September 13, 2005
Marching with Penguins
Posted by Christine Hurt

My family and I saw March of the Penguins a few weeks ago, and I meant to blog about it, but forgot.  However, according to the NYT today, many conservative blogs are praising the documentary because it affirms such ideals as "monogomy, sacrifice, and child rearing."  Now, I'm all for these ideals, but I would prefer the human world to the penguin world.  Perhaps these writers didn't see the same movie as I did.

The life of the penguins depicted in the movie is one of extreme efficiency in a harsh environment and of the instict for individual survival and species survival.  The mating rituals and childrearing rituals depicted serve one purpose and one purpose only:  survival.  In these penguins' lives, they mate "monogomistically" for one season.  Penguins travel 70 miles to converge in one spot (the spot with the thickest ice) to find a mate and conceive a child.  Once the child is conceived and an egg is laid, the mother returns the 140 mile round trip to go eat.  If the mother doesn't leave, she'll die.  The egg is passed to the father, who keeps it warm until she returns.  Many eggs don't make it.  While the father keeps watch, the egg hatches.  The mothers return just in time to regurgitate some food for the chick.  The father then leaves to go to the same eatery 70 miles away.  A little later, the mothers all leave their children to fend for themselves (in the land of cold and predators) to go eat.  They leave their children alone for their fathers to come back and find.  At the end of this commuter relationship, all adult penguins go back to their respective homes and leave their penguins forever.  In case I'm not being clear, the movie does not depict altruistic sacrifice.  The cycle starts again the next year with different pairings and different babies.  I'm not sure what take-away lessons are here except that we like to romanticize the animal kingdom and project our values onto them, even when it's not warranted.

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