To millions of children around the world – at least in the United States and Europe – Curious George is like a family friend. The little brown monkey uprooted from his habitat in Africa and brought to the big city by the Man in the Yellow Hat has been the subject of numerous books, television serials, movie franchises and merchandise sales for over six decades. Written and illustrated by the French team H.A. Rey and Margaret Rey, George is an instantly recognizable figure, endearing in his comic simplicity, relatable to anyone who has felt like a fish out of water – or a monkey out of a forest.
Indian kids, like me, grew up reading about a different monkey—Hanuman—rendered in live-action animation or as a comic-book character. Hanuman was the catalytic force behind an army of monkeys that fought the epic battle of Lanka at the end of the Ramayana, the Iliad of Indian literature. The monkeys destroy the evil kingdom of the ten-headed monster, Ravana, and help Rama rescue his virtuous wife Sita from Ravana’s clutches. Even today, Hanuman is considered the great protector, his temples or images installed in physical surroundings to keep evil away. The Chinese have their monkey king, Sun Wukong, monkey gods and spirits have existed in Native American folklore, and South American literature is rich with its own legends of monkeys.
From Hanuman to Curious George and every monkey in between, kids love their monkeys with a cult-like fetish. To tread on this territory with a parody is akin to committing religious sacrilege. So, brownie points – or banana points – to Andrew Simonian for Bi-Curious George: An Unauthorized Parody (Cider Mill Press, 2012), an illustrated book for adults about a “straight little monkey but always very…curious”, for at least trying. With a teasing title and colorful drawings, Simonian tries and fails grandly! Right from this introductory description it is clear that the humor of this George might have received big laughs in the 1980s but the book sits on too flimsy a premise to educate, validate or advance any understanding of bisexuality as an identity.
Filled with off-color gay tropes, bad prison jokes, and juvenile chuckles over “man purses”, “body shots”, and “seamen”,