I've been thinking about this kid I went to elementary school with. I don't remember his name. He was super smart. The kind of kid who knew how to spell the word "people" way before anyone else. Nerd. So, one year on our last day of after-school we were going around the circle saying what we were going to do over the summer. We were all saying reasonable things for a bunch of 8-year-olds, like, "I'm going to summer camp." or "I'm going to eat Popsicles til my insides freeze." or "I'll be spending most of my days rubbing elbows with the heroin addicts of Coney Island while my father runs a dark ride there." You know. The usual. But this kid said, "I plan on reading all of Webster's Dictionary." Seriously. That's what he said. Come on. That's not a thing ANYONE does. Let alone an 8-year-old. Just knock it off, Whatsyername.
About seven years later I ran into him at Washington Square Park during the pot parade or whatever it's called. I hated smoking pot because it made my brain end up in a foetal position inside itself. Within a few minutes of smoking pot no matter where I am or who I'm with I'm convinced that I'll end up homeless in the gutter by the end of the day. But all my friends smoked and I was so desperate for friendship that I would have jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge if they did. Or, even if they had just told me to. It wasn't a time I look back on with any fondness. So, there I was in Washington Square Park, stoned out of my mind, trying to make it look like I didn't feel like my body was covered in ants, and Mr. Dictionary points at my shoes and says, "Haha. You double-knot your laces." I said, "Yeah," because I did. It was an accurate observation. I generally find double-knotting my shoelaces preferable to having to re-tie them all the time. It was less a fashion choice and more a decision of convenience and efficiency. I had missed the memo about shoelaces. Apparently the less they are tied the cooler you are. Mr. Dictionary had deduced that I was a nerd because I didn't want to deal with the annoyance of repeatedly re-tying my shoelaces. Like I said, he was SUPER smart.
For years I was embarrassed that I had double-knotted my laces that day. I just wanted to be cool. I could never get it right. And here was this really cool guy calling me out. I mean, he didnt look cool or anything but he knew the exact definition of the word, so he must have been cool. He read the dictionary. Even if he didn't make it all the way through, it's likely he at least got to "cool".
So, that's something about me. I let a kid whose summer activity when he was eight was reading a dictionary make me feel like a nerd because of an arbitrary fashion preference. I think about it almost every time I tie my shoes.
Excuse me. Have any of you guys read Curious George recently? I'm talking about the original book. Not Curious George Visits the Aquarium (Which, by the way is RIDDLED with errors. Just sloppy, lazy book-writing. The baby penguin almost drowns because it hasn't learned to swim yet even though it was swimming one page back? George, inside the penguin habitat, uses a rope to swing out "over the beluga tank" to help the baby penguin? And the zoo makes him an honorary staff person for saving the baby penguin who wouldn't have been in trouble in the first place were it not for George and his "curiosity."), or Curious George and the Puppies (Dreck). I'm talking about the very first book by Margaret and H.A. Rey. If you haven't read it recently, let me summarize (Even if you have read it, I'm still going to summarize.):
• The man with the yellow hat sees a monkey in the jungle and decides he should be in a zoo because fuck animals.
• The man with the yellow hat then lures George with the hat and when George tries it on the man snatches him up IN A BAG.
• The man in the yellow hat takes George aboard a ship and let's him go off by himself. George falls off the ship because he's pretending to be be a bird BECAUSE HE'S A MONKEY AND SHOULDN'T BE LEFT ALONE OR BE ON THE SHIP IN THE FIRST PLACE. George gets rescued by some sailors.
• Once they get to the man with the yellow hat's place, George has dinner AND A PIPE.
• The next day the douchebag with the yellow hat leaves George alone (AGAIN) in his apartment and says, "Be a good little monkey." Hey, dude. Fuck you. You ripped me away from my home and family, gave me tobacco, and now you just want me to sit here with my thumb up my ass? You're lucky I don't rip your face off. Because that's what monkies do, or haven't you learned that from the monkies at your fucking zoo?
