An anthropological appraisal of apes

I work in a great-ape psychology lab. A beaming moment of my existence was when Jane Goodall chimp-kissed my cheek. For these reasons and more, Rise of the Planet of the Apes was my summer blockbuster.

I’d like to think that my interests in NHPs (non-human primates) are purely academic. Yet my favorite movie as a kid was Dunston Checks In, I have gifs like this bookmarked, and chimpanzee riding on a Segway still forces a guilty guffaw out of me.

But chimps and their compadres take over the world?! I go ape shit. Even better, all NHPs in the film are CGI. If anything, I can talk a lot about why chimps make awful pets and shouldn’t be used for entertainment. But hey, this movie was PETA approved. I can just sit back and enjoy.

Well, not quite. I’ve become pretentious about NHPs like a college student returning from Europe is suddenly too good for frattie light. There were some major hominid fallacies in this movie and I’m not even touching that neurology business about how more brain cells = smarter.

So what passes the simian science test? Here’s my Anthropological Appraisal of Apes

  • Apes aren’t monkeys? +5 science points . OK, I gave a Howard Dean scream when the chimp care-taker yells at James Franco, “He’s not a monkey, he’s an ape!” Yet, the title ignores that we, Homo sapiens, are apes (-3).  I guess “Planet of the Troglodytes, Gorilla and Pongo” doesn’t have the same ring.
  • Invasive chimp research = macabre: +5 Great Ape Act points. Revolutionary hyperboles aside, there are sad consequences of invasive research.
  • Chimpanzees aren’t pets: +10 Goodall points. The most chillingly realistic scene was where home-reared, genetically altered chimp Caesar attacks a neighbor. The scene’s even more profound because Caesar realizes he’s been hijacked by his uniquely chimp biological temperament. It seems the filmmakers were as familiar with the stories of Nim and Lucy as they were the 1968 original.
  • No Bonobos? -3 biodiversity points. Granted, even Goodall forgets our other closest relative sometimes. And I’ll quote a professor, “If bonobos took over they’d be all like: ‘Touch my penis, sex slaves!’” Yeah, might push that PG13 to R. While I buy that hyper-intelligent chimps might rebel for power, bonobos would rather organize orgies and elect Hillary Clinton (girl power!).
  • Inter-species relations: 5 de Waal demerits. Chimp groups hunt monkeys, vegetarian gorillas live in harems, orangutans are solitary arborealists. This trio seems unlikely have common goals. Even without special cousin bonobo in the mix, our ape family tree might cooperate at the level of dogs and cats.
  • Energy budget: 4 Wrangham warnings. Serkis may deserve an Oscar for aping apes, but every anatomical bone in my body ached at one aspect. How do these movie apes pay for such sustained rapid locomotion? Chimps in the wild can spend over half their day eating. These apes didn’t even snack. Climbing bridges and jumping through (many) windows is hard work! I think there must be deleted scenes of looting beer and Oreos and then napping.
  • Viral marketing used live chimps? -4 points for hypocrisy.
  • Sign language: 2 opposable thumbs down. Yes, NHPs have been taught to sign and understand language, but there’s a long way between that and forming novel sentences or real conversation. The dialogue with the orangutan is laughable, though still charming.
  • Innate chimp social gestures: 5 Kendall kicks. “Caesar! Where’d you learn to ask permission like a chimp?” *Shrug* It’s just in his genes.

If you were keeping count, the final score left Apes with five bananas and a handful of figs. Short of a good meal perhaps, but still a treat.

I didn’t let any errors ruin a science fiction film for me and neither should you. For now, this will remain my favorite version.

I guess I love every ape I see, from chimpan-a to chimpanzee.


3 thoughts on “An anthropological appraisal of apes

  1. Margaret

    FYI: RE: The earthquake on the East Coast, August 23:

    The Washington Post reported that the first warnings of the quake may have come from the National Zoo, where officials said red-ruffed lemurs began “alarm calling” a full 15 minutes before the quake hit and. In the great ape house, Iris the orangutan bellowed 10 seconds before the keepers felt it.

  2. Pingback: “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” A Review | Tired Road Warrior

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