Left: Koko with kitten
Right: Brad with kitten
Koko the Gorilla gets all the press. For the most part, I don’t mind. She’s a hard-working gorilla and she deserves whatever accolades come her way. However, I cannot help but be outraged by how often human beings misinterpret her words. She speaks in American Sign Language (for the record, ASL was the one language class in college I flunked. It brought my G.P.A. down considerably. I’m still bitter. ) The thing is, Koko can manage a keyboard quite well. When the so-called First Interspecies Web Chat took place on April 28, 1998, what transpired was nothing less than a travesty. Koko had to go through Dr. Penny who then had to go through the AOL chat facilitator. Have any of you ever played the game "Telephone?" If you have, you know exactly where I'm going with this.
To wit, here's a portion of the transcript:
PENNY: OK. Your birthday is coming up, Koko. What do you want for your birthday?
KOKO: Birthday... Food smokes.
PENNY: Well, she sort of signed 'food' and 'smokes.' You have to understand...Smoke is also the sign for her kitten. Her kitty's name is Smoky. So that one could have a double meaning.
Translation: Koko wants cigars! The interpretation of “smokes” referring to her cat “Smoky” is a bit of a stretch. I suppose they don’t want children to get the idea that smoking is good (my landlord’s father died of lung cancer, by the way), but everyone assumes the cigars gorillas smoke are the same kinds as humans smoke. What rubbish. A gorilla’s favorite cigar is comprised of rolled up leaves, stems, and roots. On occasion, we love to smoke the hard-to-get “Havana Banana” cigar, which is in essence, rolled up leaves, stems, roots and banana peels.
Another part of the transcript:
AOL: What do you like to do best, for fun, asks TrukkasW?
PENNY: 'Lips' is 'woman,' right. She's got an alligator. Oh no! What's that alligator going to do? She's got the alligator biting her finger. She's playing with her alligator and her lady doll.
KOKO: Kiss.* (Koko kisses the lady doll.)
PENNY: (Laughing.) She's got the alligator biting the lady doll.
KOKO: Tell-you-hurry. (Koko takes Penny's hand.) Hurry.
PENNY: Oh, my! Is this a little acting out aggression here? There is a little acting out going on. (Laughing.) That lady doll could be me.
Translation: Of course it’s you, Dr. Penny. Koko doesn’t like it when you put words in her mouth. What Koko actually likes to do best is put on puppet-shows. Many gorillas like to play the battle of King Kong vs. Godzilla. Whenever gorillas play, King Kong always wins. Whenever radioactive dinosaurs play, Godzilla always wins. Some of my cousins say that it’s not a politically-correct game, as they think it’s a battle between the United States and Japan. Hogwash! In reality, gorillas and radioactive dinosaurs get along quite well. We just like to mix it up a bit.
The final gaffe:
AOL: ReBeL1999 asks, do you dream at night? Wouldn't it be amazing to know what a gorilla dreams!
PENNY: I think I may have asked her his once. Do you dream at night when you sleep? Do you dream? I asked her this once and I had to explain it . I asked her if she - what senses that might be used - did she hear things smell things, see things. So I needed to explain what a dream was and I don't remember. I could ask her again. Koko, when you dream, do you hear things, smell things, see things? Do you dream?
KOKO: (No response.)
Translation: I’ll bet you’d like to know what a gorilla dreams. Koko once wrote to me that she didn’t mind talking about her cats and food preferences, but when humans started getting personal about her dreams and what-not, she would just pretend she didn’t understand. As a world-famous celebrity, Koko gets so little privacy. I can relate.
"King Kong vs. Godzilla" puppet show
P.S. This website now has a FAQ!