“A WORLDWIDE rescue mission has been launched today after thousands of Internet commentators were left stranded on higher moral ground in dangerously ignorant conditions, following an incident in a Cincinnati zoo where a gorilla was shot in a bid to protect a young boy.” -- parody site Waterford Whispers News
Almost one week later, we’re still talking about it. What’s up with Gorilla-gate?
For starters, with all the other complicated horrors happening in the world, this one—with its perfect archetypes—(man, or even better, baby, vs. beast) encapsulates many of the familiar memes we love to argue about on social media. The juicy ones that allow for maximum self-righteousness.
There’s the very popular mommy-shaming angle, plus the story provides a perfect platform for the animal-cruelty protestors who thought the shooting was senseless and want the family to pay.
Oh, and the sickening footage of the gorilla dragging the boy by his shorts through the water like a rag doll? That’s a visual tailor-made to grab TV ratings.
Adrenaline flowing, hearts sinking, we’re hoping to see what happened to the little one on the other side of the rock. But the footage stops, and it’s a mystery requiring a formal inquiry, trial, judge and jury.
Even animal behaviorists could not have predicted the outcome.
All we know is that Harambe, the lovable silverback gorilla, while at first seemingly showing protective and playful behavior toward the little human invader, was, as one news account put it, “an animal so strong that he could crush a coconut in his bare hand.”
Not to mention that the reactive, screaming crowds got him agitated. All we get to investigate are the same few seconds of footage, repeated on an endless loop. So it turns every viewer into a sleuth. It’s "Rashomon." And thankfully, the boy will be OK.
Then there’s the symbolism--lots of it. First up: Innocence and the beast. What could be more pure than a little boy in shorts? My immediate thought was about that agonizing photo of the 3-year-old Syrian boy--same age, dressed the same way--who lay dead at the shoreline in Turkey. A haunting photo, it became a wake-up call for the world. Through one, we could see the many.
The situation has only gotten worse. This week alone, there were 1,000 more deaths among people fleeing on overcrowded boats launched by sleazy operators.
But the answers to the Syrian refugee problem are painful and complicated. It’s easier to focus on a beautiful lowland gorilla. Or put our energies into maligning the mother in Gorilla-gate, who has four kids. I don’t know a mom who hasn’t, momentarily, lost sight of her 3-year-old and had her life pass before her eyes.
Then again, getting lost in Macy’s is not like hopping a three-foot fence, crawling through four feet of shrubbery and jumping 15 feet down into a moat where a gorilla is waiting.
The child is African-American; already there have been articles investigating the family that are encoded with racist dog whistles.
So here’s the part that gets really complicated.
One of the elephants in the room, of course, symbolism-wise, is King Kong. There is certainly an interpretation of the original movie from the early 1930s that is racist. A powerful ape, whose home is invaded, and who gets taken away in chains to be “civilized” and others to profit from, becomes sick with love, ravages a pure white woman, and ends up shot.
It’s a tragedy with the message “’Twas beauty killed the beast.” And in that famous image of Kong at the Empire State Building, he holds Fay Wray in the same way Harambe grabbed the kid.
Even if you see it merely as a hokey story and not a racial one, it is still an allegory about modern man: man vs. nature, and the cages we build for ourselves.
The theory that a zoo is little more than an animal jail is also surfacing and starting arguments, as is our need to anthropomorphize poor Harambe, a member of an endangered tribe.
Then there’s the other metaphor, begging to be spelled out: Everyone’s talking about a mother and a gorilla. Could it be Hillary vs. Bernie? Hillary vs. Trump? Trump vs. the media, as he drags the press through the water by their pants?
Another guy who was recognized for hosting a TV show before he ran for president, Ronald Reagan, won his re-election in 1984 with the award-winning spot “Morning In America.” Within that same campaign, there was another commercial, also written and voiced by adman Hal Riney, called “The Bear.”
The words are prophetic: "There is a bear in the woods,” Riney says. “For some people, the bear is easy to see. Others don't see it at all. Some people say the bear is tame. Others say it's vicious and dangerous. Since no one can really be sure who's right, isn't it smart to be as strong as the bear? If there is a bear."
Though the visual showed footage of a literal bear in the woods, the message was ambiguous. Was it referring to the Soviet Union? Nuclear build-up? Environmentalism? Gun rights?
We’ll never know. But it worked, persuading viewers that Reagan was a man who could take on the bear.
Now we live in crazier times. But Trump is espousing a similar kind of nostalgia for the golden times, when America was great — before all this trouble with women, diversity and political correctness got us off-course.
The story of the gorilla allows us to focus, and fight, in a way that is vicious but comfortable.
Although we still have no idea if there is a bear.