Menus Subscribe Search

You Can’t Keep That Simian Stereotype Down

• May 14, 2008 • 11:39 PM

 

A Georgia bar owner is marketing a T-shirt featuring the children’s book character Curious George above the logo ‘Obama ’08,’ and he seems shocked, just shocked, that some see a suspicious undertone (or blatant racism) in his actions.

Mike Norman of Marietta, Ga., said he was struck by the Democratic presidential candidate’s resemblance to the simian, “especially the hairline.” It’s a stretch at best — the ears might have stood a better chance of surviving scrutiny — but take a look at the image and come to your own conclusion.

His explanation hasn’t carried much weight with a handful of Georgians demonstrating outside his tavern, or Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the big publishing house that has rights to the character.

The Associated Press quoted the publisher’s spokesman, Richard Blake, thusly: “Houghton Mifflin Harcourt did not nor would we ever authorize or approve this use of the Curious George character, which we find offensive and utterly out of keeping with the values Curious George represents. We are monitoring the situation and weighing all of our options.”

Mr. Norman’s Capt. Renault routine carries even less water since Miller-McCune.com spoke with some researchers recently who determined that the vision of blacks as apelike was pretty firmly lodged — consciously or unconsciously — in the minds of white Americans.

“When I first analyzed the data, I spent two days under the covers,” lead author Phillip Atiba Goff, an assistant professor of psychology at Pennsylvania State University, told our Tom Jacobs. “I was sick and depressed. When I left my apartment, I felt everyone looking at me would see a monkey.

“But at this point, I’m able to feel some optimism about it. Once I tell my students about this, they are able to see it and put it in perspective. Knowing about it, and being able to talk about it, positions us to better combat it.”

That sense of the simian connection as a subtext that can get by with a nod and wink at Mulligan’s Bar and Grill isn’t winning over Bill Nigut, southeast regional director for the Anti-Defamation League, for one. As he told the AP, “(Norman) can pretend he doesn’t understand what the message of that T-shirt is, but he knows full well that’s an offensive and demeaning stereotype used to insult African Americans.” That sensitivity came to the fore recently when basketball’s LeBron James appeared on the cover of Vogue in a pose some likened to a classic King Kong poster.

And it’s not just African Americans. The still-popular Tintin series of comic books by the Belgian writer and illustrator Herge include a 1931 installment that takes place in the Congo and depicts the natives as monkey-like.

Still, there is another, non-racial side of using simians as political operatives, from Ronald Reagan’s unfortunate association with Bonzo to a spate of shirts and Web sites linking George W. Bush to various non-human primates, including one Curious George. (They do share a name.)

In that sense there sits Bill Feldspar, the guy behind www.bushorchimp.com. On his site, he explains, “This is a little project I decided to start once I realized how much George W. Bush looks like a chimpanzee. I’m not a member of any political party, and I have nothing in particular against the man. I just think he kind of looks like a chimpanzee.”

Guess it’s the hairline.

Michael Todd
Most of Michael Todd's career has been spent in newspaper journalism, ranging from papers in the Marshall Islands to tiny California farming communities. Before joining the publishing arm of the Miller-McCune Center, he was managing editor of the national magazine Hispanic Business.

More From Michael Todd

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

July 31 • 8:00 AM

Should Athletes Train Their Memories?

Sure, but it probably won’t help.


July 31 • 6:00 AM

Universal Basic Income: Something We Can All Agree on?

According to Almaz Zelleke, it’s not a crazy thought.


July 31 • 4:00 AM

Medical Dramas Produce Misinformed, Fatalistic Viewers

New research suggests TV doctor dramas leave viewers with skewed impressions of important health-related topics.


July 30 • 4:00 PM

Still the World’s Top Military Spender

Although declining in real terms, the United States’ military budget remains substantial and a huge drain on our public resources.



July 30 • 2:04 PM

The Rise of the Nuisance Flood

Minor floods are afflicting parts of Maryland nearly 10 times more often than was the case in the 1960s.


