Week 10: Rachel Mayeri’s Primate Cinemas

This week I found Rachel Mayeri’s work with Primate Cinemas extremely interesting. In particular I enjoyed the film titled Apes as Family. I found that although the film was intended to be dramatic, as a human viewer, the idea of people disguised as apes and acting as apes living in a human environment is slightly satirical and borderline comedic. Furthermore the studio effects make up even gave the film a kind of eerie and, for lack of a better word, creepy aura when one considers the stark similarities that humans share with apes. The film Planet of the Apes could not escape my mind.

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Anyways… what makes this work even more interesting is the fact that these films are actually intended for ape audiences rather than humans. Mayari collaborated with comparative psychologist Dr. Sarah-Jane Vick on this project to analyze the chimpanzees behavior to different types of media. Although the results were inconclusive, Vick did make interesting discoveries that may provide some insight on how different genders respond to different media and what types of media apes are drawn to. She found that females preferred television more than males and that several chimps were interested in human actors in chimp suits having sex. Some chimps were lured to the television by Teletubbies and kettle drums. In one case a male responded to watching other chimp’s “display behavior” by displaying similar behavior himself – hooting and hitting the monitors. Although the film evoked a number of different responses from different apes, what was clear was the chimp’s fascination with cinema. I find it amazing that although humans and apes evolutionarily diverged over millions of year ago, we are still able to find ways in which we can connect with these animals and show that they are not much different from us in terms of their social, cognitive and emotional lives. Below is a trailer for the film Apes as family, as well as a video that shows the making of the Primate Cinema.

I think that Mayari’s representation of people dressed as apes in an urban setting purposefully alludes to the similarities between apes and humans and forces the viewer to draw parallels between themselves and the apes that I do not think most people usually think about. As human beings we have a tendency to view ourselves as separate from all things that are not human rather than associating with them as fellow species of a planet. Mayari’s work is a reminder that in fact all living things can be traced back to a common ancestor, even bacteria and other microorganisms share a common ancestor with humans. With that being said interspecies projects and studies such as this can reveal possible correlations in the behavior and interactions of other animals and humans. This work in particular raises larger questions regarding how media affects human beings. Mimicked behavior by the apes of the actions seen on screen, show that imagery and media are not passively experienced. Could these observations correlate into human perceptions of media and imagery? The medias influence on society is a very current and hot topic around which many debates arise regarding what types of media are more impactful on human societies and in what way do these forms of media affect us and even more importantly our behavior? Are they affecting us in a positive way? A negative way? Maybe even both? There are numerous studies surrounding the affects of violence in the media on crime rate for example.

-Lauren Simons

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