Overly Sensitive Olympics Viewers Are Wrong About NBC’s Monkey Promo

There is nothing racist about a monkey doing gymnastics to promote a new sitcom—even when it's shown after Gabby Douglas wins a medal.

The Olympics have triggered a whole lot of angst. People are pissed at NBC’s spoilers. They’re pissed about Americans being too self-obsessed. They’re pissed about Michael Phelps mania. They pissed about Gabby Douglas’s hair. People are pissed about people being pissed about Gabby Douglas’s hair.

I thought this was the most idiotic and outlandish the Olympic griping could get. But I was wrong. The latest complaint involves a monkey.

Last week, after Bob Costas spoke about African-American gymnast Gabby Douglas’s inspirational wins and the impact on young black girls across the country, NBC aired the following promo for the upcoming comedy Animal Practice.

I saw this and giggled about how hilarious it is when monkeys do human things like wear spandex outfits and compete in international gymnastics competitions. Other viewers lashed out at NBC, leveling cries of racism for equating Gabby Douglas with a monkey, a known insult toward African-Amerians.

All of this reminds me of the first year I worked at Philadelphia Weekly. For the annual holiday guide, we featured cute pets in seasonal costumes. Tinsel, Liz Spikol’s portly brown hamster, was on the cover, all decked out in a yarmulke and blond peyot. It was a big hit among staffers and we congratulated ourselves on such an adorable cover. Everything was swell until we started getting calls from offended people, like a staff writer at the Jewish Exponent, who likened Tinsel’s photo to images of rats and other vermin used by Nazis to degrade Jewish people. Then—and now—I think it’s a pretty big stretch and the same logic applies to NBC’s monkey debacle.

If you look hard enough, anything can be offensive. And don’t get me wrong: There are plenty of reasons to complain about NBC’s lack of racial sensitivity (see: the fact that Friends, a show about living in the hugely diverse New York City, featured exactly two black characters in 10 years; or the fact that in 2012, the must-see-TV lineup still includes very few actors of color). But this isn’t one those reasons. This outcry is nothing more than a some overly sensitive people taking a questionably awkward timing coincidence and blowing it way, way out of proportion.

To the NBC executives’ credit, however, the station released the following statement:

“Gabby Douglas’ gold medal performance last night was an historic and inspiring achievement. The spot promoting Animal Practice, which has run three times previously, is one in a series with an Olympic theme which have been scheduled for maximum exposure. Certainly no offense was intended.”

Translation: Sometimes, a hamster is just a hamster, a monkey is just a monkey and uptight TV viewers are just looking for something to complain about.