Democrat From Kentucky

Democrat from Kentucky
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Imperialist Yellow Hat Man and Curious George Friday, February 10, 2006

Something inane and asinine has got me a little wound up today. In a recent "review" of the delightful children's book H.A. & Margaret Rey, L.A. English teacher Robin Roth provides an incite(this is the choice spelling here) into the animal cruelty, bad parenting and imperialist tendencies demonstrated in a children's book cause one to take pause as socially irresponsible.

Here's the review:
by H.A. Rey

Educational Tool or Irresponsible Menace? Children's Classic Demands Socially Responsible Reading

The celebrated children's classic Curious George is a seemingly simple story about an innocent - yet inquisitive - African monkey snatched from his jungle home. Children have loved this boldly illustrated story, in primarily primary colors, and marveled to the adventures of the curious little monkey for decades. The text is easy to read and immediately engaging, but a closer reading reveals a much darker side to the popular tale that spawned sequels, toys, and cartoons. Not only does the story reveals the sinister side of a corrupt wildlife trade with perilous roots in Western imperialism, but recent ethical, legal and scientific considerations on the personhood of primates makes a traditional reading of Curious George both impossible and irresponsible.

The book begins with a picture of a happy monkey swinging in a tree and eating a banana. The image is so pleasant, in fact, that even the flowers in the illustration have happy faces. The little monkey is happy as well, until he is captured, when his wide grin turns to a grimace. When H.A. Rey first wrote the book in the early 1940s, public attention and conservation efforts failed to focus on a dangerous and controversial wildlife trade where millions of apes and monkeys are slaughtered, captured, and sold into animal slavery, and babies are frequently snatched from the lifeless bodies of their mothers. In Rey's book there is no violent capture-only a benign looking white man - presumably a wildlife trader -- in a big yellow hat.

"What a nice little monkey," he [the man] thought. "I would like to take him home with me" (6).

A couple of pages later, the monkey's curiosity gets the best of him. Like an African tribal member centuries earlier, the monkey is deceived by the trader, bagged, and sold. George's happy face turns to fear.

"George was sad" (12).

The author quickly detracts from the sadness of the monkey, however, an animal that shares almost 100 percent of human DNA and is - in fact - humankind's closest living relative, lest twentieth century children react too sentimentally toward a species not their own. Perhaps for this reason, George, as he is now known, is never shown with his primate family. Although the white man in the yellow hat is never depicted mistreating the monkey (although some might argue dressing a wild animal in human clothes is the cruelest form of exploitation), the monkey is, nevertheless, a "naughty little monkey" (36). George is constantly unsupervised, gets in trouble with the police, and is even sent to jail. The picture of the forlorn little primate alone in his cell conjures haunting images of countless monkeys lingering in laboratories, suffering silently and alone, or the millions of primates hunted into extinction or forced to live unnatural lives dedicated to human pleasure.

To continue to read Curious George as a harmless children's adventure about a wayward monkey is irresponsible. The implicit connection between animal suffering and a wildlife trade where primates and other nonhuman animals are caught and sold for laboratories, zoos, and other forms of human exploitation is never mentioned in Rey's book. While some might claim such political or philosophical musings have no place in a children's story, and certainly such topics were not addressed in 1941, when the book was first published, the frightening implication for young readers is that wildlife exists for human use and pleasure. Such a view makes it easy to view the little monkey as much better away from the strong bonds of primate family units of which Dr. Jane Goodall writes, before he is transported to a city where he wears human clothes, sleeps in a bed, smokes a pipe, and is sold to a zoo. A modern, socially responsible reading of the book must focus on a socially just solution to the problems presented by the monkey's capture. Such a reading makes Curious George an excellent educational tool in teaching children an environmental ethic where the rights of all creatures are valued and considered.

This is just insanely overboard here. I fancy myself liberal and progressive on many issues but the types of topic the reviewer brings up aren't ment for three-year-olds. The other point she makes in the end is one many would disagree with: that wildlife exists for human use and pleasure. I got news for you Roth, many people believe just that. Many of us use animals for work and pleasure. That's what pets are. That's what the mule is for. They call them work animals for a reason. Besides, if you eliminate that notion, then they could arguable be considered competition for space and resources. We don't want that now do we.

This is the most idiotic review I've seen in my life. This is a young children's book. Leave it that way. three-year-olds aren't about being socially responsible.

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posted by Stithmeister @ 3:57 PM

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Location: Harrodsburg, Kentucky, United States

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