Teaching Evolution

A blog devoted to teaching evolution, both in our schools and in our communities.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

March of the Conservatives: Penguin Film as Political Fodder

I mentioned before that I liked the movie Grizzly Man, and that I hadn't seen March of the Penguins because I had some reservations about what it suggested.

It turns out that some conservatives drew exactly the conclusions that I had feared, based on the reviews I've read.

On the conservative Web site WorldNetDaily.com, an opponent of abortion wrote that the movie "verified the beauty of life and the rightness of protecting it."

At a conference for young Republicans, the editor of National Review urged participants to see the movie because it promoted monogamy. A widely circulated Christian magazine said it made "a strong case for intelligent design."...

In part, the movie's appeal to conservatives may lie in its soft-pedaling of topics like evolution and global warming. The filmmakers say they did not consciously avoid those topics - indeed, they say they are strong believers in evolutionary theory - but they add that they wanted to create a film that would reach as many people as possible.

"It's obvious that global warming has an impact on the reproduction of the penguins," Luc Jacquet, the director, told National Geographic Online. "But much of public opinion appears insensitive to the dangers of global warming. We have to find other ways to communicate to people about it, not just lecture them."

That's gutless. Jacquet already has found another way to commuincate to people other than lecturing them. It's called making a movie. If the goal of his movie is to educate people about penguins, and people come away from the movie thinking they were designed that way rather than evolving to adapt to the conditions in which they lived, he's failed as a filmmaker.

I hope Roger Ebert has something to say about this.

Thanks to reader B for the tip.


At 9:39 AM, Blogger PaulNoonan said...

I saw March of the Penguins, and these people are insane. You can't reasonably draw these conclusions from that movie.

Firt of all, they're not monogamous. They are for a year, but if they were not, they would die. In fact everything they do is integral to their survival. The long walk, the egg sharing, and the "family structure" are all necessary for the Penguin to even exist. I'll just quote one of my alma mater's law profs on the subject:

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.


At 11:05 AM, Blogger dhodge said...

At the rate things are going, penguins are going to take over for chimps as the proxy species of choice in the so-called culture wars. See this post from Dispatches from the Culture Wars. Jacquet's quote speaks to the comments you made yesterday about the alliance between the big business and religious conservative factions of the Republican party. Why should evidence of global warming offend a religious conservative? As far as I know, the Bible doesn't contain any passages stating that God explicitly manages the temperature on earth at all times using His heavenly thermostat. Perhaps the next great religious pseudo-science movement will be the "theory" of intelligent warming.


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