Monkeyshines

Comparing human beings to apes is all the rage these days. Certainly, it seems to spark a greater degree of outrage than any other human-animal comparison. Just look at Bill Maher’s comparison of Donald Trump to an orangutan! Oh, wait, that was in 2013, when apparently such comparisons were called “jokes” and celebrities like Mr. Trump were supposed to be able to laugh them off.

Not anymore. We all saw what happened in summer 2016 when Milo...no, wait, Milo never made any comparison of Leslie Jones to a simian, but everyone still believes that he did. Nothing he could say will convince Twitter otherwise, so toxic has even the insinuation that someone might make such a comparison become. (To reiterate, Milo never compared Jones to any animal, never mind an ape, but he was permanently banned from Twitter anyway—go, look! Everyone is talking about it now.)

The outrage! The scandal! The cries of “Heresy!” and “Burn the witch!”

It’s all, well, so medieval.

You knew I was going there.

That is, after all, where you find all the best apes. Here’s one of my favorites:


Do you like him? I call him “Milo” in honor of the first post that I did about our fabulous trickster.

Here’s another one from the same manuscript:


It seems apes were quite talented back in the Middle Ages, almost human, you might say. They could hunt with falcons, drive horse carts, play the bagpipes, capture birds in cages, blow bubbles, spin thread, and look at themselves in a mirror.

Not at all like the apes that we have today, none of whom we want (apparently) to be related to.

Darwin must be so disappointed.

You all know that I have had my own deal of trouble convincing my colleagues in medieval studies that I did not say certain things that they are convinced I did, much like Milo with Leslie Jones. I recently learned how to search for myself on Twitter—I know! It is inconceivable in 2018 that I should not have known how!—and have discovered a whole new treasure trove of comments about myself. (Waves at all her new friends!)

Building on the animal theme, one recent post explicitly compared me to an animal that first implants on a rock and then digests its own brain “often taken as an analogy to what happens at universities when professors get tenure.” The OP was about Jordan Peterson’s use of lobsters to talk about hierarchy, and the subsequent discussion was about how ridiculous it was to compare humans to lobsters. Much better to compare us, the participants in the thread suggested, to tunicates—“and you don’t see humans ramming headfirst into a rock and consuming their own brains.”

Except, it would seem, with me.



My guess is that nobody is going to be outraged by this comparison. I wonder why.


Manuscript apes from the Luttrell Psalter, London, British Library, Add. 42130, fols. 38r and 162r

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