September 26, 2005 § Leave a Comment
Anyone who has sat through the French documentary film “March of the Penguins” and actually paid attention will surely be surprised that the Christian right is hailing the film as a triumph of family values. Part of the reasoning is the so-called “monogamy” of penguins.
Oh, sure, penguins are monogamous — once a year. Then the next year, they find themselves a new bit of fluff to cozy up with.
Some people will do anything to politicize Mother Nature, but giving anthropomorphic qualities to animals hardly ever says anything of worth about humans other than the fact that humans are animals, despite what conservative film critic Michael Medved is trying to shill.
When the editor of the National Review tells a group of Young Republicans that “Penguins are the really ideal example of monogamy,” I can only imagine what is going on in the guy’s head — sounds like he’s trying to justify something.
Church-goers and ministers nationwide are awash with fawning praise about the family values in the film. On the conservative Web site, WorldNetDaily.com, one writer hailed the film as pro-life by claiming that it “verified the beauty of life and the rightness of protecting it.” Did this guy miss the part of the film where it was clearly stated that the parent will leave its child to starve and freeze to death for the purpose of preserving its own life when food has not been forthcoming — or is the writer anti-abortion but pro-infanticide? It’s really hard to tell sometimes.
The most misguided appropriation of the film has to be in the area of “intelligent design,” which some people claim the film offers proof of.
The Christian publication World Magazine had one writer state the obvious — “that any one of these eggs survives is a remarkable feat” — and lets him run wild with the idea by attaching the speculation that the film is “a strong case for intelligent design.” It’s also a strong example of the classic Darwinian struggle — witness the body count in the film, certainly proof that if this is being orchestrated by a benevolent creator, he’s not a very efficient or clever one.
I think one of their own answered the problems best when George Will asked “If an Intelligent Designer designed nature, why did it decide to make breeding so tedious for those penguins?”
Online, many bloggers pointed to the news stories of two chinstrap penguins at the Central Park Zoo named Roy and Silo, two males who raised a chick together. My mind raced to the supposedly gay swans in Boston and this is really the problem. There are lots of people out there who try to use nature to prove their beliefs or lives as correct, but nature has its own agenda, whether or not we choose to call penguins “monogamous” and swans “gay.”
Intelligent design is an attempt to impose human terms on nature, an absurd notion considering that science shows again and again that nature walks contrary to these cooked-up human notions about how things should work. The Christian right response is to throw out any science that does not serve their ends. They cherry-pick the facts of nature. With “March of the Penguins,” the proof is in their own actions and comments. They make interpretations that are blatantly opposed to the reality presented in the film.
Commentators on the right have praised the film for not mentioning evolution, ignoring the part of the film mentioning that penguins have existed for millions of years — hardly a creationist view. Others have complimented the filmmakers for not sullying the production with mentions of global warming.
The filmmakers, in turn, have responded that global warming has an immense effect on these penguins’ mating habits, but it really had nothing to do with the story they were trying to tell — equally they commented that while they find evolution indisputable, that, too, had nothing to with the story. The American screenwriter said that mention of millions of years was his way “to throw my hat into the ring in terms of the Bible” and he wished that the film had more such advocacy of the realities of natural science against the political faith of the right.
The message some people are getting from this well-executed nature documentary is not a respect for nature as a system and animals as sentient beings in their own realms, but that God wants us to have one sex partner … a year.
September 22, 2005 § Leave a Comment
The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art has gathered together a panel of scientists, artists and activists to discuss mutation and to ponder whether the world is becoming one big “Island of Dr. Moreau.” Of particular concern are transgenic animals, which have had their genes altered or replaced with the genes of another species, often human and often for the purpose of medical research. The idea is simple — give animals human genetic characteristics and then infect them with a human disease for study. The total population of these mutants is unknown.
“A lot of the animals we’re dealing with are underdocumented,” said artist Kathy High, “in terms of how many are used for scientific practices in this country. They’re not considered full-fledged animals, they’re products.”
High’s installation at Mass MoCA features two transgenic, retired lab rats that were used in rheumatoid arthritis studies, offering to the general public the rare opportunity to view actual mutations close-up.
