Last night Turner Classic Movies ran one of my favorite films, 1960's Inherit the Wind, and I was able to find the time to sit down and enjoy it. The film, starring Spencer Tracy and Frederic March, is a thinly fictionalized account of the "Scopes Monkey Trial" of 1925 - a real life event in which a young high school teacher in Dayton, Tennessee, was put on trial for breaking a new state law which forbid the teaching of evolution. In the actual trial, Mr. Scopes was defended by one of America's most famous lawyers, Clarence Darrow, and the state of Tennessee was represented by William Jennings Bryan, a highly skilled orator who had been the Democratic candidate for President on three separate occasions.
A circus-like atmosphere descended on Dayton that summer with the arrival of national press, food vendors, and thousands of people who wanted to be part of the commotion.
During the trial Darrow was rebuffed in his attempts to bring actual scientists to the witness stand to testify on Darwin's theory of evolution. Finally, after coming to the realization that science itself would not be a player in this drama, Darrow decided to make the trial about the Bible instead. He called his opposing counsel, Mr. Bryan, to the stand and got the old orator to declare himself an expert on the Bible. William Jennings Bryan posited that the entire Bible was the word of God, and, as such, was literally true - every line. Darrow began peppering him with a series of questions designed to bring the literalness of the Bible into question: Did God really make the world in just seven days? Were the days exactly twenty-four hours long? How do you explain the fossil record? Was Jonah really swallowed by a big fish? Who did Cain marry?
The verbal interchange was intense, both in the real life courtroom drama as well as in the movie - with much of the movie dialogue being taken almost word-for-word from the trial transcript. During the long exchange, Bryan began to lose the backing of the spectators. The jury found Scopes guilty because he had intentionally broken a Tennessee law, whether that law was just or not. The judge gave him a minimal fine, a result that enraged Bryan - and the old politician died of a stroke shortly after the completion of the trial.
So, having just seen the movie (for the third or fourth time), I sought out a poem for this space that would somehow reflect how I was feeling. What follows, The Monkey's Disgrace, is a whimsical look at the theory of evolution as taken from the monkey's perspective. The poet is unknown.
I respectfully dedicate this retelling of The Monkey's Disgrace to Sarah Palin, Little Ricky Santorum, Mike Huckabee, and all of the other intransigent Americans who are firmly rooted in the Dark Ages and constantly strive to keep everyone else as steeped in ignorance as they are.
The Monkey's Disgrace