Archive for January 2012

The Good Wife in Review: "Another Ham Sandwich"

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Apologies for my absence, folks! Owing to some exciting life developments (The Oncoming Hope Forges An Atlantic Crossing!), I've neglected my Wife-ly duties (and missed the chance to comment on two corkers of an episodes). I hope to make it up to you with not Good Wife post this week, but two, or possibly even three!

For now, let's look at the lay of the land following the conclusion of this episode.

The problem is, dropping Will's indictment doesn't defray the other bomb that could have gone off, and may have put a couple more in motion. Dana still possesses Alicia's forged document, and recorded testimony ties Peter to these accusations of judicial misconduct.

So while it appears that Wendy's crawling out with her tail between her legs, it also seems a little like she's still set events in motion to achieve her central goal: the destruction of the Florrick family (not to mention Will, but reporting him to the bar seems more like an act of pettiness than anything else).

The other problem is, Our Heroes won the case by entirely discrediting our resident Dead Eyed Psycho. They didn't manage to prove Will's innocence, so an investigation by the bar might yet ruin him.

FLORRICK VS. FLORRICK

Whenever Alicia and Peter stand in the same room, there's a massive inflow of oxygen, ready to stoke the fires of everything that lies simmering under the surface. So much hatred, and also so much love, a love that pollutes and infects and prevents them from ever having a meaningful conversation about anything.

So when they finally face-off, when Peter shows his hand (even though Alicia doesn't), we experience the emotional equivalent of standing in the epicenter of a bomb blast. Their conversation may have revealed more about where the two of them stand emotionally than anything else in the show, ever. They both feel deeply wounded by each other, and they both keep pouring salt into those wounds, and take no pleasure in doing so, but just can't help themselves.

Every new denial of her relationship with Will hits Peter like a bullet. So if we can assume that Peter now knows the truth, how will their relationship change? I can't even pretend to anticipate, but I hope that the writers send someone to kidnap Chris Noth from Broadway and force him into a bigger role on the show.

OTHER STUFF

(also known as the section where I get to drop any pretense of analytical detachment)

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Kalinda: "My lips are sealed, but my eyes say I have a baseball bat with your name on it." Seriously guys, but I hope Dana gets her comeuppance in a big way. Then again, lack of foresight may be torment enough for someone in the legal profession.

Quote of the episode goes to Eli:

"You know the only problem with Sun Tzu: he never fought the Jews...we don't mess around with mind games, we useknives."

And guys? How hot is Alicia here:

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(gifs courtesy of kabletown.tumblr.com)

What did you guys think of the ep? Play along in the comments, yo.

Morning Must-Watch: George Clooney Speaks Truth About Hollywood

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The Newsweek Oscar roundtable proves, yet again, that Clooney really is the most awesome person in Hollywood. Or Viola Davis is. I'm not really sure. After this short video, I'm in love with both of them, and hope they run off and start a production company that fixes all the lowest-common-denominator ills of the movie business.

The interviewer asks a simple question: why is this Viola Davis' first major role? Maybe he wasn't expecting the answer, but I'll tell you one thing: Charlize Theron definitely wasn't expecting that answer (though it pains me to say it...Charlize, I love you, but shut up now.)

Viola responds politely, and then Clooney starts rattling the sabre. He doesn't say anything we don't all know, but it's nice to know that one of the most influential stars in the world is not only aware, but has a strong opinion (though unlike Viola Davis, for instance, George Clooney has the luxury of directing and producing his own ideal films.)

George Clooney has certainly earned his stripes, but it's difficult to imagine a black female actor ever having that much clout in today's industry. Viola Davis puts it best: "I'm a 46-year-old black woman who doesn't look like Halle Berry, and Hally Berry's having a hard time."

For Those of You Who Love Lists (and other quirky things)

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You may have come across the insanely charming letter that F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote to his daughter, Scottie (read it if you haven't, it's an excellent insight into a man losing the battle against his demons).

