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What’s With the Monkey?

September 26, 2005

I have no real justification for my monkey doll masthead; it came to me in one of those half-asleep moments on the couch after church that I call a nap. I had been agonizing over names for my blog-to-be for weeks, when I remembered a fragment of some conversation I had with my friend Keith years ago. He was walking by one of those fancy junk shops in the Silverlake area of Los Angeles and saw an item in the window that caught his attention. I never saw this item myself, but for some reason the simple description on it’s tag has stayed with me ever since: strange monkey doll. (I don’t remember the price, but I bet it was too high.)

I’ve had a fascination with 3 word combinations ever since a friend of mine related this was a game he played while in basic training up in Fort Lewis, WA. His favorite at the time was psycho death penis. That was memorable too, but not., like, in the way you want.

So Strange Monkey Doll it is. I like him because he does the same thing every time you turn him on: he pops his eyes in and out and smashes his cymbals together, grinning all the while. Stupid, yes; and irritating over long periods- but how can you resist it’s crude charm?

But wait: there’s a deeper meaning too, one I did not expect and is not ironic or self-deprecating. Googling the words strange monkey doll one is likely to mostly find information on the topic of attachment theory in psychology. This is completely relevant to my perspective on the state of our country at this time:

A series of experiments with infant monkeys (Harlow & Harlow, 1969) has shown that attachment is not a simple reaction to internal drives such as hunger. In these experiments, young monkeys were separated from their mother shortly after birth. After that, they were offered two dolls which were thought of as surrogates to the mother. The first doll had a body of wire mesh. The second doll had a body of terry cloth and foam rubber. Both of these dolls could be made a source of food by attaching a milk bottle to its chest. The objective of the experiment was to see what would determine to which doll the monkey would cling: the soft contact of the cloth or the source of food. It turned out that the monkeys would cling to the soft-clothed doll, irrespective of whether it provided food.

This “strange situation” seems to me to be part of the basis on an emotional level of the divisions in our society today. It may well be an artificially constructed choice or false dichotomy, but it is quite real nevertheless: post 9/11 we have been forced to choose between comfort and survival. The world has changed. The material necessary to sustain our existence is no longer located where it used to be. It is not wrong to want that comfort of days gone by any more than it is wrong to want to survive. But we are not children anymore – certainly not baby monkeys – and it is time to approach that scary uncomfortable wire-mesh side of life before we perish.

If this is all too deep or precious, just take a look at this, and come back here another day.

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