From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2010:
Ape by John Sorensen
Reaktion Books Ltd.
(33 Great Sutton St., London EC1M 3JU, U.K.), 2009.
224 pages, illust. $19.95 paperback.
Ape, by Brock University sociologist and professor of
critical animal studies John Sorenson, is the 25th in a projected
series of 40 titles edited for Reaktion Books Ltd. by Jonathan Burt.
Burt himself produced the series template in Rat (2006). Each volume
is succinctly titled for the species or order of animals that it
covers. Each summarizes the state of knowledge about how the animals
behave, where they live, and how they evolved, but the focal topic
is the influence of the animals on human culture.
Ape raises knotty ethical questions about the close kinship
of humans to other apes. Sorenson discusses the use of apes in
experimentation, exhibition, and the bushmeat trade; reviews legal
and political efforts to establish “personhood” for apes; discusses
the decline of wild apes, such that all wild populations of nonhuman
apes are now considered critically endangered; and takes particular
note of the role of apes as mirrors of human behavior.
Centuries before Charles Darwin deduced the evolutionary
relationship of humans to other apes, medieval artists depicted apes
as shadows of humanity. At times apes have represented negative
aspects of human behavior, but surprisingly often they have also
represented positive qualities. The fictional King Kong and the apes
featured in the many incarnations of the Tarzan story have been
played both ways, sometimes in the same film.
Both King Kong and Tarzan’s ape guardians have been used to
explore human racial tensions, to comment on ecological concerns,
and to express anxiety about scientific tinkering with life. No
version, no matter how well-crafted, seems to have remained the
definitive version for more than a decade. Each generation appears
to require a new King Kong and Tarzan story to reflect the angst of
Yet, despite the Hollywood penchant for contrived happy
endings, most King Kong and Tarzan variants have ended much like the
Dian Fossey autobiography Gorillas In The Mist, with dead apes,
heartbreak, and disturbing questions raised about human nature.