He concludes the letter with a list of things to worry about, not worry about, and things to think about.

"Am I trying to make my body a useful instrument or am I neglecting it?" seems a very present concern for a man who was soon to die from heart failure due to alcohol abuse.

That lovely list came to me via Lists of Note, a website devoted to lists great and small, young and old. The website includes everything from a scan of the original rules of basketball to writing tips by the noble and the ignoble.

Even through all that, I have a favorite. A new addition to my collection of the more bizarre traditions of etiquette in centuries past (the things my postage stamps are saying behind my back!): The Ethics of Eye Flirtation, from the National Library of New Zealand:

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I particularly enjoy "winking left eye twice -- I am married." Apparently, back in 1891, New Zealanders were wandering around like a bunch of Sheldon Coopers...

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Oh tumblr. What would we do without you? (that image c/o sheldony.tumblr.com)

Music I've Never Heard Of

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Good morning, folks! We at The Oncoming Hope are more than pleased to introduce Roopsie, colloquially referred to as R-Vas, destroyer of worlds, celebrator of music. We're glad to have her aboard to comment on music and other pretty ear-things.

Check it out! Best Album List of 2011:


I'm excited it's given me so many new bands to explore; the Village Voice had a "Best Albums of 2011" list, but since it included "Ceremonials" at #60, it immediately lost credibility.

So far I've listened to tUnE-yArDs' "Bizness":


Are you channeling "Ke- dollar sign-ha" here?!

Harbin Ice and Snow Festival, or, Awwwwwww Blogging Nostalgia

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When I was 10 years younger, a wee lass armed with little more than a deadjournal account and a whole lot of indignation, my first ever blog post was, in fact, about the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival. Now, as then, I'm stunned by the majesty of these creations, the perfect marriage of nature's providence and human achievement.

The child in me is more than a little pleased at seeing a Mario 64 level come to life:

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Made even more stunning with fireworks and embedded lighting:

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A view from the top of one of the ice sculptures:

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Please, please, check out the rest of the photos, then come  back and share our favorites.

(all photos credited and h/t to Boston.com, which you should click to, b/c holy amazeballs, batman!)

Harry Houdini's Incredible Rope Trick

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Although most of us are familiar with Harry Houdini, character of history, I'm sure that very few of us stop to consider that in his day, he was actually a colossal figure in pop culture.

PBS has posted this lovely graphic from Ladies Home Journal, June 1918, created by the great magician himself:

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In spaces now reserved for hair and makeup and dubious tips on "how to please your naughty lothario", the venerable woman's mag once posted expert tips on how to escape from dubious BDSM situations.

"And not one of them observed the sort of shoes I wore!" That's the minimum price for being tied up by sailor boys, right?

Of course, the most troublesome part of Houdini's guide is that which we'd rather not know; cheating.

"A sharp knife with a hook-shaped blade should be concealed somewhere on the person, as it may be found useful in case some of the first, carefully tied knots prove troublesome. A short piece cut from the end of the rope will never be missed."

Thus spake Houdini, for all you "howd-he-do-dats" out there in the audience.

I suspect this means that I'll be expelled from the Magic Society. Much like this guy:

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Creating Magical Art From Light and Shadow

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You can file this one under: "Holy crap!" and "Why didn't I think of that?" Azerbaijani artist Rashad Alakbarov takes the childhood mobile to magical new realms, using translucent objects to create wall paintings out of light. The work pretty much speaks for itself, and I know I'll be checking out the De Pury Gallery in the next couple of weeks.

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Turn water bottles into David Lynch in 200 steps or less:

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RIOT!

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You can catch the show at the De Pury Gallery in London, through January 29th.

Website Blackouts As Social Protest Tools

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The internet as it exists today is the living embodiment of a libertarianism/near-anarchy that Americans sometimes dream about, a land as open and free as the wild west, only without that pesky native problem. Still, others want to impose their own laws on citizens of the web. Unsurprisingly, the internet is fighting back.

