The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Monkeys do not make good pets (or you’re no man in a yellow hat)


February 26, 2009

After the Animal Revolution, monkeys will take revenge on us for attempting to domesticate them. Monkeys do not make good pets. There are very sensible arguments for this–Hilzoy makes them most eloquently–and there are the times when it is self-evident that one must be a bit crazy to keep a monkey as a pet:

On one occasion, they got in a wrestling match, and Higgins [the baboon] put one of his “steel-like fingernails” through Bob’s scrotum….

Bob has been bitten several times by Higgins, who now weighs 50 pounds and has large incisors. Once, when Bob was leading him from an outdoor enclosure back to his cage in the house, Higgins exploded and the two got into a battle so ferocious that despite the steel mesh glove Bob was wearing, he screamed for Carlie to get his .22 rifle and put a bullet in Higgins’s head. She got Higgins a slice of raisin bread instead, quickly defusing the fight.

Personally, I blame the discursive representations of Monkeys and Chimps as appropriate in-house pets. The biggest culprit here is H. A. Rey and Curious George. Unfortunately, too many contemporary Monkey as Pet people misread Rey (1941). While current literature–particularly the “New Adventure” school–tends to portray George as a lovable, curious 4-year old (cf Vipa Interactive, 1999) they have overlooked the warnings of Monkey-As-Pet deep in the text of Rey’s original work.

The New Adventures approach silences the narrative of oppressive Man in Yellow Hat and George’s simian rebellion. Recall that Yellow Hat abducts George from Africa in a yellow sack, echoing the colonial practices of the times. On the ship back to the big city, George, after an attempted escape re-narrated as an attempt to fly like a seagull, is disciplined into a Stockholm-syndrome like relationship with the Man in the Yellow Hat, now his “friend.” This friendship includes taking George home, giving him a pipe to smoke after dinner, and then putting him to bed. George’s rebellion of calling the fire department, results in discipline and punishment by the state, as George is sent to prison. He escapes prison by walking on telephone wires, and holding onto balloons. The recidivist George is finally directed to the zoo, where he can become a spectacle for passers-by.

As generations have grown up with the innocuous images of George, they too think that monkeys might make good pets. This is not the case. Monkeys cause trouble. George is always in trouble, and clearly present in all of Rey’s work is the Man with the Yellow Hat paying for all of George’s destruction, mayhem, and misplaced curiosity. Perhaps if such an intervention was attempted earlier, we might not have these tragic incidents of people thinking it would be a good idea to take a monkey home as a pet.

*in the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that my 2-year old son is completely enamored with Curious George, and we probably read him 5-10 curious George stories a day. Right now, he’s in a “George Cow” phase.

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Dr. Peter Howard focuses on US foreign policy and international security. He studies how the implementation of foreign policy programs produces rule-based regional security regimes, conducting research in Estonia on NATO Expansion and US Military Exchange programs and South Korea on nuclear negotiations with North Korea.