thing…) By the looks of it, there will this time surely be a lot of ‘Othering’ to make my little postcolonial critic’s heart quiver with unease. Ingeniously, though, the team around director Mark Reeves is creatively reusing footage, that “Rise”‘s director Rupert Wyatt had collected as research material, see this for example:

and compare it to the newest trailer for “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”, ca. 1:20.

Of course, the machine gun wielding chimpanzee juvenile in the research footage doesn’t really screem ‘evil menace’ just as much, so the movie version is – in true fashion of the Planet of the Apes enterprise – of course a very ugly, battered antagonist type (as was the king of the ape ‘refuge’ in “Rise”, Tim Roth’s Thade in Tim Burton’s remake, and most of the gorilla fiends in the original franchise). Then again, most apes in human ‘usage’ end up being ugly, battered and mentally unsound (see: Planet of the Retired Apes, New York Times Magazine).

Anyway, back in the two decades when Planet of the Apes was on hold, another clever franchise used the uncanny resemblance of monkeys and apes to humans to threaten human (and probably simian) sensibilities – this time of the culinary kind. Oh yes, you know what I mean: “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” (1984). Monkey brain as ‘desert’, served at an Indian dinner party that defies all, virtually all of what Indian cuisine is about (ah, first quiver…), but sparking a fascination with the dish that persists amazingly well (see for example the wikipedia lemma). So well in fact, that someone designed the tableware to recreate the meal: Monkey Head bowls. Who would have thought.


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