Free speech advocates and civil agitators around the globe regularly emphasize how internet access opens up opportunities for dissent. Voluntary service disruption by internet companies is a wholly new method of dissent, this time from the world of business, who don't typically use populist tactics to achieve their aims. Let's call it what it is: wikipedia, reddit, and all the rest, have basically just gone on strike.

Digital disruption seems like the apotheosis of civil disobedience, despite the fact that the companies involved are not breaking any laws or physically challenging anyone.

They are corporations who are refusing to provide a service, in the name of a cause. If corporations are people, then they damn well have the right to act like people, to draw attention to their causes and to even cause disruption.

The fact that this disruption occurs in a realm that was practically fictional until a decade ago seems both climactic and anticlimactic. Universally disruptive protest now is in the areas that we resolutely can live without, and in fact did live without for centuries. Will the wikipedia blackout lead to worldwide starvation or even civil inconvenience? Certainly not. A few thousand high school students will be at a loss for whom to plagiarize.

And yet, this form of protest seems the literal definition of "hitting them where it hurts." You can occupy a dozen Zuccotti Parks, you can challenge inumerable City Halls, but in each instance, you're only affecting the local area. For whatever reason, we have all opted into this ridiculous airy-fairy wireless internet space, and so we are all affected by its vagaries. And have we really been exposed to its whims and fancies until now?

These blackouts are partially a victory for Anonymous. They may not be an organization to praise, but their extremist position has forced many neutral entities to take a stand of one kind or the other. They proved, to the surprise of many, that you can disrupt real lives simply by shutting websites down. For every social network that sells itself out to dictatorial governments, for every currency exchange that bows down to illegal censorship, there are dozens of companies fighting for free speech, if only to protect their own right to exist.

Hegemonic websites like Wikipedia are aware of their power in people's lives. In a rare event, these anarchic internet behemoths are on the same side as the people, against even larger media corporations who are looking only to protect their status quo. So what happens when other web companies start protecting their own interests in this manner? How about if WebMD goes down to protect women's right to choice? Or Gmail blacks out in protest of the Patriot Act? These are powerful political tools, and the government has no legal basis to force these companies to resume service.

Saul Bellow Warns Against "Deep Reading"

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Oh, I love the internet. Saul Bellow, writing in ye old New York Times, takes overzealous literary students to task for failing to see the forests for the trees, and he does so in fine form.

"Deep reading has gone very far," Bellow writes. "It has becomes dangerous to literature."

Bellow continues by illustrating his point with a story that cuts directly to the heart of the devoted grad student.

"'Why, sir,' the student asks, 'does Achilles drag the body of Hector around the walls of Troy?'

'That sounds like a stimulating question. Most interesting. I'll bite,' says the professor.

'Well, you see, sir, the 'Iliad' is full of circles - shields, chariot wheels and other round figures. And you know what Plato said about circles. The Greeks were all mad for geometry.'

'Bless your crew-cut head,' says the professor, 'for such a beautiful thought. You have exquisite sensibility. Your approach is both deep and serious. Still I always believed that Achilles did it because he was so angry.'"

Buuuuuuuuuuuurn. That student may not be the best example, as his analysis seems reasonable and serious. But beware the students of Moby Dick.

Are you a Marxist? Then Herman Melville's Pequod in Moby Dick can be a factory, Ahab the manager, the crew the working class. Is your point of view religious? The Pequod sailed on Christmas morning, a floating cathedral headed south. Do you follow Freud or Jung? Then your interpretations may be rich and multitudinous.

I recently had a new explanation of Moby Dick from the young man in charge of an electronic brain. "Once and for all," he said. "That whale is everybody's mother wallowing in her watery bed. Ahab has the Oedipus complex and wants to slay the hell out of her."

