2nd 2010
Choquez le singe ce soir

Posted under: art, fluff, weirdness

What the hell were we thinking in the1980s?

I was discussing this song with a young friend who missed the 1980s entirely, and this video left hir very confused.  I couldn’t explain it.  Did we think this was a daring or profound statement about–something?  Anything?  (Monkeys?)  WTF???


25 Responses to “Choquez le singe ce soir”

  1. Dr. Crazy on 02 Sep 2010 at 9:10 am #

    My real answer: I think that we just really liked singing the word “monkey” over and over again.

    As for statements…. Um… it could be a whole anti-vivisection thing? I seem to recall that being a big deal in the 80s…. But then maybe that’s too literal. Maybe it’s some sort of metaphor for global politics (the whole arabic thing in the opening of the video could have something to do with the middle east, but maybe it’s more about Africa because of the face-painting? Or maybe it’s just an amnesty international sort of thing generally?)? Or maybe it’s trying to say something about technology, what with the shocking and the film projector and stuff?

    Since all of the above is inconclusive, I stick with my first answer: it is fun to sing “monkey” over and over again.

  2. Historiann on 02 Sep 2010 at 9:26 am #

    Dr. Crazy–that’s the best explanation I’ve seen so far: “it is fun to sing ‘monkey’ over and over again.” That’s actually how the song came up–excitement over a prize of a stuffed monkey.

    This video was released when there was a great deal of interest in the approach of 1984 because of George Orwell’s novel. I see a kind of Kafka-esque “Castle” imagery and fear in it. But beyond that–I don’t know what the hell.

    Did anyone notice the little people in the video? What was with the promiscuous use of dwarves in 80s music videos (or David Lynch teevee shows)?

  3. ianqui on 02 Sep 2010 at 9:34 am #

    Who cares? It’s Peter Gabriel and he is AWESOME.

    But seriously. This is what wikipedia says, based on a biography of him from the late 90s:

    Due to its title and the content of the video, the song is frequently assumed to be either an animal rights song or a reference to the famous experiments by Stanley Milgram described in his book Obedience to Authority. It is neither, although another Gabriel song, “We Do What We’re Told (Milgram’s 37)”, from his 1986 album So, does deal directly with Milgram. Gabriel himself has described “Shock the Monkey” as “a love song” that examines how jealousy can release one’s baser instincts; the monkey is not a literal monkey, but a metaphor for one’s feelings of jealousy.

  4. Knitting Clio on 02 Sep 2010 at 9:37 am #

    Okay, my dirty little mind is thinking “shock” is a substitute for “spank.” And “Sledgehammer” is a metaphor for you know what.

  5. Historiann on 02 Sep 2010 at 9:37 am #

    Wow–that’s the world’s ugliest “love song,” then.

    It seems unfair to blame monkeys for human failings. What have the monkeys ever done to us to deserve such treatment?

    NE choquez PAS le singe!

  6. Historiann on 02 Sep 2010 at 9:38 am #

    KC–I don’t know what! Tell me!

  7. Knitting Clio on 02 Sep 2010 at 10:06 am #

    Sign, am I really that old? Okay — first off, “spank the monkey” refers to self-pleasuring (see also “Turning Japanese”)

    “Sledgehammer” refers to the male member (see also Gabriel’s song “Big” — some classmates and I had a running joke that Gabriel liked to write songs about his penis.)

  8. Historiann on 02 Sep 2010 at 10:16 am #

    I got the “spank the monkey” reference. I was just hoping for something more interesting than a penis as “Sledgehammer!”

    But, thanks for spelling it out for me.

  9. susurro on 02 Sep 2010 at 10:41 am #

    ok, you are so ruining this song for me and little Catholic brain right now … it’s about monkeys, little fuzzy, happy, asexual monkeys that little in the land of Monchichi.

  10. clio's disciple on 02 Sep 2010 at 11:26 am #

    When it comes to Peter Gabriel and songs about the male member, don’t overlook “Kiss that Frog.”

  11. Tenured Radical on 02 Sep 2010 at 12:30 pm #


  12. madaha on 02 Sep 2010 at 12:32 pm #

    “the monkey is not a literal monkey, but a metaphor for one’s feelings of jealousy.”

    so if this is the case, it’s not about blaming a monkey, or a penis metaphor, but more likely referring to the expression “to have a monkey on your back” – George Michael had a song about that too:

    “why can’t you do it, why can’t you set your monkey free always giving in to it, do you love your monkey or do you love me?”

    monkey on the back is drug addiction in that case?

