Our Brethren: The Chimpanzee

When I decided to be Snooki for Halloween two years ago, I started watching episodes of The Jersey Shore. Originally, I wanted to perfect the costume and the accent, perhaps emulate some of her mannerisms. I was very happy with how my costume turned out (below). But once Halloween was over, I missed watching the show and I couldn’t figure out why exactly, or for that matter, why reality TV has been so successful over recent years compared to scripted shows.

I think I’ve figured out at least one reason. In sensational reality TV, whether the characters are eating unusual insects, competing to be the last person on an island, discovering paternity on Jerry Springer, or fighting in a club on the Jersey Shore, we see our ancient selves in them, our wildest nature, a more instinctual lifestyle that many of us have abandoned for more refined and civil decorum. We see the lifestyle of our ancient brethren, with whom we share 96% of our DNA, the chimpanzee.

But what makes these shows so appealing to us is that these people are living the wilder life, a life full of emotions and feelings that we still possess and feel with animal intensity, but most of us win the struggle to suppress them.

As exhibit A, I present a short clip from a BBC Wildlife documentary on chimp behavior, showing a male display of authority and dominance.

Exhibit B is a clip from the reality TV series The Jersey Shore, filming in Italy. Mike, The Situation, is fed up with Ronnie’s behavior.

I was reminded of the similarities between us and the chimpanzees when I saw this article today at Science Daily News, about how chimpanzees have policemen within their groups to help maintain social order. My first thought was, of course they do. They probably also have twenty other cultural role similarities that haven’t even occurred to us before.

As you might have heard, Snooki is now engaged and with child. She said she won’t spend the summer at the Jersey Shore because, “those days are over.” Being pregnant and engaged is changing her behavior. I haven’t looked yet, but I bet I can find a chimpanzee nature show or article that asserts that female chimpanzees participate in fewer risky behaviors when pregnant. If you find one, please do let me know.

What do you think of reality TV? Do you see any connections to your own primal nature? Which wild shows are your favorite vices? I’d love to hear your comments.

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4 responses to “Our Brethren: The Chimpanzee

  1. I am a Survivor fan. It is a small particle of the whole of society. They all go there as equals..they give someone power and then fear them. I have used some skills that I learned from it at work. A person on my crew got in my face and when I commented back told me “not to go there”; I told them “or what…what can and will you do…we are on the same level”. It shut this problem person down and they were less of a problem for the rest of us….Thanks Survivor! The show has been on for years but the contestants still go there unprepared (can’t make a fire). The episode last night was the most pathetic I have ever seen.

  2. …we see our ancient selves in them, our wildest nature, a more instinctual lifestyle that many of us have abandoned for more refined and civil decorum… YEP!

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