Talk about memetic fitness.
All over the internet, you'll find people being childishly excited at the mention of a monkey butler. To own one seems to be the pipe dream of almost everyone you know. Never referred to as a monkey footman or valet, nor as a chimp or ape butler, the monkey butler is practically guaranteed to bring a sparkle to the eye of any slacker or geek. Where does the idea come from? Put simply, WTF?
First of all, what is a monkey butler? Simply, this lovable fellow is a monkey trained to act as a butler. Commonly to be seen carrying a silver tray of delicious drinks for the butled party, perhaps even with a teatowel over the non-carrying arm, in the manner of a waiter. Artists' impressions of the monkey butler can be seen at various websites1, 6, 7.
The definitive source of the meme is widely regarded as being the 'Das Bus' episode of the little-known adult animation series, The Simpsons. Implausibly, a contingent of Springfield Elementary School pupils have floated several thousand miles following a bus crash ...
| Stranded on a desert island, the kids squabble ... until we hear the |
| sound of a conch shell, coming from Bart, who stands atop a large rock. |
| BART |
| What's everyone's problem? I'm glad we're stranded! It'll be |
| just like the Swiss Family Robinson, only with more cursing! |
| We'll live like kings! Damn hell ass kings! |
| The kids envision a 'fun in the sun' island, with waterslides, "Under the Sea" |
| style music, and everyone having a good time. Chimpanzees in evening dress serve |
| elaborate fruit drinks to children reclining on "Ewok Village" style terraces. |
| Suddenly the future looks a whole lot brighter. Back in real life, Nelson has |
| his hand up. |
| NELSON |
| How many monkey butlers will there be? |
| BART |
| One at first - but he'll train others. |
| Bart sees that everyone seems satisfied. |
| BART |
| Good, let's get to work! Me and Nelson will build the treehouse. |
| Martin, draw up a plan for a coconut radio, and if possible, a |
| coconut Nintendo system. |
| From The Simpsons Archive - http://www.snpp.com/episodes/5F11 |
This brief glimpse of simian-assisted paradise seems to be the genesis of many a modern retirement dream. Perhaps conflated in the mind with the episode in which Homer gets a helper monkey called Mojo to wait on him - though it must be remembered that Mojo was not a trained monkey butler, and his period in the role left him in an unenviable physical and mental state - The Simpsons has been greatly instrumental in the spread of the idea.
This can explain many of the modern instances of the monkey butler meme, for example:
- Colby-8's 1999 Album, 'Monkey Butler'1;
- Another band, actually called 'Monkey Butler'2;
- The CD sleeve artwork for Belle and Sebastian's album 'Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like A Peasant' (showing a photo of the band with a monkey butler, captioned 'Don't let them make me be a monkey butler')3
- Countless chatroom discussions speculating on the details of monkey butler ownership4;
- The tendency of certain people to set up poorly executed web sites publicising their obsession.5
But how can we explain the other category of MB-obession-instances, to wit: collectible figurines, dating from the 18th/19th century, or at least replicating those of that period? One answer comes from a website selling just such statuettes:
During the days when Brittania ruled a far-flung empire, many people were able to see such exotic sights as monkeys for the first time. The captive animals traveled from their native jungles (usually unwillingly) to England, Europe and North America, becoming popular attractions when they arrived. This popularity soon was reflected in contemporary art and crafts.
Perhaps this Victorian obsession laid in the collective unconscious the foundations for the current interest. This would certainly explain the fact that the meme has spread so well considering the relatively small exposure given to it by The Simpsons.
In the widespread toleration of slavery in the 18th and 19th centuries, and considering the way many people who owned slaves felt about them, these early images of the monkey butler cast a slightly sinister shadow on the light-hearted modern interest in the idea. The enthusiast wishing to stress this uncomfortable angle on the phenomenon could do worse than pick up one of these distressing "Fell King of Death's Ghoulish Realm" monkey butler pin badges6.
1: 'Monkey Butler', the 1999 Album by Colby-8 - http://www.colby.edu/colby-8/images/monkeyf.jpg
2: 'Monkey Butler', the band - http://www.illinimedia.com/buzz/calendar/20020222.shtml
3: Belle and Sebastian CD sleeve. Good luck. http://images.google.co.uk/images?q=Belle+Sebastian+&svnum=10&hl=en&ie=UTF8&oe=UTF8&safe=images&output=search&start=380&sa=N
4: Chatroom discussions -
5: Attempt to wackify terrifyingly dull self-image through association with MB meme - http://www.angelfire.com/nm/eatdiemachine/index3.html
6: Slightly unsavoury slavery-era collectible figurines -
- (a slightly more modern treatment) http://www.merchandisedirectintl.com/products/15001584.html
7: Fearsome pin badge - http://pages.contemporaryjewelry.net/7292/PictPage/1920699348.html