Yikes. Bellow proceeds to excoriate the "dabbler" in deep reading, warning them to "be sure that your seriousness is indeed high seriousness and not, God forbid, low seriousness."

Personally, I long for a new day when the New York Times pretends to any sort of seriousness whatsoever.

Go read the whole thing. The complete article is available here: 
http://mail.baylorschool.org/~dpadilla/Bellow_DeepReaders.pdf

Incredible Photos of Costa Concordia

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The Guardian has shared some absolutely stunning photos of the Costa Concordia, the once-mighty ship now reduced to little more than a mechanical beached whale.

Truth be told, this thing has more drama than the Titanic, what with the captain abandoning his ship before evacuating the passengers and the mystery of the "small technical failure." (read this article for more on the Captain's malfeasance). 50 years ago, the role of captain would have been perfect for Kirk Douglas. Now, whaddya wanna bet they'll give it to diCaprio? But I digress...

Here are some of the highlights from the photos:

A military patrol boat approaches what must now be the most dangerous water slide ever:

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Concordia drifts off to sleep:

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Port out, starboard...out:

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Cheese, A Recognized Spiritual Hazard

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Bernard Basset, a relatively famous Jesuit in the 1950's/60's, set out to educate the common man in all things God-related. However, there were hiccups. Stan Carey highlights one of the best of them (the foul effects of cheese on the soul!):

I was home in suburban London in 1946 and back in the world of extramural studies when this weird, nocturnal visitation shattered my calm. I had no possible reason to expect so violent a disturbance; by my own subjective standards I was more than normal when I retired to bed that night. Perhaps I was overworked and a little worried, for I had a wisdom tooth that might prove impacted, but no wisdom tooth in history has toppled a man’s faith overnight.

To show how unexpected it was, Margery, when told about it, immediately ran through the items of the previous supper and attributed my atheism to the cheese. She herself, so she said, had sniffed the cheese secretly that evening and had judged it very mature. She smelt it once, replaced it in its carton and then took it out for a second sniff. Knowing how much I liked cheese, she had quietened her scruples, thus unwittingly contributing to my sudden distress. Had I roused her in the night as I should have done, she was sure that her first, semi-conscious explanation would have been “Cheese”.

Margery informed me that cheese was a recognised spiritual hazard and that St Margaret Mary kept a piece down for just ten minutes and this when commanded under Holy Obedience.

Bernard Basset, We Agnostics: On the Tightrope to Eternity

Book Review: Lost Books of the Odyssey, Or, You Don't Know Nuthin' Bout Odysseus

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The premise is simple: Odysseus, wily storyteller, told different versions of events to different audiences, all the better to protect himself and his family from the wrath of gods and enemies. The Odyssey, as written by Homer, is but one version of events. 44 variations have been excavated from an archaeological site, providing the titular Lost Books of the Odyssey.

The scholarly pretense is effective. After all, there's no question that Odysseus is a trickster, a deceiver of men. In 44 vignettes, Zachary Mason offers a series of witty counterfactuals to The Iliad and The Odyssey. Some stories are simple retellings, others add color and fill in the gaps in these stories of gods among men.

As apocrypha should be, Lost Books is both fragmented and non-linear, owing more to the experimental ministrations of Borges or Lord Dunsany than to the narrative excellence of Homer.

Unlike many experimental works, however, Mason's connects with the heart as well as the head, making Dunsany a sort of apt comparison. The beauty of The Odyssey is precisely that its leads are so familiar; we are already aware of two similar yet different "canon" versions in the Roman myth and the Greek myth, so why not 44 other retellings? We have emotional attachments to Homeric concepts of heroism and bravery that Mason neatly turns on their heads. (To be honest, I'm not sure this book would work QUITE as well for people who aren't familiar with the Homeric tales).