  13. madaha on 02 Sep 2010 at 12:35 pm #

    in which he also sings “monkey” over and over

  14. Knitting Clio on 02 Sep 2010 at 12:49 pm #

    So, what about the monkey on the Saturday Night Live skit, “Sprockets” where Mike Myers asks folks to “touch his monkey”? !

  15. madaha on 02 Sep 2010 at 12:54 pm #

    different metaphor, discernible by context. – omg, I hella love Sprockets!

  16. Western Dave on 02 Sep 2010 at 2:21 pm #

    Actually, it’s more than about jealousy. At least with the video. Gabriel is pointing to his inner primate (or primitive). Office worker drone Gabriel is a monkey in a cage who, when “shocked” into seeing reality through the experience of authentic emotion is transformed. He withdraws from the jungle/cubicle world (note the transformation of the cubicle into a jungle) to the cleaner world of the neoprimitive heaven that tattooed Gabriel inhabits. The reawakening of the inner primate (emphasized by the shot where Gabriel’s shadow is a monkey in a tree) and the lyric about falling out of the tree is Gabriel’s attempt to recreate the evolutionary descent from the trees to the savannah (and thus the path to civilization) but this time on an indiviudal level and not wind up back in the office/jungle but on the higher plane. Note the romanticization of the primitive here as the anti-civilized that recreates the nature-culture split that plagues the Western self.

    What you all didn’t go there? I thought everybody learned how to do this cultural studies shit in grad school in the 90s. Or is it just because I lived with the American Culture students for too long.

  17. Historiann on 02 Sep 2010 at 2:54 pm #

    Man versus man, man versus monkey, man versus. . . himself.

    Or, it’s just funny to sing “SHOCK the MONKEY!” over and over and over. Especially if you sing SHOCK in that high voice, too.

  18. Western Dave on 02 Sep 2010 at 6:05 pm #

    No, no, wait! It’s an homage to Donna Harraway!

  19. Comrade PhysioProf on 03 Sep 2010 at 11:33 am #

    Personally, what I was thinking in the 80s was:

    (1) Who’s got the kind bud?

    (2) Where’s the party?

    (3) What’s your name?

  20. Historiann on 03 Sep 2010 at 11:58 am #

    Isn’t that what’s still on your mind, 25 years later?

  21. Comrade PhysioProf on 03 Sep 2010 at 1:03 pm #

    No! Well, ok, maybe.

  22. Dr. Koshary on 04 Sep 2010 at 6:17 am #

    Peter Gabriel did his level best to be very weird in his music videos — really, more so than in his music, which I suspect he thought was oh-so-avant-garde and bound to explode the heads of the complacent bourgeoisie. Looking back on those videos now, I feel like he only got good results from his directors and designers some of the time, and it had nothing to do with how much sense the lyrics made.



    Really, the best I can say for Gabriel’s video work is that he’s willing to throw just about anything on the metaphorical canvas and see if it sticks. The best I can say for his music is that he’s fiendishly good at writing catchy, hooky songs.

    The worst I can say for him is that he bears some responsibility as an intellectual progenitor of spectacle-for-spectacle’s-sake music videos, a la Lady Gaga.

  23. Dr. Virago on 04 Sep 2010 at 9:09 am #

    I just want to say I love Dr. Crazy’s theory, but mainly because *I* think the word “monkey” is hilarious. Just last night, as we were fixing dinner, I said to Bullock, “Can we get a monkey?” just because it was fun to say. His outraged, “NO! We CAN’T get a monkey!” (because I’ve asked this before) was even funnier.

    I am easily amused. Also, I don’t think I’ve commented here before, but I’ve been lurking for a long while. *waves* at Historiann.

    I always thought the song was about going cold turkey (b/c of the expression “monkey on your back”) but I guess I was wrong.

  24. Caitlin on 05 Sep 2010 at 2:20 pm #

    Personally, I think “Games without Frontiers” is far more meaningful. Not only is Gabriel more insightful, but he manages to include a gorilla and the word “funky,” which is about as fun to say as “monkey.”

  25. Russ on 06 Sep 2010 at 12:58 am #

    Hated that song in the 1980s, and still do. But I’ll take Your Eyes or Biko over anything (and everything) Lady Gaga’s done.

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