Feb 10 2010

Valentine’s Day: Of Men and Monkeys

Published by at 10:09 pm under Uncategorized

I’m a romantic guy, so I torture monkeys.

Now, stay with me here! It all connects up.

See, there’s an oft-repeated story about an experiment in the creation of cultural taboos and traditions involving putting a bunch of monkeys in a room together with a ladder and a banana hanging from the ceiling at the top of the ladder.

Whenever a monkey tries to climb the ladder to get the banana, all the monkeys are sprayed with blasts of cold water. The monkeys quickly learn to Avoid The Banana, and none of the original group tries to venture up the ladder after the group has been sprayed a few times.

So far this is your standard-issue animal torture. But this experiment gets interesting when you start replacing the original monkeys with new monkeys. When the first new monkey makes a move toward The Forbidden Banana, all the original monkeys with PTSD (Post-Traumatic Spraying Disorder) immediately kick the crap out of him. And if you’ve never had to fend off an attacking monkey, let me tell you, even just one monkey can administer a serious whuppin’.

The experiment continues, with more and more of the original monkeys being replaced with new monkeys, each of which gets his ass kicked the moment he takes a step toward the Unholy Ladder Of Despair Under The Forbidden Banana.

Eventually, all the original monkeys have been replaced with monkeys who have never been sprayed, and still they won’t approach The Fruit That Cannot Be Approached.

(At this point, I feel it appropriate to note in passing that if you privately torture one animal, you get prosecuted, but if you torture a bunch of animals and then write a comprehensive article about it and publish it in a journal (especially one edited by a group of your equally sick peers) you establish yourself as a serious researcher and get government grants and can then travel around the world giving PowerPoint presentations about your monkey torture and be applauded by lots of other strange, strange people…)).

Now, most of the people who talk about this experiment make some silly point about business policies, but that’s way too shallow for me. First of all, I wasn’t able to find the original peer-reviewed article, so I didn’t know whether this experiment was real or just an urban legend. So the first order of business was to replicate it in my Secret Underground Lair, which I did. Sure enough, it works with monkeys, chimps, toddlers, adults, and voles. Plus, it’s fun! If you’re behind the hose, of course.

But more important, it gave me insight into something that is absolutely critical to institute before the next Valentine’s Day: a Code of Conduct for Men.

See, driving to work on February 15, nursing my bruises, I saw a whole bunch of guys with ice packs and bandages in the cars next to me in the rush hour traffic. We exchanged knowing, sympathetic glances, because once again we found ourselves in the unwilling camaraderie of the Guys Who Got The Wrong Valentine’s Gift.

Somehow, it’s a shock every year. You try to be original, you try to do something manly, yet caring, that doesn’t carry the implied expectation of reciprocation that a functional MRI of your ventral tegmental area does, but somehow it always misfires. For example, hypothetically speaking, do you have any idea how difficult it is to 1) research incredibly expensive high-performance tires; 2) surreptitiously get them sent to your house; 3) hide them; 4) mount them on rims and balance them in the middle of the night; and 5) sneak out at 3:00 a.m. on February 14, jack up the car, and put them on the car in a sub-zero-degree garage? It’s a freakin’ project, is what it is.

And does this get the expected delighted response when you escort her out in the morning and proudly display your handiwork? Noooo, far from it, my friend.

We guys just don’t get this – something like this a) shows your masculine prowess (knowledge of cars, mechanical expertise, manual labor); b) expresses how much you care for her and the family (tires are the most important part of the car! And besides, doesn’t that tire company have ads showing a cute little baby crawling around in a tire to show “how much is riding on them”?) and c) requires a huge amount of forethought, planning, and romantic subterfuge. How can this go so terribly wrong?

I’ll tell you how – it’s because of The Guy Who Goes For The Banana.

You know him – he’s the incredibly accomplished professional who’s way too thoroughly in touch with his feminine side, who does something just super-sensitive and completely over the top, like learning to play classical guitar in secret and composing a special love song that he sings for her on stage at the symphony (to riotous applause from the audience) after she’s been at the spa he’s sent her to for the day and he’s taken her for dinner at the restaurant you need to get reservations for three years in advance while she’s wearing the fabulous silk dress he’s designed himself.

So the next day this woman’s friends are abuzz with stories about how Roberto’s given his wife another stratospherically romantic Valentine’s Day, and isn’t she the luckiest woman in the world, and did you hear how Karen’s husband got her a subscription to the Beer of the Month Club and aren’t all the non-Robertos just yutzes with no class and why can’t they be more like Roberto etc…, and it’s really far worse for the non-Robertos than getting sprayed with cold water.

What’s missing here, gentlemen?

It’s good old Roberto getting his ass kicked.

So that’s what we need to do! For next Valentine’s Day, I am circulating a pledge form to all men of the nation, the signing of which constitutes a binding obligation to 1) avoid all excessively romantic behavior (there will be an express list of allowed gifts and actions); 2) alert a posse of at least ten other men if they become aware of a male who a) refuses to sign the pledge or b) is planning, or executes, a gift or action not on the approved list; and 3) take that posse to pay the violator a visit and kick his ass.

Eventually, we’ll stamp out all this Valentine’s insanity. Believe me, we’ll all be much happier when we’ve taught the Robertos of the world not to try to Grab The Banana Of Hot Valentine Love.

And we men will prove, for once, that we’re at least as smart as a bunch of monkeys.

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