I suppose I should mention that not all 44 work (one or two are too fanciful even for this fanciful concept), but none fail to entertain. Personal favorites include an O. Henry-esque tale of Medusa, Odyssey fashioning Achilles as a clay simulacrum, and Odyssey returning home to Ithaca only to find himself already there, seated by his wife. These are some of the less experimental tales in the book. I will not spoil the rest for you here.

Zach Mason deserves credit not only for bravery (messing with Homer? Seriously?) but for creating a wonderfully diverting work. Next, he's moving to Ovid's Metamorphoses. I can't wait.

2012 Reading Manifesto

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So far, I've been light on resolutions, because I've adopted a different approach this year. Rather than some idealized list of things I'd like to achieve this year, I wanted to think a little bit more seriously about what's realistic to achieve, and what I would genuinely benefit from achieving.

What I'd like to do in 2012 is to only read novels in translation. Realistically, I'm going to aim for 70%. Amazingly, about 70% of the books I read in 2011 were written by women, so I know this sort of limitation is achievable.

Ideally, I'd visit a different country with each new work, but I'm not sure that's something I could actually do. At any rate, my resolution affords me the opportunity to delve deeper into my beloved dead Russians, offer some thoughts on the efforts of translation, and hopefully learn to love some authors whose work has been long forgotten in English-speaking nations.

I aim for a mix of seminal favorites and contemporary hits (therefore, I won't be reading a hundred books by Bolaño). I can finally read 100 Years of Solitude, Heinrich Böll, more Murakami, Cosette and Borges.

Also...

This year, I'm going to attempt, yet again, to read 100 books. I only made it to 45 this year, which is a pretty healthy hint that I cannot both read 100 books and watch 100 movies (which I did, hooray! or...oops?).

Hopefully I don't drown in experimental fiction, so wish me luck! Please leave your recommendations in the comments.

The Evolution of Diane Lockhart

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The New York Times livestreamed an absolutely fantastic roundtable conversation between the writers and stars of The Good Wife. The conversation touched not only on the show, but on the role of women in the media, on liberal tendencies to blind themselves to certain realities across the aisle, on censorship on network television, and most importantly, Josh Charles' erotic lunging.

I'm unable to embed the video, but you can (and should) watch it here: http://new.livestream.com/channels/387/videos/76513

What really surprised me was how little attention was paid to the romances and intricate plotting of the show, and how much was paid to the construction of particular characters. Unexpectedly, much of the conversation centered on Diane Lockhart, who has become one of the most revolutionary characters on television, but almost wasn't.

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According to the rules of Desperate HousewivesGrey's Anatomy, and whatever excuses for television they air on Fox, a woman over 40 is characterized by loud desperation. They leap to men like moths to a flame, despite the fact that the biological tick-tock has long ago stopped (for the most part).

And yet, Diane gets a sexy dalliance of her own. It's not even remarkable that she's an outspoken feminist Democrat, and he's a gun-toting tea party member. It's remarkable how normal their relationship is. It's sexy, it's exciting, and it's constrained, the way all relationships suffer from circumstance (Alicia would agree, I'm sure).

This is because time hasn't fundamentally transformed Diane Lockhart. Most women aren't transformed purely by time, there are usually other factors in the mix (again, ask Alicia). Diane is happy with her lot in life, and when she lashes out, it's against existential threats, not against the ravages of time or against "men".

Speaking of existential threats...

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As Robert King points out, Diane was originally conceived as "the mentor who tries to sabotage the mentee," an idea that comes off as arch and a bit troubling in the the pilot. Luckily, the first episode is the last we see of that.

By the time real tension flares up between Diane and Alicia, Alicia and Will's liaisons are actually threatening Diane's entire livelihood, not some fictional idea of what it means to be a woman in a man's world.

One of the things I'm most looking forward to in the second half of the season is the development of the idea that Diane is an alternate universe version of Alicia. Until now, Diane has been a peripheral character in Alicia's world, and it makes sense that Alicia had to reach a certain point in her own journey for Diane to really enter her life in a more meaningful way than mentor-mentee or boss-subordinate.

