Tina K. Russell

July 23, 2008

On the overuse of monkeys

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Tina Russell @ 11:58 am

Op-Ed Contributor – Silly Chimps on TV Make People Think the Apes Aren’t Endangered – Op-Ed – NYTimes.com
A survey that I and several colleagues conducted in 2005 found that one in three visitors to the Lincoln Park Zoo assumed that chimpanzees are not endangered. Yet more than 90 percent of these same visitors understood that gorillas and orangutans face serious threats to their survival. And many of those who imagined chimpanzees to be safe reported that they based their thinking on the prevalence of chimps in advertisements, on television and in the movies.

I’ve long been troubled by the overuse of monkeys in design, especially in Web, fashion, and “counterculture” circles. It’s not clever or funny; it’s just cliché. But this op-ed brings to light one more problem: we are 98% chimpanzee, and these creatures are as respectable, and scientifically useful to learn from, as they are endangered. The more we present the use of a monkey as hip or hilarious in itself, we perpetuate the idea that they’re harmless and plentiful, when neither is true.

I’m not saying you should never use a monkey to represent your brand or product (though the author of this op-ed rightly encourages you not to use a live-action monkey). Perhaps, though, your monkey-themed project could do a charity drive to help real monkeys facing real threats. That could help people understand that monkeys deserve respect and face real danger.


  1. Something I’m familiar with having worked at The Gorilla Foundation previously. I’m just so dumbfounded at times how we at large just take what’s presented to us in the media and form our conceptions then and there. Oh, and to be really anal retentive here, Tina, they’re primates – not monkeys. Monkeys have tails. Primates have butts. 😉

    Comment by Riftgirl — July 26, 2008 @ 8:47 am

  2. Whoa, chimps aren’t monkeys? … I think you just _ended_ my worldview.

    (And monkeys aren’t primates? Damn… )

    Comment by Tina Russell — July 26, 2008 @ 11:47 am

  3. Okay, never mind. Looking at Wikipedia, I guess you didn’t mean monkeys and primates are mutually exclusive, just that chimps are primates _but not_ monkeys. They’re apes!

    (What in hell is Donkey Kong, then?)

    Comment by Tina Russell — July 26, 2008 @ 11:54 am

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