2005-09-22 / This Week's Attitude

Right-Wing Birdbrains Applaud Penguin Family Values

This Week

This Week’s AttitudeBy Neil S. Friedman

Things are, more often than not, messed up in Washington, DC, regardless of who’s in the White House. But, now, some meddlesome birdbrains really wanna fowl things up!

In a commotion as preposterous as Vice President Dan Quayle’s chastising “Murphy Brown,” a popular early 1990’s television character who was single and chose to have a child, some conservatives are hailing the low-budget documentary blockbuster, “March of the Penguins,” as a primary example of family values. And it’s entertaining filmgoers in red and blue states!

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with family values per se, but those standards vary significantly from state to state, city to city, community to community and, naturally, family to family. One family’s standards — whether harsh, lenient or in between — may differ from another’s.

And no government, group or religion has any right to impose its principles on others.

The New York Times recently reported that a Web site opposed to abortion praised the record-breaking, French-produced documentary because it “verified the beauty of life and rightness of protecting it.” It also noted that an editor at the National Review — a conservative periodical — told a conference of young conservatives that the movie “promoted monogamy.” However, he suggested, they should avert their eyes from the screen during the film’s brief segment when the birds are trying to reproduce. (The latter is merely my mockery.)

Veteran Time magazine film critic Richard Schickel attributed the film’s box office success — it was made by French filmmakers for an estimated $1 million — because “it’s a wonderful lesson in family values.”

Conservative film critic Michael Medved told the New York Times that this was the first film conservative audiences have enjoyed since ‘The Passion of the Christ.” “This,” he said, “is ‘The Passion of the Penguins.’”

Are things in our society so bad that we must now examine the animal kingdom to improve our lot in life?

I intended to write a column about my lifelong interest in nature documentaries produced for theatrical release, as well as for television. I’ve been a fan of the genre ever since I watched Disney nature documentaries when growing up. And, every so often, I tune in to PBS’ “Nature” series and stop surfing when I come to the Animal Planet channel. Those programs and movies are always entertaining and educational.

However, when I read about the renewed interest in the excellent film that has earned more than $70 million since it debuted last June, I couldn’t resist invoking my own two cents over the pointless hullabaloo and abandoning that column.

For those of you who are pop-culturally uninformed, “March of the Penguins” is about the thousands of emperor penguins, indigenous to Antarctica, that annually make a 70-mile journey to the place where they were born, to mate and reproduce.

Each pair of penguins produces a large, single egg that is protected by the males during the coldest, wintriest two months of weather on Earth, while the females trek back 70 miles to the sea to replenish their bodies that were depleted during pregnancy.

Here’s where the family values argument truly goes astray. Can you imagine the hue and cry if human mothers abandoned newborns for a few months just to chow down? Maybe that is the emperor penguins’ form of Postpartum Depression.

Conservatives, who also tend to be opponents of evolution in favor of some pseudo-science theory called intelligent design, ignore when narrator Morgan Freeman says, “For millions of years, (the penguins) have made their home on the darkest, driest, windiest, coldest continent on Earth.”

They also miss the point when the movie alludes to how global warming may be slowly damaging the penguins’ habitat. And they overlook the fact that penguins don’t mate for life and seek new partners the following year. Guess penguins prefer coveting thy neighbor’s mate. So much for family values!

As conservatives — and liberals for that matter — are wont to do, they only select issues that support their ideals and promote them to satisfy their zealous agendas.

The film, which is far better than most of the special effects-laden summer Hollywood productions that didn’t fare too well at the box office, is about family, survival, love and passion. But, for heaven’s sake, it’s about PENGUINS waddling across a vast wasteland!

While some aspects of the way the penguins conduct themselves may be admirable to critics who, in their own narrow minds, believe American society and family life is eroding, others would not be compatible for human beings.

The best thing to do would let the penguins live their lives as nature ordained, and let conservatives worry about their own “perfect” lives and stop telling the rest of us how to live.

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