Monday, 5 November 2007

Me Like Bananas

Karl Pilkington once claimed, in a Monkey News, that a woman working at an animal sanctuary was fired from her job, because a chimpanzee wanted to play with her breasts and she refused. The 'foreman' apparently demanded that she comply with the wishes of the 'monkey', and when she didn't she was summarily sacked.

Ricky and Steve ridiculed the story, and ended by denouncing Karl as an idiot and an imbecile as they did at the end of every episode of Monkey News. In all respects, in fact, it was a usual Monkey News story (for those who don't know it, Monkey News was a feature on Ricky Gervais and Steve Merchant's radio show for years before finding its way onto their podcast; the basic gist is that, each week, Karl tells a 'true' story about monkeys - usually actually chimpanzees - which is in fact complete rubbish). As a casual listener, I had a good chortle like everybody else, and put it out of my mind.

So imagine my surprise this morning when, idly browsing around wikipedia, I came across the story of Koko the gorilla, who is allegedly able to communicate with humans in American Sign Language. Apparently, as well as being highly intelligent, Koko has a bit of a 'thing' for breasts - specifically, nipples. She delights in pinching people's nipples, and often demands that visitors lift their shirts to show her. And, lo and behold, it seems that Dr. Patterson, her handler and closest human companion, has demanded that at least three female employees "indulge Koko's nipple fetish" - otherwise their job would be in danger. The animal sanctuary where Koko lives has in fact been subject to several million-dollar lawsuits from female employees claiming sexual harrassment by the gorilla and her keeper. (We'll leave aside the idiocy of claiming a million dollars from a charity for endangered species, which seems like the ultimate in taking things too far, to another day.)

So, in fact, Karl was telling the truth - or, at least, something more approaching the truth than Ricky gave him credit for.

Incidentally, you can read a transcript of Koko's efforts to communicate with Aol users in an online chat in 1998 here. It's unintentionally hilarious, and you'll notice that the only things Koko seems to meaningfully be able to communicate are "fine," "give me food," and "nipple". In fact, this transcript should be enough, alone, to put to bed forever the question of apes being able to use human language: all Koko does is talk utter gibberish which Dr. Patterson makes ridiculous mental contortions to try to make sense of. (My particular favourite is when somebody asks what Koko thinks of Michael [another gorilla] and she just points at her foot and big toe repeatedly. This is interpreted to mean that he's a "good male" because, er, 'foot' means 'male' and, er...) In fact, all Koko seems to be able to do is beg for food - and sexual favours - in a slightly more sophisticated way than a dog or guinea pig. After all, as a kid I trained my dog to be able to sit on his hind legs and wave his forelegs back and forth, which is just as good 'sign language' as Koko's if all you want is a bit of beef jerky or a banana.


Amanda said...

LOL! What a funny true story!

mattiecore said...

I love Ricky Gervais and Steve Merchant.