Iusually eschew celeb news in this column —that’s what the Celebrity Buzz pages are for — but the breakup of Pepper and Harry, the San Francisco Zoo’s famed gay penguins, seems momentous enough to merit an exception.
As the San Francisco Examiner reported earlier this month, Harry, after six years with Pepper, during which the two males hatched and raised an abandoned chick, has seemingly switched teams, taking up with Linda, a recently-widowed female, with whom he’s started a family.
The jokes have been irresistible, predictable and a little heartless. It’s hard enough to waddle through life under the constant scrutiny of zoo-goers without having to deal with the media as well.
Our species has reacted with all sorts of specious conclusions about same-sex marriage and other overstretched sociological metaphors. A conservative news site decided the split was evidence that nature preferred straight animals — as if Pepper’s new love somehow trumped the old one.
Those who oppose homosexuality react, as you might expect, somewhat unfavourably to gay penguins.
Penguins live about half their life on land and half in the water, so maybe they’re just adaptable. Linda and her dear departed mate had two nests, so in penguin terms, she was a rich widow.
The anthropomorphizing continues ad nauseam. It’s the nature of the human beast. We lock animals up in zoos to learn about them, in part because they seem so much like us — mating, eating and all the rest, but with much lower incidences of smoking, blogging and organized religion.
Penguins aren’t people, and we know it. We’re not really talking about the penguins.
We’re talking about ourselves, thinking in fables. Some very good, long-term relationships run their course, and that can bother the people outside them even more than the principals. When your favourite couple splits up, your relationship with them changes too, and like kids whose parents divorce, you’ve no say in the matter. If there’s a third party involved, like Linda, they’re an easy target for blame.
Nobody else knows what’s really going on between any two people (or penguins). Even the lovers themselves may be desperately trying to understand it. And sometimes a penguin is just a penguin.