Thursday, July 03, 2008

ABC "Outsiders": "Monkey borrowers" as "baby borrowers"; a disturbing Internet subculture

ABC Primetime offered its second program in the “Outsiders” series July 1, this time hosted by David Muir.

The most important and leading segment dealt with people who adopt baby monkeys as “children.” The practice seemed bizarre if understandable, and reminded me of NBC’s new series “The Baby Borrowers.” A typical monkey costs $5000- $8000 and baby monkeys have become big business. An older woman, whose children were grown, adopted one and raised her as “Jessie,” dressing her with baby clothes, and raised her to age 18. The monkey would become imprinted on and attached to the mother and not tolerate her absence or any threat to her food. A female race car driver was too “busy” to have her own children but adopted a monkey instead. After seven years, the monkey (“Andy”) became wild and had to be placed in a shelter after the monkey scratched and bit the owner. The shelter in Gainesville, FL reports that many formerly “adopted” monkeys become diabetic on human food, and have had teeth and sometimes fingers removed.

The show reminded me of other scientific stories, as on PBS, about how close primates (chimpanzees and gorillas) are to humans in intelligence. Primates, cetaceans, and carnivores (cats and canines, both domestic and in the wild) have good memories, ability to bond with people, and considerable problem solving skills and sometimes social structures. In biological terms, what distinguishes humans, enabling language and “culture” – passing on a desire to improve things in the next generation?

I once imprinted a wild mockingbird, who for several months would fly down and watch me whenever I arrived at and left work, sometimes landing within inches of me, once almost coming into my car. And I remember in an apartment building that people would offer cat babysitting services, referring to the cats as “your children.”

The ABC story by David Muir, Jim Dubreuil and Tracie Hunt is called “Call of the Wild: Adopting Monkeys: Families adopt monkeys as surrogate children,” link here.

The second segment of the show depicted a morbidly obese man in Monterrey, Mexico, who had never been able to leave his room or get out of bed in seven years. He weighed 1200 pounds, but had lost 500 pounds on a strict diet and for the first time was going to a party, when the carapace sheltering him in his car became ensnared in a tunnel. Some of this was difficult to watch. Curiously, he does not have high blood pressure or diabetes, but he has severe fluid retention.

The last segment was the most disturbing. The report started with an account of a horrific teen (Nikki Catsouras) automobile accident in California. Soon images of the accident and of her body began showing up on the Internet and spread in viral fashion to over 1500 sites in over 50 countries. One man thought he was performing a social service by spreading the gruesome images. It might be easy for someone with no personal emotional accountability (perhaps to anyone) to rationalize such postings. But they (especially in California) could run into legal questions about ownership, privacy, publicity, and emotional distress. The family hired Michael Fertik and his company “reputation defender” to get people to remove the images, and Fertik spoke during the report. There was discussion of an Internet subculture that revels in morbid subject matter.

Tbe ABC ("Law & Justice") story by Jim Avila, Teri Whitcraft, and Kristin Pisarcik is “Family’s Nightmare: Daughter’s Accident Photos Go Viral” link here.

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