(and it’s all the fault of that Psycho With The Yellow Hat)
When my two-year-old son gravitated, without any prompting, to Curious George, I felt proud. Connected. It sparked in me the odd feeling you get when you see your child develop a new mannerism that also belongs to your father and yourself. That’s my boy! And his new obsession with Curious George prompted this sensation because once upon a time, I dragged around and squeezed a stuffed George so much that his sticky little eyes wore off. So naturally, it was a bit of a kick in the parts I used to make this kid in the first place to find out that George, well, George is a first-rate menacing idiot.
I can hear you thinking how stupid I am.
“He’s Curious George. Curious! That’s his whole schtick. He wants to find out about stuff he’s not supposed to and mayhem ensues.”
To begin with, I’d like to point out that I went into this wanting to embrace George. He’s a treasured piece of my childhood. So hear me out. I’ve absorbed (watched is the wrong word) all 70 episodes of the Curious George TV series that are on Netflix. (Did I mention I’m a great parent?) The kind of crap George stirs up takes liberties with the word “Curious” that even pervs on Craigslist would take issue with. George’s asshole antics extend from constructing elaborate webs of lies and misrepresentation to rigging competitions so his friends win them to blatant deception to cover his ass when he knows he’s in trouble. None of this falls under the umbrella of curiosity, which is kind of a lame defense to begin with. Separately, I can’t begin to list the hundreds of laws I’ve seen that curious little monkey break, intentionally or not. And in terms of dealing out property damage, Hurricane George is at least a Category 3.
Plus, even when he is just being curious, he’s often so amazingly inconsiderate of the feelings and needs of the people around him, it’s just dickish. I’ll give him a break on a lot of it, because he’s just so damned adorable, but sometimes you just want to scream at him. “Dammit monkey!!! Can’t you see you’re screwing everything up for the Man with the Yellow Hat?!?!? One more wrong step and he’s totally going to have you put down or donate you to a zoo, you damned dirty ape !!!!”
The Man with the Yellow Hat never does this of course. The next time around, when he sendsGeorge off to do something I’d barely trust myself to do, he just says the main catch-phrasey line of the show: “Remember to be a good little monkey.”
George is never a good little monkey.
Now, I’m going to do something real foolish here and defend my own George connection against my son’s by pointing out that when I was a kid, George’s adventures were pretty limited to books. And not that I’m without an imagination, but when you start using motion and audio production (there’s constant crashing and clattering, splashing and squishing) to bring to life the catastrophe wrought by this rampaging mini-Kong, the whole genre that contains the adventures of Georgepractically shifts. If it weren’t for the playful music and the sweet, soothing pleasantness of William H. Macy’s voice (he narrates the show), every episode would have the feel of the latest Batman villain running amok all over Gotham, which by the way, I’m pretty sure is where Curious George is actually set.
The only other thing that keeps it feeling like all of George’s behavior is totally fine and okay is that George’s owner, the aforementioned Man with the Yellow Hat, pretty much treats everything like it’s fine and okay. Which it most certainly IS NOT.
And this man, this eccentric, paradoxical lunatic, is the real wild card in this whole messed-up little universe. Because let’s face it, monkeys are monkeys. If they had their way, they’d bite you, throw their feces at you and then smile right in your face like those creepy chimps from Lancelot Link. But the human is supposed to know better. And the fact that the Man with the Yellow Hat doesn’t know better barely scratches the surface of how bizarre this man’s life is.
First, he has a pet monkey. And even though some other real people have kept zoo animals as pets (none of these people are sane by the way), very few live with them in their uptown Gotham apartments.
Second, his moniker “The Man in the Yellow Hat” (which seems to be what George’s inner dialogue has named him even though he knows everyone else in whole damn world’s name), though accurate, is completely inadequate. Because it’s not just his hat that’s yellow. It’s his whole ensemble – shirt, tie, pants AND hat – which he wears exactly the same every day like he’s Superman or Inspector Gadget or Steve Jobs. His car is also yellow. When he’s at the beach, he wears an old-timey, full-body yellow and white striped bathing suit. Everything else he owns is fucking yellow. And that the namesake Hat is the color yellow isn’t even the weirdest part about the hat. It’s some tall, pointy-ish thing that, even if it were a normal color like black or grey or brown, no one gets away with at any point after the 1800s. His whole yellow thing goes so far beyond the word eccentric. You think Hank’s wife Marie from Breaking Bad has an obsession with the color purple? Now picture her driving around a purple convertible wearing the same purple witch outfit from the 1800s every single day. She becomes the Joker. The Man in the Yellow Hat is a thousand times crazier about the color yellow than the most pimply goth teenager in the world is about wearing black. But hey, it’s a cartoon.
Third, the Man with the Yellow Hat is wealthy enough to have both a luxury apartment in a fancy building with a uniformed doorman (which he definitely owns or he’d have been evicted years ago) and a lovely country home. Oh, and a pet fucking monkey who wreaks havoc at every turn, which can’t be cheap. Which brings us to…
Fourth, what the hell does this guy do for a living? His best friend (other than George and their doorman) seems to be a woman named Dr. Weisman, a highly regarded scientist, and beyond their friendship, the relationship has professional tones to it. She’s introduced Yellow Hat guy to colleagues, whom he impresses with his work, which happens to come in the form of “drawings.” He’s had to give some high-profile speeches and he seems respected by the community in general. He’s clearly important enough that no one bats an eye when he shows up places with his Monkey of Destruction. Perhaps because they’re distracted by the completely ridiculous yellow get-up he’s wearing.
But the most disturbing thing about this rich, bizarre, successful, and capable if not a bit clumsy monkey-owner is the complete and total lack of irony with which he carries this out. This is not for effect. Think about your favorite eccentrics. The local hipster. Oh, he knows exactly what he’s doing with that mustache and the outdated thrift store jacket. Or your bowtie-wearing academia eccentrics. They’re completely aware what they’re going for, and you can tell. Easy. And your Warhol/Capote types have that sparkle in their eye, that tell that says sure, this may all be for attention, but you’re giving it to me anyway, aren’t you? The Man with the Yellow Hat, on the other hand, is totally earnest and genuine about every last detail of his life. “What? I like this hat. I like the color yellow. And no, I don’t think there’s anything strange about me wearing it head-to-toe every single day while repeatedly springing my pet monkey from impossibly calamitous situations.” None of this is about being hip or ironic or talked-about or clever or even about getting attention. And that’s what’s so scary.
Beyond the fact that this guy totally enables George’s bad behavior, he’s a complete lunatic. A genuinely insane man incapable of picking up social cues or cultural norms. That his life is a parade of frustration as a result of this monkey also doesn’t phase him. He’s completely oblivious. His brain isn’t wired like ours. I doubt if there’s even a psychological classification for what’s wrong with him. And this is perhaps the true genius of Margaret and H.A. Rey, who brought George to life.
In addition to a character beloved by generations and the lucrative franchise that’s followed, they also created perhaps the most complexly chilling, unique, stone-faced psychopath in the history of fiction. That he’s never killed anyone (that we know of) is merely a formality. It’s just a matter of time. Plus, he’s already doing all the damage he needs to just by letting that asshole monkey of his destroy everything in his path.