A guy in Malaysia lost his cell phone and found it again full of monkey selfies and I have so many questions I don’t even know where to start. There are the obvious ones like, doesn’t this happen all the time in Malaysia? Monkeys seem to be pretty common there so I’m surprised this isn’t kind of a dog bites man story. And then there are the disturbing questions like, was Planet Of The Apes really a disturbing view of the future? And if so can it please be one of the good ones and not that horrendous Tim Burton flick?
Then there are the bigger philosophical questions. Were the monkeys aware of what they were doing? Did they know they were taking pictures of themselves? A series of copyright cases started in 2011 over a series of “monkey selfies” taken by macaques with a camera provided by photographer David Slater. The cases raised some thorny legal issues about ownership, and things took a really stupid turn when PETA filed a lawsuit arguing that the monkeys owned the photos, raising the question of whether they’re macaques, yourcaques, or nobody’scaques, but that’s another story.
And the history of animals creating art, as we understand it anyway, goes back to at least 1954 when Desmond Morris gave Congo, a chimpanzee in the London Zoo, pencils and paintbrushes, and elephants, dolphins, belugas, and even a bunny have produced paintings which raises the disturbing question, was Watership Down really a disturbing view of the future? And was the giraffe in this picture deliberately photobombing and if so would that be funny or disturbing or disturbingly funny?
We know animals make art. After all humans are animals, so cogito ergo pingo, or sumthing like that. The question is, do other species make art in the sense that we understand it? That’s a question that may be unanswerable, or at least can’t be answered until we can talk to the animals.