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Tuesday, August 28, 2007  

What's Under That Yellow Hat, Anyway?

When I first encountered the Curious George books at the age of five or six, the man in the yellow hat always struck me as the very embodiment of authority. His appearance late in the book always signaled the end of fun, that George's day of reckoning had arrived. The shit was about to hit the fan. He was both nameless and hulking, and the combination made him almost terrifyingly godlike.

What an idiot I was.

When I became a parent, I expected to identify more with the man in the yellow hat, just as I had identified with George's anarchic high spirits when I was a child. But now I see that in order to truly identify with the character, I would have to undergo some kind of brain damage that would be considerably more catastrophic than any literary experiment could possibly merit.

I'm perfectly willing to concede that the character has changed over the years. We've been deliberately avoiding the original, old-school Curious George stories, which I'm given to understand are barely-veiled colonialist screeds in which the man in the yellow hat personifies not only authority, but manifest destiny and the white man's burden. But can he really have evolved into the character we see today?

The newer books almost always follow the same formula. They start when the man in the yellow hat brings George to some public place or event. This is fine. I have no quarrel with this. Trash and I love bringing M. Small to new places and letting him have exciting new experiences, whether it's the neighborhood Fourth of July parade or a balloon fiesta in Albuquerque. But here's where our methods diverge: Trash and I do not set M. Small down in the middle of a crowd and tell him to behave himself while we wander off to go look at something shiny.

Yet somehow the man in the yellow hat always seems so surprised when George trashes a library, or wrecks a bobsled, or hijacks a dump truck, or accidentally steals a hot air balloon. Dude -- it's a series. By definition, this isn't the first time this has happened. Do you honestly think that telling a chimpanzee to "stay here and don't be too curious" is going to avert disaster? George is a damn monkey. He doesn't know any better. WTF is your excuse?

But if the man with the yellow hat in the modern books is merely a clueless and incompetent monkey-parent, the current PBS series narrated by William H. Macy takes things even further by making him a dork as well. Yes, I know what you're thinking; it's not like you can make a guy seem cool in the 21st century when he insists on walking around in an outfit that makes him look like an assembly of yellow drinking straws. I'm sure the 2006 movie, which I haven't seen (so talky that M. Small got bored after ten minutes, which was twice as long as I lasted), went in the same direction, what with Will Ferrell doing the voice. But the animated series frequently has the man in the yellow hat doing things like conducting a "moth census" and getting waaay too into the kid's displays at the local museum (and not just because he nurses a secret crush on the brainiac scientist who works there, either). And of course he's not any better than the book version when it comes to leaving George to his own devices. His farewell catchphrase is "Be a good little monkey," which at this point has become almost like a rain dance, but one that brings precipitation in the form of destruction and mayhem.

The other weird thing about him? He's loaded. He and George live in the big city in a bright yellow high-rise apartment with a balcony outside and a doorman downstairs. It's obviously in a great neighborhood, because it's mere blocks from the park and George's human kid friends can run around unattended on the sidewalk without anybody worrying that they'll do a Without A Trace film-dissolve right off the screen. Plus they've got a house in the country, fully furnished, that they seem to own free and clear. And yet the man in the yellow hat never seems to go to work. At all. Sure, he'll step out for errands -- or to have some of the same kind of anonymous broom-closet sex that keeps drawing him away from George in public places, according to one alternate theory -- but he's never gone long enough to be at an actual day job. Probably nobody would hire him in that getup anyway, but the fact remains that they have no visible means of support, despite the fact that they probably have to keep dipping into a giant slush fund set aside to pay for all the stuff George keeps breaking (which included on one occasion, I shit you not, a building).

So clearly he's living on some kind of trust fund that's not only large enough to keep them both in bananas, but also large enough that he never has to suffer any painful consequences as a result of his monkey's activities (I keep waiting for Bill Macy's avuncular narration to include the phrase "fuck-you money"). Could it have come from his family? We never seem to meet any of his relatives. Perhaps they were all killed in the same horrific accident that left the man in the yellow hat unable to grasp that unattended monkeys get into mischief, unable to dress himself like a non-spazz, unable to go out in public without a towering, sunny chapeau to camouflage his massive head wound, unable to even remember his own name.

So no, I don't identify with the man in the yellow hat. I would have to be stupider than I have been since I was…oh, say, about five or six years old.

posted by M. Giant 9:40 PM 14 comments

14 Comments:

I have often wondered about much of this, particularly TMITYH's apparent independent wealth. The house in the country is what gets me on that one. I'm thinking that he's just one of those rich people who's described as "eccentric," which earns him the right to dress and act stupidly. Plus it's the city: no one notices anyway.

Also, my favorite is when the dachshund is allowed to monkey-sit. WTF?

By Blogger Jenny, at August 29, 2007 at 5:00 AM  

Since TMWTYH has referred to his childhood in the country, I assume he inherited the country house where he summered with his wealthy family, before they were killed in a tragic accident while he was off climbing Yellow Hat Mountain. He also inherited the NYC co-op AND got a hefty settlement from those responsible for his family's deaths.

TMWTYH appears to be some sort of academic/researcher, as he both "gives" and edits "papers." In the books, Professor Wiseman is a colleague. A MALE colleague. Apparently they are either trying to be politically correct or draw in the moms with the are they/aren't they romance. (Oh, they totally are.)

