From the Kommisar's Desk...

By Tom Dobrowolsky, MLIS Day


The People have spoken!


An historic event occurred in the last few weeks. In fact, it was so historic that the very adjective is being preceded by the article an rather an a. A great number of people rose up from the depths and exercised their free and democratic right to choose. Now, great controversies have persisted for at least the last 15 years: are socks with sandals OK, butter versus margarine, and flying versus invisibility to name just a few. However, it was not until the fall of 2002 that perhaps the most vexing of controversies came to my attention.

As a matter of personal testimony, and journalistic honesty, I feel I must admit full disclosure of my biases. In a conversation with my (at the time not) ex, I happened to mention that there was not a situation which could not be improved by the addition of a monkey. Simply put, I believed that monkeys made everything funnier -- 28 Days Later notwithstanding. Well, sir, she shot me a look as if I were the Devil and Daniel Webster all rolled up into one. Clearly, for the sake of the relationship, we both decided that this must be put to the test. Unfortunately, in true slacker fashion, we never got around to it. And as we were both diplomatic Librans, I think we were even both able to see each other's point of view... even though we publicly hurled accusations.

We did, however, manage to decide on the wording of the ballot; it called for the utmost vagueness. No qualifications (live? real? rubber? robotic?), no explanations, no other animals, nothing. Just a simple question: "[a]s a comedic device, which animal is funnier: the Chicken or the Monkey?" The survey thus narrowly limited the scope of options to the two most popular parties, largely in order to make it easy on us American voters who can rarely comprehend having more than two major parties in government. As a result several astute voters did comment on the absence of ducks, platypuses, antelopes - and fish, of all creatures. All have certain humorous charm, of course, but as sinister information people we all know better than to give The People too many choices.

But the most important observation noted "both are funnier than this survey, which is of very little humor value (and clearly no other value)". I agree completely. I don't believe that there are any losers here, for I have now come to believe that the old adage "the right tool for the right job" applies in this case. I mean, regardless of your opinion on this divisive issue, you have to admit the objective truth that the first portion of 2001: A Space Odyssey would have been sublimely hilarious had it featured a bunch of chickens pecking around the monolith... and that a chicken trying to play an organ would just be sad and unfortunate. But this isn't about my own feeble epiphanies. This is about voting. Voting, as the comment above implies, is a serious matter. And as a gritty, hard-ball newspaper, the Silverfish has a duty to report on the vox populi.

At the most primal level of humor, several voters mentioned the fact that monkeys "fling poo." The number of occurrences (4) of this exact phrase almost made me wonder whether there was some malfeasance going on. However, I recalled a recent Discovery Channel show in which the "dung spraying" habits of the rhinoceros were discussed (in fact, one respondent even had the venerable rhino trumping both candidates). Perhaps a number of monkey champions saw this program. And who doesn't trust the Discovery Channel? Thus I put the phone down before dialing Jimmy Carter and simply trusted in the integrity of this vote.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this election was the range of opinions expressed, even those pertaining to the same animal. For example, one chicken booster noted that "it is constantly crossing the road." On the other hand, reflecting our rich diversity, another chicken proponent believed "that chicken is too serious." A fair number mentioned our close evolutionary relationship to the monkey. As a result, we can laugh at ourselves without picking on actual humans, some said. "All the anthropomorphic qualities of Human without the ethical constraints." On the other hand, in voting for chickens, another voter confessed that, due to this closeness, "sometimes I feel like I'm picking on them."

Wise words, indeed. Let us remember this in all of our attempts at humor. So while chickens may be funnier because they are "dumb and can be easily manipulated" or because they are "just so cute when they get upset [nervous, or agitated]," we should remember also that animals "get upset when we laugh at their expense. That, Sir, is NOT funny." Perhaps we ought to ask ourselves: are we laughing with monkeys and chickens or are we merely laughing at monkeys and chickens?

As a complete aside, getting back to anthropomorphism, I was impressed with the great vocabulary and the rich depth of comments... though certainly not surprised, given how bright and good-looking this voting pool is. For example, one cunning linguist observed "monkeys are funny... chickens are just plain fowl." Another voter even wrote me a thesis-length exposition about this issue and e-mailed me a copy just to make certain. The following post-modern summary comes from that discourse:

"Bottom line: chicken more universal in signified meaning but impotent, monkey quite possibly open for unintended meanings, but more powerful when properly deployed and capable of setting up subtle multi-layered readings."

Clearly, then, I feel that this question has touched a hidden nerve; the obviously needed future research requires delving into the social and psychological ramifications of this great debate. For now, however, this little stunt reveals that I am not the only one with finely honed procrastinatory skills.

In addition to the sociological and linguistic import of this research, we must not forget the political ramifications of our comedic devices, be they live, rubber, or robotic. To wit: two individuals brought up the devious and persistently pesky issue of communism. Taken out of context, one respondent stated "monkeys are funnier by volume." At the same time, another disputed the truth of the statement that something is more fun than a barrel of monkeys: "nothing is more fun than a barrel of monkeys!" Certainly, in these easy-going, post-Cold War times, we can laugh about the Communal humor of monkeys. I wonder, however, if we ran this survey in the 1950s whether a barrel of Red Communist Monkeys would be as funny? Fortunately, one obvious historian shone a spotlight on the issue: "the monkey, since early 1999, has been by far funnier than the chicken."

Oh yeah! Somewhere in all of this there was an actual vote tally. All in all, I had to disqualify several provisional ballots from King County as allegations surfaced that several felons voted for Christine Gregoire. Similarly, I also disqualified verified dead voters who supported Dino Rossi. I do actually now regret not listing Tim Eyman as a comedic device. I did, at the request of one voter, switch a vote from monkey to chicken based on [link to come soon when I find the URL] sound and convincing new evidence[/link] of gallinaceous humor. The enhanced, final results are hereby certified and released here:

animal tally percentage
chickens 33 32.4%
monkeys 69 67.6%
(N = 102)

Perhaps one day I shall release all of the comments that were submitted. Naturally, before I do this, I will strip and destroy all demographic and personally identifiable data... as per the Human Subjects Division recommendations.

Oddly enough, while watching Adult Swim this very evening, I saw a spot for the premier of some cartoon called Robot Chicken. It premiers Feb 20 on the Cartoon Network. I don't know about you, but I cannot wait for this!


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Page last updated: February 9, 2004