Whenever groups of kids from the area schools took a field trip to visit our radio station and were in the building while I was on the air, I felt like an animal in a zoo. The station is configured with the various studios in a row from north to south on the east side of the building. The west wall of each studio is dominated by an almost floor to ceiling window of thick, soundproof glass.
During those field trip tours one of the other station staffers paraded the kids past the studios. The pupils at the front pressed their noses against the glass as they peered into each studio. At those particular times, the realization that I’m a caged animal usually made itself clear. It was easy to imagine what chimpanzees probably feel in the primate area of a zoo.
In the early 1900s, some German cities had a Völkerschau or Peoples Show. The Völkerschau consisted of Africans on display as zoo exhibits for show attendees to stare at. Germany was not the first or only nation that had this shameful practice. In the 1800s, France, Belgium, Spain, Italy, Poland, and Great Britain had some human zoos. For awhile, even New York City had instances of these exhibits.
One of the most popular features at the 1889 World’s Fair was the exhibition of some 400 indigenous people. The display of semi-naked human beings in cages was very popular. Similar exhibits were featured at subsequent world and colonial exhibitions in Paris in 1906 and 1922. Those displays were extremely popular to fair-goers.
Perhaps one of the most shocking displays, according to modern standards, was the display of a pygmy from the Congo at New York City’s Bronx Zoo. The man, Ota Benga, was forced to carry around chimps and other small apes. Bronx Zoo director and eugenicist, William Hornaday, titled the show, “The Missing Link”. The display was extremely popular.
A person doesn’t need to be part of a Völkerschau exhibit or work in the entertainment business to be caged. All that is required is to live in our contemporary civilization. We live in houses or apartments. Some of us work in offices or manufacturing plants. In extreme instances, people live in jails and penitentiaries–literal cages. So, if you’ve ever felt closed in or caged at home or work, your intuition was spot on.
A person might go for a walk outdoors or take a vacation to a wilderness area. The refreshing freedom of these breaks is intoxicating. Vacations and expeditions to frontier areas and the wilderness are highly popular. We love the sensations of freedom.
At the end of a week or two or a maybe a month, we are eager to return home so we can resume our lives and return to our jobs. Our vacations are only reprieves similar to sailors’ “shore leave”. If we fail to return to our jobs, we suffer a civilian form of AWOL. This entails everything unemployment brings about.
I haven’t even mentioned the mental boxes we place ourselves into. Anyway, we’re quite familiar with those.
If you sometimes think that life is like a zoo, perhaps you’re right.