Alicia almost had to put her private life to bed before she could enter the electron-proton dance with Diane. They're opposite sides of the same woman, and it's fascinating to watch these opposites fight against each other for primacy. I can't wait to see what happens, but if I continue this silly metaphor, I bet it'll be nuclear.

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I think one of the best decisions the Kings made was to shift Diane from being an antagonist to Alicia to being a more general force of her own within the firm. She's never just protecting herself, she's protecting all those who work with her, even Will and Eli, who pretend they don't need a moral center.

She isn't bitter, she isn't regretful, this is her life, and she loves it. It's a character that stands apart from any other on television, where middle aged women are continually played as personifications of loss and/or longing (loss/longing of looks, loss/longing of years, loss/longing of choice, and so on).

Which is why the McVeigh storyline works so well: she experiences emotion as a normal human being, not as some cliché subset of gender and age.

She's an inspiration to all of us because, unlike so many other female characters on television, she's real. She gives us a roadmap for how to live our lives, how to balance our ideals with pragmatism. She doesn't live in a cloud, nor is she consumed by her own neuroses.

Diane Lockhart love letter...out.

 

(primary image credited to liveitout.tumblr.com)

2011: My Year With David Foster Wallace

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In the minds of many acolytes, 2011 means the last major release of work by David Foster Wallace, incomplete though The Pale King remains. For long-time fans, I suspect this release closed the book on a tender love affair. For this newbie, the media hoopla actually alerted me to Wallace, and enabled a love affair of my own.

Reading Infinite Jest perfectly split my year. After the trauma of wedding planning and the joy of actually getting married, I chose to recharge my emotional and intellectual stores with one of the most difficult books ever written (difficult being relative, I assume).

I had warmed up with a number of his non-fiction essays, proselytizing E Pluribus Unam and many others to all who would listen. I cooled down with some of his short fiction, even though none could live up to IJ.

But on the day I reached Jamaica, I began Infinite Jest. And my memories of romance, sand and boats intertwine perfectly with the misadventures of one Hal Incadenza and all the characters that thread out from him. I was left with an existential sadness when I finished that novel, which probably won't be wiped away until I give in and read it again.

Now, I barely remember pre-DFW 2011, filled with Freedom and Room and other single-named novels that linger in the memory, but not the soul (I make a neat exception for Just Kids, by Patti Smith).

Many speak of his remarkable facility with language, of the colors of mental illness that thread through all of his work, of his deep impenetrability, like he's some bad boyfriend we're all trying to change.

What makes him so appealing to me is none of those things. It's his sensitivity, his hyper-awareness of all that makes us human and all the forces that would deprive us of that quality.

Do I have plans to read The Pale King? In short, yes. I will not make a promise as to when, however. I suspect five more readings of IJ will come first.

Previous: The Moment that Infinite Jest Broke Me: Ruminations on Tennis

Apps for Apes, aka, Nothing Can Ever Be As Cute As This

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A gorilla keeper at the Milwaukee County Zoo posited a what-if on her facebook: what if her gorillas had iPads to play with? Well, as it turns out, they kind of hated it, but the orangutans went bananas. Thusly, Apps for Apes was born.

See (more pictures here):

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Following the successful pilot in Milwaukee, Apps for Apes aims to provide iPads to orangutans in multiple zoos, and even provide wi-fi. (MONKEY FACETIME!!!)

According to The BBC, the orangutans are particularly fascinated by clips of David Attenborough.

The animals have, Mr Zimmerman said, been captivated by watching television on the devices, particularly when it featured other orangutans, and even more so when they saw faces they recognised.

The BBC article also reports that app developers are looking to develop apps that are designed similarly to apps for small children, with simple interaction and visual cues.

However, trust my inner dystopian to only see the dark side. This could be the first sign of a horrible prison life, where we may be kept in captivity, but hey, at least we'll have iPads.

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