The Loom

Traditional Norms, Animal-style

"March of the Penguins," the conservative film critic and radio host Michael Medved said in an interview, is "the motion picture this summer that most passionately affirms traditional norms like monogamy, sacrifice and child rearing." –from an article describing how some religious leaders and conservative magazines are embracing the blockbuster documentary.

Well, it’s 2010, and what a remarkable five years it’s been. The blockbuster success of March of the Penguins in 2005 triggered a flood of wonderful documentaries about animal reproduction, all of which provide us with inspiring affirmation of the correct way to live our lives. Here are just a few of the movies that can guide you on your path…

Dinner of the Redback Spiders: This documentary follows the heartwarming romance between two spiders that ends with the male somersaulting onto the venomous fangs of his mate, his reproductive organs still delivering semen into the female as she devours him.

Toxic Love of the Fruit Flies: In this movie, male fruit flies demonstrate their ingenuity and resourcefulness by injecting poisonous substances during sex that make it less likely that other males will successfully fertilize the eggs of their mates. Sure, these toxins cut the lifespan of females short, but who said life was perfect?

Harem of the Elephant Seals: Meet Dad: a male northern elephant seal who spends his days in bloody battles with rivals who would challenge his right to copulate with a band of females–but doesn’t life a finger (or a flipper) to help raise their kids.

Step-fathers of the Serengeti: Guess who’s moving in? It’s a male lion taking over a pride of females. Watch him affirm traditional norms by killing their cubs so that they can father his own offspring.

Funky Love of the Bonobos: The sexual shenanigans of some of our closest living ape relatives. Male-female, female-female, and on and on it goes. Warning: Definitely not suitable for children.

Comments

  1. #1 hoopman
    September 14, 2005

    Or, as PZ Myers said over at Pharyngula, “It was a movie about pitiless Darwinian circumstances. Drop the egg, it freezes and the embryo dies. Newborn chick wanders away, it freezes and dies. One parent dies of predation or weather, the other has to abandon the young to starve, freeze, and die. As an inspiration to conservative Republican ruthlessness, I can see it…but Intelligent Design? No way”. And I might add – inept, clumsy predators attack the chicks while mothers and fathers stand by and do nothing to help. And understand, these are NOT predators that the larger penguins had anything to fear from a personal standpoint of survival. Any one of them could have taken a run at these birds and they would have flown off in terror, let alone if several of them had combined efforts. In fact, several DO combine such an effort in keeping a chickless mother from trying to “steal” a chick from another in the colony, so it’s not such a momumental leap that they would do such a thing to protect chicks from predators.

  2. #2 Scott Belyea
    September 14, 2005

    Well, now, that’s just the way they were designed … who are we to question it?? :-)

    “…that ends with the male somersaulting onto the venomous fangs of his mate”

    Kinky!!

    When I saw that comment by Medved, it struck me as a stunning example of seeing what you want to see coupled with a lack of knowledge/perspective. Thanks for the counter-examples, of which there could of course be many more.

    Including some human examples. I have a cousin who … no, no, better not …

  3. #3 cats
    September 14, 2005

    “passionately affirms traditional norms like monogamy, sacrifice and child rearing”?

    yes, Michael Medved will be shocked if he can see the mating hobits of chimps…

  4. #4 linguist
    September 14, 2005

    Well put!

    I get so sick of people trying to draw parallels between human social behavior and the behavior of animals.

    For instance, there’s this story, in which the “gay” penguins at a zoo in Germany, were obviously proving that their nesting instincts were stronger than the lack of females by adopting rocks as egg substitutes. When zoo officials tried to bring in more females, gay rights groups objected and the zoo backed down!
    http://www.ananova.com/news/story/sm_1284769.html

  5. #5 daen
    September 14, 2005

    Another example from “The Panda’s Thumb” by Stephen Jay Gould concerning Acarophenax tribolii, a species of mite: “Fifteen eggs, including but a single male, develop within the mother’s body. The male emerges within his mother’s shell, copulates with all his sisters and dies before birth.”

  6. #6 Bruce
    September 14, 2005

    Equally heartwarming are the swans of the Boston Public Garden
    http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2005/08/12/thou_art_no_romeo/

  7. #7 Mary
    September 14, 2005

    These are excellent (and hilarious) examples of the dangers of drawing too much inspiration from the mating habits of other species. Didn’t that penguin movie mention something about the penguins choosing a new mate every breeding season? I could have sworn I remembered hearing that, although how anyone finds conservative Christian values in that or anything else in the movie is beyond me. The conservative reaction to this movie amazes me.

  8. #8 hoopman
    September 15, 2005

    Mary, you are absolutely correct. Again I point to the recent post at Pharyngula (although it might be easier to say, yes, I saw the movie 4 days ago and that is EXACTLY what was stated in it. However, I’m just not as FUNNY as PZ Myers is!

    “Let’s just remember that it is a seasonal monogamy—they get different breeding partners in different breeding seasons. This apparently justifies the practice of the Republican leadership in cashing in their old wives for new trophies. Penguins do it, so why not Newts”?

  9. #9 Babbler
    September 15, 2005

    George Will wrote about “March of the Penguins” (& “Grizzly Man”) a few weeks ago, and seems to have dawn a different conclusion:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/08/26/AR2005082601486.html

  10. #10 hoopman
    September 15, 2005

    Babbler, thanks for the enlightening link. Nice to see that not all conservatives spew nonsensical Republican rhetoric. Yeah, those Penguins were lucky to have such a wonderful “designer”.

  11. #11 Joel
    September 15, 2005

    Donald Kennedy, Science editor, “Emperors on the Ice, Science, September 2″, used the movie as an evangelistic opportunity also:

    “By all means see March of the Penguins. Better still, you can accomplish a good work by inviting an advocate for ‘intelligent design’ to accompany you. After the show, buy him or her a beer, and ask for an explanation of just what the Designer had in mind here.”

  12. #12 Gerry L
    September 16, 2005

    At the Oregon Zoo we have a male Humboldt penguin who shows no interest in girl penguins or boys. But he is quite attracted to human footwear.

  13. #13 Jonesy
    September 20, 2005

    I have to wonder how much of the reason for Medved sayng this is that he’s just being a troll. He knows he’s going to get attention from “liberals”, and he knows its going to annoy, so thats why he says it. These people (Medved, Coulter, Limbaugh…) don’t care whether theyre being rational or not, they just want attention and want to get a rise out of the other side.

  14. #14 inwit
    September 21, 2005

    The description of the mite genus Adactylidium in that essay of Gould’s that daen quoted from is even more graphic:

    “[S]ix to nine eggs hatch within the body of a female Adactylidium. The larvae feed on their mother’s body, literally devouring her from inside. Two days later, the offspring reach maturity, and the single male copulates with all his sisters. By this time, the mother’s tissues have disintegrated, and her body space is a mass of adult mites, their feces, and their discarded larval and nymphal skeletons. The offspring then cut holes through their mother’s body wall and emerge.”

  15. #15 Bangbus
    December 15, 2005

    Mary, you are absolutely correct. Again I point to the recent post at Pharyngula (although it might be easier to say, yes, I saw the movie 4 days ago and that is EXACTLY what was stated in it. However, I’m just not as FUNNY as PZ Myers is!

    “Let’s just remember that it is a seasonal monogamy–they get different breeding partners in different breeding seasons. This apparently justifies the practice of the Republican leadership in cashing in their old wives for new trophies. Penguins do it, so why not Newts”?

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