“They are a kind of cross breed of human and rat,” said High, “so there is a way that they are beginning to emulate us physiologically, which is part of the reason they’ve been created, but, if you think about it cellularly, there has to be some real, innate relationship with us that they have crossed over into something more human.”
PETA organizer Alka Chandna believes people should think about the levels to which we will exploit animals and the commodification of exploitation, then consider what it means for humans.
“People ask things like ‘Why should I care about a rat?’ because they don’t know who rats are,” said Chandna. “When we want to exploit another species, the easiest way is by closing the door to understanding who they are. It’s what enables exploitation.” « Read the rest of this entry »
September 5, 2005 § Leave a Comment
I would argue that I have been an expatriate since I was 18. Oh, sure, I live in the same country I was born in, and to some that might disqualify me. But I was born in Georgia, and if anyone out there thinks that is in the same country as New England, then you don’t know much about social geography. I’m not alone, though. This country is filled with urban expatriates who left small towns and suburbs for the stated purpose of getting away from atmospheres that they would qualify as small-minded. It’s this dynamic, I think, that explains part of the current division in our country and even some divisions in the past.
Many people have pointed out to me that they believe the rift is not red state/blue state, but urban/rural. I couldn’t agree more, but that doesn’t really explain the intensity of the rift. The fact that the cities are filled with disgruntled teenagers who left home to reinvent themselves within a more open and accepting society, and that cities now find themselves infringed upon by the political power of the stifling environments of the dwellers’ childhoods certainly does.
If people in small town and suburban America don’t quite understand why urban liberals are so filled with bile toward them, they ought to remember that many of these liberals were the weird kids with funny hair, strange musical taste, unsavory pants, and untraditional religious and political beliefs who got sick of being ridiculed by so-called normal people and bolted the first chance they got. It’s not just political, it’s personal.
I was born and partially raised in Savannah, Ga. — the other half of my life was spent on military bases. I always thought of the Northeast as another country entirely and hightailed it to New York City 22 years ago, eventually ending up in Massachusetts. As I have gotten older, I have found that the conservative culture I left behind — and hoped my children would never have to deal with — is getting closer and closer, through Intelligent Design, the gay marriage issue, the war in Iraq, the Patriot Act controversy and other inescapable issues.
When a big city liberal spouts something glib and offensive at Middle America, that’s because it’s the political rhetoric equivalent of “Oh, no, not you people again! I thought I left you people eating my dust 20 years ago!” That’s the sort of thing that goes on in your mind when you are a fairly typical, leftie, bohemian-leaning New Yorker who finds the Republican convention has swooped down into your safe haven.
Just as the gay population has San Francisco and Provincetown to escape the rest of the country, weird, artsy kids have New York City and Austin and Seattle and a few others. These people not only don’t descend on the suburbs of Kansas or Ohio, they barely want anything to do with places like Kansas and Ohio, and yet the walls are closing in.
I imagine that the conservative assault on liberal urban America must be some kind of retaliation for marketing plans that urban liberals actually had no control over. I think Middle America may be enraged that the bohemian trademarks of yesteryear — Goth, punk, tattoos, piercings, bisexuality, vegetarianism, Japanese pop culture — are the hot commodities for today’s kids.
I would just like to take this opportunity to assure everyone in the suburbs that all the artsy, liberal urban types were really happy to keep all that stuff to themselves. They had no desire for any of that stuff to go mainstream, but there is a force that was not in their control and it may be the one belief that unites conservative Middle America and liberal urbanites: Yes, indeed, MTV is evil.
So to all the folks in New York City, the next time some guy in Kansas starts screaming about Intelligent Design in your community, just remember that he is probably upset about his daughter wearing eyebrow rings and black lipstick. And, you, Mr. Kansas, just remember that the guy you think is part of the evil liberal conspiracy currently bringing down America and Christianity used to be some dumb kid who liked silly clothes and goofy music and caught a lot of unnecessary hell for it. Just like your daughter.