• George calls the fire department by mistake who come thinking it's a fire and then ARREST George AND TAKE HIM TO PRISON.
• George escapes prison, steals some balloons, floats away, and lands on a traffic light where the sociopath with the yellow hat happens to see him. •The White Devil with the yellow hat then takes George to the zoo and leaves him there. And George is happy be because he has a balloon, a banana, and his very own tree. One tree. Singular.
THAT'S IT, GUYS. That's one of our most beloved children's books. What even is its message? What the hell was Margaret Rey trying to say? Where's the lesson? Where's the moral? People are awful? White men have serious privilige? Maybe she was being subversive? Somehow I doubt that.
Let me pause for a brief P.S.A. for those of you whose critical thinking skills need polishing: Let me be clear, I'm not likening the people taken from Africa and turned into slaves to monkies. I'm pointing to the parallel of taking a living thing away from its home, against its will for the purposes of one's own comfort or enjoyment.
I'm annoyed that I feel the need to explain the obvious. But ever since some White dude said my Ben Brantley piece showed a "self-righteous ignorance of Steinbeck's work", I feel like heading stupidity off at the pass might be worth it. Thanks, dude. The Ben Brantley piece had almost nothing to do with Steinbeck's work. Jackass.
Anyway, Curious George the book, the subsequent book series, and the PBS TV show seem to be aimed at reinforcing the narrative that White dudes can just do whatever the shit they want. I would add the identifier "straight", but, in all fairness, I don't know what the man in the yellow hat's sexual orientation is. He seems to have a crush on the scientist from the museum, but he's never asked her out. Maybe he's asexual? I don't know. The point is, he's constantly placing trust in an animal that has, time and time again, shown he is not trustworthy. Just because you say, "Be a good little monkey" doesn't mean your domesticated chimpanzee isn't going to flood your living room. And guess what? When he does flood your living room, or buy 1000 donuts instead of 10, or glue all your furniture together, that shit is on you, man. You're the asshole who repeatedly leaves a monkey by himself. But whatever. You're a White man (of unidentified sexual orientation). You get to do whatever you want. You and your trouble-making monkey never face any consequences. In fact, after letting the penguins out of their habitat, your monkey gets made an honorary staff member at the zoo! "You saved the baby penguin, George!" What the fuck are you talking about, dude? The baby penguin wouldn't have fallen into the water If George hadn't let all the penguins out. After causing mayhem at the chocolate factory he gets free chocolate? What is the matter with these people? Oh, right. The man with the yellow hat just gives them an "Aww shucks" look and they're like, "Oh, he's with you? All is forgiven!" It reminds me of that brilliant sketch Eddie Murphy did on SNL where he walked around in white face and got free shit. "You don't have to pay for that; You're White!"
It should go without saying that I'm not suggesting the writers involved with the Curious George franchise sit down everyday and go, "How can we help maintain the status quo today?" I'm suggesting that they're not questioning the status quo and their complicity in it.
Also, I'm well aware that not all White men walk around thinking they have carte blanche. But many do walk around with no awareness of their own privilege. I know some men who are well aware of their privilege and generally behave accordingly. I know more who aren't. (Have you ever said, "Why are you offended? It's just a joke!"? Yeah. Knock that shit off. Here's a suggested response when someone has a different reaction to something than you do: "Hmm. I'd like to understand your point of view. Tell me more.") It's tough. I know. It requires a rewiring. And I know some of this stuff makes you (Dear White male reader) uncomfortable. But as a group you guys could stand to be a little uncomfortable for a bit. You've had it pretty easy for a loooooooong time.
As things are getting rearranged and we're learning to treat all human beings with dignity and respect, and as those of us in a privileged position learn to always remember our privilege and what it means in regards to those without, we're going to go through some growing pains. It's okay. We will survive.
Wow. That was just supposed to be a post about the book. I did not mean to get all Social Justice-y. When I sat down to write this a few days ago I literally just wanted to talk about how insane this particular piece of children's entertainment is. I know, I know, it's just a book, right? Right? Right?