Thought Catalog
February 24, 2011

Koko, The “Talking” Gorilla

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The Gorilla Foundation’s chief meme-form—

[specific gorilla] [verb associated with humans] [item associated with humans]

—does not exclusive employ Koko (sometimes it has employed Ndume, Koko’s current “mate,” or Michael, who died in 2000 from heart failure and was described in his obituary as Koko’s best friend) but it’s when Koko, with her uniquely alienated situation and strong “personal brand,” is the conduit that the low-level memes transcend the emotional void of meme-hood and become more like “things of ‘art'” which, though lacking the viral potential of memes, are perhaps more useful as sustainable palliatives—rather than temporary distractions—for existential issues such as limited-time, death, confusion and therefore more memorable and lasting.

The Gorilla Foundation has generated a variety of memes—

  • watching romantic comedies
  • having “favorite” movies (Pretty WomanMaid in ManhattanBig)
  • cradling tiny kittens, baby human dolls, or “troll” dolls
  • flossing
  • finger-painting
  • reading fan mail
  • getting her back scratched by a grinning Dr. Penny Patterson
  • photographing herself
  • celebrating birthdays and holidays with “feasts” or costumes
  • climbing things in her outdoor compound
  • sitting on grass in sunlight in a lightly dazed, cat-like manner
  • eating chia seeds, acacia shoots, red roses
  • “daintily” peeling and eating oranges
  • strategizing on how to gain “enrichments” (toy-like items or food items placed in areas out of reach without the use of creativity)
  • interacting with celebrities in situations where the celebrities seem categorically more interested in her than she in them
  • laying amongst toys for adolescent humans in the manner of a “passed-out drunk” laying amongst their recent, personal wreckage
  • staring at “to do lists” posted on walls while holding a pen in a professional manner.

—that with Koko as their node have aggregately, at some point, 20-40 years ago, enacted a uniquely class-spanning, difficult-to-earnestly-shit-talk, subtly unzany brand of extreme zaniness that seems to have come into existence gradually, over decades, independent of chance-like associations with short-term cultural obsessions and without logos or catch-phrases or non-factual self-description (the front page of contains no adjectives re Koko), almost as an “accidental” side-effect of simply satisfying Koko’s existential and evolutionary needs in a publicly documented manner.

One can discern the accidental nature of Koko’s brand by looking at photographs of her and feeling unable to easily identity the time period or cultural climate (unlike the brands of, say, David Bowie or even Woody Allen, whose relatively slight cultural-inflection, in terms of aesthetic, is still enough to place a photo him in a decade). Like the closed system of the universe—self-defining, defaultedly expanding, toneless-by-way-of-encompassing-all-tones—Koko’s brand, because it overlaps completely (or near completely) with her existence, will never seem to change yet is not, by definition, stagnant.

The result is that Koko can do or “say” anything and it will strengthen her brand. She will never seem “out of character” because she has displayed a range of tones and behaviors comprehensive and wide-ranging enough that she has acquired, among other things, the bankruptcy-proof qualities of the major corporation that has expanded to so many sectors that it’s no longer identifiable with one product and is now, transcendently, outside the success-failure spectrum.

Curiously, engaging in violent or other directly immoral—defined here as “that which, within a context, and in comparison to something else within the same context, increases the pain and suffering of those within the context”—behavior seems to be the only way Koko could ruin her brand to any degree. In a universe where the only innate direction, arguably, of conscious beings is to “avoid pain”/“seek pleasure,” the maintenance of Koko’s brand is at once evolutionarily, existentially, and morally/politically appealing in a way that one could imagine earnestly saying things about how if Sartre were alive today he might consider Koko, not Che, to be “the most complete [entity] of our age.”