September 1, 2005 § Leave a Comment
I was in the middle of nowhere in Quebec when I read a small item in the Montreal Gazette that President Bush’s approval rating had slipped down toward the 30 percentile. I briefly wondered what had taken the majority so long, since their reason for the sudden rush downward — the disasters in Iraq — had been duly chronicled since its beginning. I noticed that Canadians were currently demanding that their government explain why Canadians are still deployed in Afghanistan. I say “demanding,” but I don’t mean it in the American way, I mean it in the Canadian sense of the word. They demand in a calm and well-spoken manner. I could only imagine the editorial pages in the United States the day after that news. Countless letter writers blowing gaskets about liberals and the media and on and on. It’s like a broken record. Meanwhile, from the Montreal Gazette to the Globe and Mail to the Ottawa Citizen and beyond, the biggest issue in Canada — fixing the delays in their state run health care system — was being discussed politely. It wasn’t that everyone agreed, rather that everyone put forth a reasonable, well-stated argument, that everyone was courteous in their letters and columns, and that everyone, conservatives included, stressed the real positives that a two-tiered health system could bring to the lower and working classes.
One thing they all agreed on was that they didn’t want a health system like the one we have here since statistics show that half of all personal bankruptcies in the U.S. are caused by the costs of medical emergencies and that a whopping 39 percent of insured terminal patients in our country are put into extreme debt because of medical costs.
Wow, I could definitely get used to that form of discourse.
It was quite different from what I had left behind in North Adams, where the editorial page had descended into an extended tirade about whether Eric Rudd’s voting advice was snooty or insulting or both and if the new city councilor candidates comprised some kind of carpetbagging art world mafia. There was plenty of name calling, and I was half convinced that someone would pop a vein in their head during caterwauling while I was gone.
It’s not that Canadians don’t get worked up about things, but, again, when I say “worked up,” I mean it in the Canadian way, not the American. The soft wood tariff issue was quite a to-do there and, from my vantage point as a temporary expatriate, the United States sure did look like the bad guy. It seemed like another case of the Bush administration (which by no means invented this tactic) breaking the rules that it imposed on other nations. The word “bully” came up a lot and there was much discussion about what should be done with a bully. In the end, some letter writers conceded that they may not have the ammo to do much of anything with any form of bombast. Sad, yes, but entirely clearheaded.
Other than the wood tariff issue, the United States was barely mentioned in news sections, save for a small news item here and there, usually about something going on in Iraq or the previously mentioned Bush approval ratings. Otherwise, the United States might pop up as fodder for columnists to offer studied analyses of their neighbors to the south to satisfy the curiosity of our neighbors to the north — among the highlights was a thoughtful piece in the Ottawa Citizen comparing the humility of JFK to that of Bush, a wonderful column in the Gazette that attempted to explain what all this Intelligent Design silliness in the states is about, and a fun, informed piece on why Americans should go ahead and allow lions and elephants to be reintroduced.
After I read about Bush’s low approval numbers, under the influence of the Canadian national discourse, I began to wonder if my fellow Americans ever really thought about anything very much or if ours was a culture of reaction. I tend to think the latter, since we continually elect people from either party who offer plenty in the way of short-sighted solutions that play to a nation concern with the here and now, fearful of big words and complex thoughts and reasoned debate and our responsibility toward tomorrow and the next day.
Obviously, Canada is not a country without problems. Certainly, in the heart of Quebec I was well aware that there is still a separatist movement that is not happy with its national lot. In addition, a Canadian Broadcasting Corp. lockout is currently ushering in debates about employment and public television and there is always some issue with the First Nations and the standard of aboriginal life. There is no perfection there to be impressive, but there is decorum.
Part of Canada’s national identity is the ability to rise to the occasion and debate in a civilized manner and at least attempt to solve national problems with a form of collaboration.
Having come from a country where the president couldn’t even perform the most token publicity photo-op with an irate mother activist who was calling him out for dialogue, I couldn’t help but feel envious of the Canadians. To echo what several other longtime Canadian wannabes have commented to me recently, “It’s just a totally different vibe up there. There’s something different in the air.”
I couldn’t agree more and I certainly wouldn’t mind if our air became polluted with intelligent discourse, respect, and compassion.