In 2011, a monkey found a misplaced camera and took a selfie. The monkey could not have known that this innocent act would turn into a major, six-year lawsuit about ownership of the photo.
Naruto the monkey recently settled for 50,000 bananas plus 25 percent of profits from future sales of the image.
OK, only the second part is true. Representing Naruto, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals settled with camera owner David Slater. The money will be used to protect Naruto’s Indonesian habitat.
“PETA and David Slater agree that this case raises important, cutting-edge issues about expanding legal rights for nonhuman animals,” said a joint statement.
Do animals have the same legal rights as humans? How did Naruto manage to take such a clear, well-framed photo? And are animals learning from humans how to be self-indulgent? (Monkey see, monkey do?)
Meanwhile, humans continue to embarrass fellow primates, taking grinning selfies in such inappropriate situations and places as funerals, car crashes, the World Trade Center memorial and life-threatening, raging storms.
Just this month, a Florida man took a photo on the Key West coast as waves crashed nearby at the height of Hurricane Irma. As he preened for the picture, a wave engulfed him and dragged him toward the raging ocean. Dazed and punchy, he wobbled to his feet. The results of the near-fatal encounter taught the man not only to respect the awesome power of nature, but also to reflect on his own excessive narcissism.
Kidding! He actually grabbed his cellphone and took another photo.
Nearly two weeks earlier, Hurricane Harvey hit Texas. In such a massive storm, animals, like humans, seek higher ground. In Houston, snakes slithered around homes, while footage from the suburb of Missouri City showed alligators swimming laps in a woman’s backyard.
A representative of Gator Squad, a Texas alligator-relocation company, felt the need to offer two directives: Don’t panic, and resist the urge to take selfies with alligators. I believe even Naruto would instinctively know better than that.
Monkeys and humans: Remind me again, which species is more evolved?
Playwright Mike Vogel blogs at newyorkgritty.net.