Jewish World Review June 25, 2001/ 4 Tamuz 5761
http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- ONE of the most persistent urban legends -- like that tale of the baby alligator emerging from the sewer through a toilet to take a bite from a tasty bottom -- is that liberal pundits are humorless clods born without the humor gene.
What a crock. (Or croc, to pursue the īgator comparison.) Now we have proof that at least one liberal clod can, too, spring a good joke.
The merry pranksters at the Wall Street Journalīs opinionjournal.com and Michael Kinsley at Slate.com, the Microsoft online magazine, having been trading fire over a bit of whimsy in Slate about the sport of monkeyfishing in the Florida Keys.
Monkeyfishing, as described by Slateīs resident satirist, Jay Forman, consists of baiting hooks with apples (Red Delicious preferred, Granny Smiths sometimes work) and jerking hungry monkeys out of their trees.
The folks at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, who really are humorless, took it very seriously indeed, and when they and others howled, Mr. Kinsley saddled up to "investigate."
Satire is no fun unless peddled with a straight face, and Mr. Kinsley defended the story with his usual unction as the right stuff. The Wall Street Journal folks, who rarely miss anything, mistook Mr. Kinsleyīs little joke for credulity, calling him "somewhat unworldly ... the sort of guy who has a lot of book learning but is short on street smarts." The sort of Harvard guy who wouldnīt recognize it as rollicking satire if Evelyn Waugh walked in with the manuscript of "Scoop."
The story about monkeyfishing is hardly original, variously told about dogs and cats in Southern lore, and the term is known to all good olī boys to describe the practice of using a battery and a hand-cranked generator to shock fish to the surface of a lake or stream. Fishermen in a hurry use a stick of dynamite, but dynamite is sometimes regarded as unsportsmanlike.
The original story in Slate was impossible for all but the most credulous reader to take as real. "Once upon a time," Mr. Forman began, as in the classic opening of a fairy tale, "in the Florida Keys there was a horrible monkey-infested island called Lois Key. A pharmaceutical company had released a bunch of rhesus monkeys there and left them to breed ...
"They were miserable there, howling and screeching and polluting the pristine waters with their feces. But as terrible as this place was, it harbored a far darker secret ...
"We knew we were getting close to the island when the normally pellucid emerald waters of the lower keys gave way to filthy brown, and the smell of monkey waste spoiling under the tropical sun rolled over us like a storm. These were not the lovable anthropomorphic orangs ... these were wild, evil-looking ... screeching beasts ... the island itself was a blasted moonscape fringed by dying trees ... If a zoo is a white-collar prison, this was Oz."
Mr. Forman baited his hook with a Red Delicious, but noted that oranges work well, too. "After a day of eating its own feces, what monkey could resist a tasty orange?" He knew he had hooked a monkey by the scream that pierced the sultry, sullen silence "a primal yowl that set my hair on end. The monkey came flying from the trees, a juicy apple stapled to its palm."
Monkeyfishing, Mr. Forman wrote, laying on the irony and satire so thick that he gave the joke away at once to most readers, recalled a similar fishing expedition he had heard about in a Baltimore bar. In Baltimore, he wrote, they did it with rats: "They established a rat-fishing league, complete with unifor
ms and teams. Hot dogs were the preferred bait." Satire or not, nothing could have been more calculated to enrage Slateīs politically correct readers, who quickly accepted an invitation to respond to the story. "So horrible," wrote one, "so sorry I read it." From another: "If enough people read this, we may be able to strike a blow against obesity." Still another applauded Mr. Formanīs confessional: He should simply accept the incident "as something from a time of less maturity and close the door on the subject." A Chinese reader wrote: "Oh, whatīs that you say? Only a few weirdos monkeyfish? Not all Americans monkeyfish? Then watch what you say about the Chinese. The Chinese do not eat [puppies] nor do they eat monkey brains."
For his part, Mr. Kinsley kept the story alive for a fortnight with an elaborate, solemn pretense of "investigating" the authenticity of the satire: "Slate stands by our writer ... We donīt say this smugly, and we donīt deny moments of panic ... We worked these pieces over hard ... Some doubts were reasonable, though thank goodness they turned out to be unjustified."
Boot of the Daily Beast lives -- as "Michael Kinsley,"
writing satire in