Did you hear the one about the woman who is attacked on the street by a gorilla, beaten senseless, raped repeatedly and left to die? When she finally regains consciousness and tries to speak, her doctor leans over to hear her sigh contently and to feebly ask, 'Where is that marvelous ape?'This got me thinking about the joke itself. First off, why would a gorilla rape a human being? I have read about people getting too close to a gorilla exhibit at a zoo and being injured so the "beaten senseless" part didn't seem so far fetched. But why would the gorilla be on the street? If a gorilla had escaped from a gorilla exhibit at a zoo, wouldn't the authorities be out looking?
Unless the "gorilla" part of the joke is a metaphor.
Hmm, now what sort of metaphor would a gorilla be?
A few commenters at crooks and liars point out that in some parts of the country, "ape" or "gorilla" is racial code. And in that setting, the joke is not about a victim of interspecies violence, but about a woman who's raped, beaten and left for dead by an African-American male.
The recent Lebron James cover of Vogue sparked a bit of a discussion of the "ape=black male" racial metaphor (especially in King Kong imagery) which led me here. At the beginning of a lengthy discussion of the 1933 RKO film King Kong, David Rosen writes:
It doesn't require too great an exercise of the imagination to perceive the element of race in KING KONG. Racist conceptions of blacks often depict them as subhuman, ape or monkey-like.Now go back and reread the joke with the translation of its (possible) codeword in mind.
I'm not saying that Senator McCain (who doesn't claim to have never said the joke - only that he doesn't remember ever saying it - a non-denial denial if ever there was one) told a racist joke or even thought of the joke as a racist joke.
Just saying that someone growing up in the middle of the 20th Century would probably know the codeword and knowing that, shouldn't have told the joke in the first place.