Monkeyfishing

June 8 2001 3:00 AM

Monkeyfishing

Cruel and unusual? Or good sporting fun?

In February 2007, writer Jay Forman contacted Slate to confess that his entire story was untrue. See this article.

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But why does fishing for rats seem to me to be less barbaric than fishing for monkeys? Both are mammals; they bear live young and nurse them with milk. Both are bitchin' in laboratories. Yet monkeys are several shades closer to ourselves than rats, and that creeping association amplifies the discomfort we feel. But how can torturing one animal be any less cruel than torturing another? If fish could scream, would we still fish? If Bob Kerrey had revealed that he monkeyfished to the New York Times, would we forgive him?

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Perhaps cruelty is a matter of contrast. When I feel bad about this all I need to do is look to the Chinese. When it comes to torturing animals, they take the cake. I've been in Beijing markets where puppies were crammed into cages to be sold as food, snakes are regularly bled for an aphrodisiac, and a fancy dish called "Three Squeaks" features a live rat embryo. Their voracious appetite for lavish meals and folk remedies are the stuff of World Wildlife Fund nightmares. Yes, all things considered, my crimes are small compared to the Chinese. But then again, that argument works for almost anything.

Was this sport barbaric? Yes. Is this a sport, even? Consider fishermen who practice "catch and release" with fish. They basically torture the fish for fun. So in this case torture is a sport, as opposed to, say, murder. Murder is acknowledged as a sport in hunting, so long as you eat the victim and don't merely kill him. This is not the case, however, in war, which is government-sanctioned murder where you do not eat the victim, according to the Geneva Convention. Some people do however collect the ears. This is where war and "trophy" hunting meet.

Perhaps I should have eaten the monkey. That would probably have tied up the loose ends. Maybe not even the whole monkey; maybe just go the ritual cannibalistic route and eat the heart for its strength and so on.

What I was witness to was cruel. Not like Rwanda cruel but cruel still. It hit home on a gut level, because these animals really are a lot like us. I wish I was not telling this story. Admitting that does not make me any less complicit. But perhaps that is the first step toward coming to terms with it. And after all, I'm the one who has to sleep with myself.

The monkeys were removed from the island in December 1999 after years of complaints about their effect on the environment. Rumor has it that the company missed a few, and they still haunt the wreckage of Lois Key.

Jay Forman lives in New Orleans, where he writes children's books.

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