Anthropologist Agustín Fuentes Explains “Planet of the Apes” Fascination


Rise of the Planet of the Apes--Image Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Rise of the Planet of the Apes, opening nationwide Friday, is expected to be a summer blockbuster. So what’s the fascination with apes taking over? Why not Planet of the Dogs or Planet of the Seagulls?

“The lure of the Planet of the Apes movies lies in our fascination with the possibility that we are not the only sentient beings on earth,” says University of Notre Dame anthropologist Agustín Fuentes, who specializes in human evolution and primatology.

“Our bodies and histories are so similar—we share nearly all our genes. And as ex-apes ourselves, the apes of today fascinate us. We see in them so many of our own traits, but they also show us how we are different.”

Fuentes points out that the theme of the films forces humans to consider uncomfortable questions about human and animal rights: What it would be like to share the planet with another species that “talked back?” What if the closeness between humans and apes spilled over to be sameness?

Agustin Fuentes

“This is the core of the Planet of the Apes films: What gives humans the right to dominate the planet? What are our obligations and what would happen if we were not the only game in town?”

Fuentes, a professor in the Department of Anthropology, was named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science earlier this year for his “distinguished contributions to field primatology and physical anthropology, particularly for his research in field primatology and the evolution of primate and human behavior.”

His recent books include Evolution of Human Behavior, which focuses on how and why humans evolved behaviorally, and Health, Risk, and Adversity, which provides a comparative approach to the analysis of health disparities and human adaptability and examines the pathways that lead to unequal health outcomes.

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