Some years ago, I purchased “The Contender” starring Jeff Bridges, Joan Allen and Gary Oldman, a story about a female senator played by Allen who is asked by the president played by Bridges to be his Vice President after his first VP suddenly dies. Long story short, one day I decided to watch the deleted scenes portion of the special features and one scene in particular caught my attention. In this deleted scene Bridges is telling his staff the “Ape Story”. In this story, five apes are placed inside of a cage where a set of stairs have been set up and dangling over the stairs from a string is a banana.
Outside of the cage is a fire hydrant with a fire hose attached to it and the hydrant contains freezing water. As is their nature, one of the apes immediately attempts to climb the stairs and retrieve the banana. However, as he does the keeper outside of the cage proceeds to hose the guilty ape down with the freezing water for about five minutes along with the other four apes who have not attempted to get the banana. Not swayed by this hosing the other apes continue in succession to retrieve the banana, but just like before, all five apes are punished with the spraying. Needless to say, that after a while none of the apes would go for that banana. Later the keeper would then replace one of the apes with a new ape and naturally, the new ape would go for the banana.
However, instead of the keeper having to discipline the new ape, the other four apes proceeded to beat the living daylights out of the new ape. This continued until the keeper had replaced the first five apes with five new apes and each time the new ape went for the banana, the other apes would attack him without knowing why they were doing so. The moral of the story, that’s just the way things are done around here.
For purposes of this commentary, let us imagine the old apes are urban adults, the new apes urban children, that the fire hose and hydrant represent prison and/or death, the stairs the correct road to travel and the banana bling/bling. Using your imagination imagine that in order to achieve success instead of taking the correct route of the stairs the children go the route of violence and murder. Furthermore, imagine that the adults don’t attempt to correct the children when the adults witness the children making the same mistakes they (adults) made by warning the children of the consequences of said behavior. What we are left with is a pattern of learned behavior that says that the way of violence and murder is just the way things are done around here. Moreover, the children become so desensitized to that violent behavior that instead of looking for ways to damp it down, ways are sought to make it more attractive and rewarding. No attempt is made to show the child that not only does this behavior harm him/her, but also the neighborhood.
There are no corrective measures taken because the adults are afraid of the children because of the desensitization of the children towards violence and their lack of respect for human life. Far too many years have passed and still the same conversation dominates our communities about why we continue to struggle and grapple with the same issues. Today’s ghetto mirrors the ghetto of forty years ago. Inner-city schools of today mirror those of yesteryear. The only thing that has really changed in urban areas is the number of funerals for our youth has increased, the sense of real community has decreased and those of us who remember the clean sidewalks and the pride taken in keeping them that way are left broken-hearted, shaking our heads wondering how the so-called progress we’ve made feels and looks more like regression.
~~~ Jay Arrington (EMAIL)
Maryland Daily Examiner
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