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The Ira Glass Infatuation Post/ This American Life Review: Parent Trap

“I normally understand why I’m somewhere, I know why I’m invited somewhere, but I guess i don’t know why I’m here.” These words are uttered in this week’s TAL by Dave Hill’s priest, Father Dennis, a man who is in a profession that is usually engaged in providing answers to people with such quandries. But, unsurprisingly, this man like many others before him, is put into a confusing position by none other than somebody’s worried mother.

Act 1: There was just no way I could become a banker in the setting of these letters.

David Segal brings on some brilliant NY Times reporting in conveying the story of Rebecca, whose ma couldn’t bear her 16 year old daughter being raised without her as she struggled with terminal cancer. Instead, Rebecca received a letter from the deceased parent every year on her birthday, a mailing service requested of her father. The bittersweet letters provided guidance but also bring Rebecca back to mourning on a happy day. In the end, her mother’s selfish need to be a part of her daughter’s life stunts her evolution, and yet facilitates it, pushing her in directions of a passionate career, yet pulling her from a fulfilling relationship with her father. In this case, the fantastic optimism that accompanies memories of the dead provides more good than everlasting ghosts can.

Act 2: In every way that mattered, Lucy was not a chimp.

Hooray, from the studios of Radiolab, a gem of a show that probes like Ira. The kind of overbearing parenting in this act comes in the form of interspecies lovin. Psychoanalysts get into raising a circus-born chimp from it’s almost 99% DNA similarities to humans up to 100% by way of raising her as their daughter. Their book, Lucy: Growing Up Human, was held in great disdain, I remember, by linguistic anthropology and primatology instructors in my experience, scolding their anthropomorphic pipe dreams that unfairly put individual beings in inescapable corners. But the Dr’s delusion are unwavering despite the social science environment. He raises a fine young lady. Not surprisingly, the family experiment divulges fascinating tidbits, especially regarding speciation and sexuality–Lucy’s affinity for midday G&T’s and a self-romp with a Playgirl mag conveys her human preferences. In the end of her stay at the nuthouse as with the end of the book, Lucy outgrows her human confines, predictably unable to contain her strong will. She is trapped like La Malinche, the part indigenous-part Spanish heroine/ harlot of the Aztecs who awkwardly fit into both worlds. The humans’ choice to ship her off to live free in Gambia is like sending a JAP to an Israeli kibbutz–a less-than-ideal natural habitat.

“And you would think if you gave them freedom they would jump for joy and that would be the last chapter of the book,” says Janice, who spent years as Lucy’s staple human in Gambia. To the humans’ chagrin,  Lucy is not pleased with leaf-eating expectations, and if I were asked to put down my liquor and smut, I wouldn’t be too happy either. Decision-making that denies that an individual’s worldview, regardless of species, is a combination of genetics, culture, and environment, will undoubtedly miss some variables.

You must hear the resolution of this act on your own. Janice’s observations of chimp island life provides perfect closure to the tale of the individual chimp being thrown around the human world from beginning to end. The only real progress beyond the parent trap of this act is Janice’s committed work to educating Gambians on the benefits of coexistence with chimps beyond economic poaching value.

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