July 30 • 2:00 PM

The (Mostly Awful) Things You Learn After Investigating Unpaid Internships for a Year

Though the intern economy remains opaque, dialogue about the role of interns in the labor force—and protections they deserve—is beginning to take shape.


July 30 • 12:00 PM

Why Coffee Shortages Won’t Change the Price of Your Frappuccino

You’re so loyal to Starbucks—and the company knows it—that your daily serving of caffeine is already marked up beyond the reach of any fluctuations in supply.



July 30 • 10:00 AM

Having Difficult Conversations With Your Children

Why it’s necessary, and how to do it.


July 30 • 8:00 AM

How to Make a Convincing Sci-Fi Movie on a Tight Budget

Coherence is a good movie, and its initial shoot cost about the same amount of money as a used Prius.


July 30 • 6:00 AM

Are You Really as Happy as You Say You Are?

Researchers find a universal positivity bias in the way we talk, tweet, and write.


July 30 • 4:00 AM

The Declining Wage Gap for Gay Men

New research finds gay men in America are rapidly catching up with straight married men in terms of wages.


July 30 • 2:00 AM

LeBron James Migration: Big Chef Seeking Small Pond

The King’s return to Cleveland is a symbol for the dramatic shift in domestic as well as international migration.


July 29 • 4:00 PM

Are Children Seeking Refuge Turning More Americans Against Undocumented Immigrants?

A look at Pew Research Center survey data collected in February and July of this year.


July 29 • 2:00 PM

Under Water: The EPA’s Ongoing Struggle to Combat Pollution

Frustration and inaction color efforts to enforce the Clean Water Act.


July 29 • 12:40 PM

America’s Streams Are Awash With Pesticides Banned in Europe

You may have never heard of clothianidin, but it’s probably in your local river.


July 29 • 12:00 PM

Mining Your Genetic Data for Profit: The Dark Side of Biobanking

One woman’s personal story raises deep questions about the stark limits of current controls in a nascent industry at the very edge of the frontier of humans and technology.


July 29 • 11:23 AM

Where Should You Go to College?


July 29 • 10:29 AM

How Textbooks Have Changed the Face of War

War is more personal, less glorious, and more hellish in modern textbooks than in the past. But there’s still room for improvement.


July 29 • 10:00 AM

The Monolingual American: Why Are Those Outside of the U.S. Encouraging It?

If you are an American trying to learn German in a large German town or city, you will mostly hear English in return, even when you give sprechen your best shot.


July 29 • 8:00 AM

The Elusive Link Between Casinos and Crime

With a study of the impact of Philadelphia’s SugarHouse Casino, a heated debate gets fresh ammunition.


July 29 • 6:00 AM

What Are the Benefits of Locking Yourself in a Tank and Floating in Room-Temperature Saltwater?

After three sessions in an isolation tank, the answer’s still not quite clear.


July 29 • 4:00 AM

Harry Potter and the Battle Against Bigotry

Kids who identify with the hero of J.K. Rowling’s popular fantasy novels hold more open-minded attitudes toward immigrants and gays.


July 29 • 2:00 AM

Geographic Scale and Talent Migration: Washington, D.C.’s New Silver Line

Around the country, suburbs are fighting with the urban core over jobs and employees.


Follow us


Subscribe Now

The Rise of the Nuisance Flood

Minor floods are afflicting parts of Maryland nearly 10 times more often than was the case in the 1960s.

America’s Streams Are Awash With Pesticides Banned in Europe

You may have never heard of clothianidin, but it's probably in your local river.

How Textbooks Have Changed the Face of War

War is more personal, less glorious, and more hellish in modern textbooks than in the past. But there’s still room for improvement.

NASA Could Build Entire Spacecrafts in Space Using 3-D Printers

This year NASA will experiment with 3-D printing small objects in space. That could mark the beginning of a gravity-free manufacturing revolution.

The Most Popular Ways to Share Good and Bad Personal News

Researchers rank the popularity of all of the different methods we have for telling people about our lives, from Facebook to face-to-face.

The Big One

One in two full-time American fast-food workers' families are enrolled in public assistance programs, at a cost of $7 billion per year. July/August 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.