Jenny's right: Who lets a dog care for a recuperating monkey? Who lets the dog and the monkey handle doorman duties? Who lets a monkey pick up donuts, work in a grocery store, or cook in a restaurant? Eccentric New Yorkers who dress all in yellow, apparently.

By Blogger Melinda, The Bad Mommy, at August 29, 2007 at 7:04 AM  

It is so funny you posted this today because we were watching the PBS cartoon yesterday morning, and I wondered aloud, "why does he keep leaving George alone?"
TMITYH had George WALK HIM TO THE SUBWAY so he could go to work, and George got to walk all the way home alone(he got a job on the way back, sort of).
Child services should get after this guy.

By Blogger Kim, at August 29, 2007 at 9:30 AM  

Have you considered that TMITYH might be...the president and spokesman for a lumber company? http://www.greatsouthernwood.com/
Seriously, Yella Fella dresses exactly like him, although I suspect he'd be a little more watchful of George. (Do they even have those commercials in Minnesota?)

By Anonymous Anonymous, at August 29, 2007 at 11:34 AM  

Yes, yes, you're right, of course. But the PBS show is really the only kids show we watch that I can actually stand to watch, and watch repeatedly. Of course, since we don't have cable, our only other choices are Dora (which folks gave us on DVD - THANKS) and Elmo's vignettes on Sesame Street (since the hour long show doesn't yet capture our 2.5 year old's attention). But I actually enjoy Curious George, even after repeated viewings!

By Anonymous lg, at August 29, 2007 at 1:24 PM  

My husband and I have spent many hours discussing this very topic. TMWTYH leaves his monkey home alone with his new rug while he goes to buy batteries for his camera. WTF? Or what about Bill, who seems to think that George is a "city kid"?

By the way, new season starts Monday. Thank God. We know season 1's 30 episodes by heart (favorite: Bunny Hunt).

Love your blog. My son is 2 and it's been a sneak preview of what's to come.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at August 30, 2007 at 7:43 AM  

I always thought TMITYH did something shady in Africa, when he first "adopted" George. Like, maybe picked up some ancient artifact and then sold it on the black market? And maybe he makes trips like that once or twice year, while pretending to be an academic and writing papers as his cover.

My brothers and I used to love the books to death, because George's badness was so awesome in its breadth. Our favorite was George tearing up the hospital, which ended with him spilling an entire catering cart on the mayor.

I think my dad was kind of oblivious and liable to overestimate kids' ability to be good, just like TMITYH. So it was a vicarious thrill for us to see George wreak havoc and then *get away with it* because he was only a (diabolically clever) monkey and not a real, spankable child.

By Blogger Gwen, at August 30, 2007 at 12:49 PM  

I'm sure no one is reading this comment thread anymore - but if you are - Is William H. Macy gone? I saw a new George ep this morning that I did not like. The narrator's voice was off. And Mrs. Renkins', too. And I caught the end of the new ep yesterday and thought the doorman's voice was off. I'm not happy! My daughter didn't seem to notice, but as I posted earlier, I actually liked watching this show. Today the new voices bothered me, as did the content.

I guess the sophmore season of any show is rough . . . .

By Anonymous lg, at September 4, 2007 at 10:09 AM  

I have to say, the broom-closet theory explains A LOT.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at August 19, 2009 at 11:11 AM  

My theory...I do believe that the Man in the Yellow Hat works at a museum to cover up his illicit drug-running operation. When do we ever see the man working?? -Hardly ever. How does he afford two houses? -Who knows. What was he doing down in the rain forest when he found George anyway? -Probably checking on manufacturing. Ha. Just a thought...but seriously, if you are an author of a children's book you can slip in characters with unbeknown flaws, attributes, or schemes that no one will pick up on...pretty interesting stuff. :)

By Anonymous Anonymous, at July 22, 2010 at 10:05 AM  

I know this post is old. :) but my 2 year old is sick today. That means LOTS of Curious George. And after lots of discussions with my husband, I finally decided that I had to know what TMITYH did for a living. Yep. No clue. Apparently it's healthy to teach children that when they grow up there are adults out there who don't work at all and still live lavish lives with unsupervised monkeys. Haha!

And don't even get me started on Bill. There is something SERIOUSLY wrong with that boy.

By Blogger mandi, at April 25, 2012 at 9:08 AM  

Folks it is a kids book not serious factual story telling, I bet you all have alot to say about Bugs Bunny

By Anonymous Anonymous, at April 30, 2012 at 8:50 AM  

After watching the show with my toddler for awhile, I was curious to find out TMITYH's name, and more about him. I am floored that so many others are so engrossed in the details, it's really entertaining! :) I agree with those who gave TMITYH the benefit of the doubt...I think he's a genius researcher who works from home a lot (at night, while George is sleeping). He probably inherited the house. He's just a laid-back "parent." George is not an ordinary monkey, so thus, TMITYH can give George more freedom.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at June 18, 2012 at 4:00 PM  

Give any idiot an ISP account, and a computer to access it with, and they think banging any garbage out, is akin to 'journalism.'

It's not, and, YOU, M. Giant, are certainly not.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at September 16, 2012 at 10:21 AM  

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