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<   No. 1278   2006-07-27   >

Comic #1278

1 {scene: A hospital reception desk. A nurse attends to a rampantly entering Jane Goodall.}
1 Jane Goodall: I've just flown in from Africa to see Steve! Where is he?
1 Nurse: Sorry, family only.
2 Jane Goodall: {barging past the desk} Let me through! I'm Jane Goodall! I deal with monkeys all the time!
3 Nurse: You mean apes...
4 Jane Goodall: Same difference! Out of my way!

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I just thought the idea of Jane Goodall not caring about the semantic difference between apes and monkeys would be amusing.


A reader riposted by pointing out this comic is actually much more insightful than I have represented it with my original annotation. But I'll let him explain:
Having previously tried to ascertain that semantic difference between "monkey" and "ape", I'm no longer sure there is a useful such distinction. I used to think "monkeys have tails, apes do not", but apparently that isn't true. Although no apes have tails, there are also some monkeys that don't. In fact, as Wikipedia says:
Because they are not a single coherent group, monkeys do not have any particular traits that they all share and are not shared with the remaining group of simians, the apes.
It turns out that the so-called "monkeys" are a paraphyletic combination of the Cercopithecoidea and Platyrrhini.

So, I saw Jane Goodall's comment as insightful because she ignored a broad colloquial terminology which is of dubious value to a scientist and saw this strip as more of a post-modern social satire with ironically self-referential humour playing off a stereotypical view of scientists and their relationship to the human-ape societies they function within. The superior air with which the Goodall character sweeps aside the hospital orderly, who, despite being a pretender to the sci-tech elite Goodall represents, has no firm grasp of the subtleties of non-human simian relations (as Goodall does), shows that even within an elite there are elites, mirroring that very human/ape/monkey need to construct hierarchies, if only to serve as social markers of, and barriers to, power. Goodall's dominance is at once asserted by her ability not only to master the terminology but to reinterpret it to a subordinate and dilettante, showing her mastery not only of the field but also of her ignorant rival in not only this area but in all other areas, vis-a-vis the orderly's attempted function as a security barrier; yet that very assertion of dominance is mocked by the construction and form within which this social commentary arrives, a comic. Like all good art, which holds up a mirror to ourselves and, by reflection, illuminates the human condition, this satire uses a researcher of simians to examine the societal workings of that most often omitted species within that group, the humans, and to thereby subversively reassert our clear membership of it. So, on the contrary, it's both humorous and deep, which makes it very, very clever.

Why yes, that's the very effect I was aiming for.
A blogger commented on this comment, as follows:
critical theory explained/unmasked!
Over at irregular webcomic an unnamed commenter has neatly unraveled the strange power dynamic of academic critical theory. I think this is the shortest, most concise and clearest explanation of the whole damn thing I've ever come across.

Short form: a nurse, blocking Jane Goodall's path, quibbles about ape/monkey distinctions. Goodall sweeps her aside, saying: "Same difference! Out of my way!"

comment reproduced here:

He then reproduces the above comment, with the following highlighted:
Goodall's dominance is at once asserted by her ability not only to master the terminology but to reinterpret it to a subordinate and dilettante
Wow. I'm not quite sure what critical theory is, but a quick glance at the Wikipedia article confirms that this version is indeed much shorter, more concise, and clearer. The mind boggles.

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Last Modified: Thursday, 27 July 2006; 03:11:01 PST.
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