Reality TV: Putting the Crazy on Display

In between experiments, part of my job is to simply sit back, relax, and observe a group of about 15-20 rhesus macaques at a time. I focus on an individual monkey and every thirty seconds I have to make a note of his or her behavior. Sometimes they sleep, sometimes they scream, and sometimes they have sex to establish dominance. But sometimes, during a fight, a monkey will get so fired up that his only means of intimidation toward a challenger is to smash his head against a wall until he knocks himself out.

Just kidding, a monkey would never be stupid enough to do that. But a human would.

I have discovered that watching my monkeys is really not far off from reality TV: primate behavior being displayed at its most basic, raw form (and while the monkeys aren’t subjected to the Hollywood pressure to entertain or to deceiving editing, the effect is still the same). The most incredible example of such behavior can be found in The Jersey Shore, a show that follows the lives of eight self-described “guidos” (a.k.a. people from New Jersey who may or may not have had an Italian ancestor in the past 500 years, who take pleasure in acting as annoying as possible and not being educated on any subjects other than the tanning tax or Ed Hardy shirts).

In one of the most recent episodes, guidos Ronnie and Mike (“The Situation”) get into a fight about something that The Situation said to Sammi, Ronnie’s on-and-off girlfriend. In the event that a monkey needs to ward off a predator, he will generally puff up his fur to exhude a more intimidating size. In a similar fashion, Ronnie has taken the time to lift weights and purportedly take steroids to create the same effect.

The battle between the two is epic, and by epic I really mean they both spent more energy screaming and trying to out-crazy one another, with The Situation “all but beating his chest like Donkey Kong” and Ronnie throwing The Situation’s bed with the ease that a macaque throws his poop. In the end, The Situation wins the crazy war by smashing his head against the wall and getting himself sent to the hospital without anyone throwing a single punch.

A monkey would be lucky to get a neck brace, but a monkey would also never use that much hair gel.

In my personal observations, when the monkeys fight, a good portion of it is also showmanship. They bare their teeth, they shake cages, they, too, will try to out-crazy each other. But at the end of the day, when you get a macaque angry, he will attack you and you probably will bleed. In all honesty, I have no idea if the difference between the monkeys and the guidos is that:

1) The guidos lack the courage the macaques have to physically sink their teeth or fists into each others’ faces.

2) They have a much more developed sense of compassion and altruism that blocks them from the desire to injure their friends. They have the mental capacity to understand the drawbacks to their actions.

3) They are fully aware that the producers will send them home should they actually cause harm to a castmate.

What are your thoughts?

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