It all started on Thursday. The National Geographic Channel tweeted a video that would forever alter our perception of a much-respected species of wildlife, as well as cause shockwaves throughout the cultural landscape of the weekend.
For those who aren’t acquainted with the subject matter, I’ll provide a brief synopsis below.
The video begins with a penguin colony somewhere on the southern coast of Africa. We’re following the exploits of a male African Penguin as he wraps up a day of business and is on his way home.
The video’s narrator refers to our leading man as “Husband Penguin.” We’re dealing with a sharply-dressed bird who has a wife and kids. That’s cute as hell, right?
Upon arrival at his nest, however, Husband Penguin finds his wife has taken up residence with another man. The intruding penguin lacked the decency to at least try to hide in the bedroom closet; we see him lounging in the living room, acting like he owns the joint.
Husband Penguin won’t stand for this. He starts pecking at the homewrecker and beating the hell out of him with his furious flippers.
It looked funny at first, because you just don’t expect penguins to do this sort of thing. I always imagined them to be soft and fuzzy creatures, oozing stuffing if hit hard enough.
But as they continue to trade blows with their flippers, these penguins start oozing blood, and it becomes clear these boys are out to hurt each other. Our Nat Geo documentary has gone from Happy Feet to Fist of Fury with the quickness.
Midway through the brawl, our battered fighters step off one another to call out to the object of their affection. They allow her to choose one of the combatants to bring back into her nest. The wife chooses the homewrecker.
Husband Penguin has a broken heart beneath his battle wounds. In the midst of his despondency, he treats his life with the same sense of abandon as the day-old fish his wife no longer wanted for dinner. He walks back up to the nest to begin a second round of fighting with the homewrecker.
Both fighters go for the face this time, pummeling each other with their beaks to the point where they look like Robert De Niro in Raging Bull. The flipper attacks keep coming, with more blood spurting from the penguins’ torsos. It’s a domestic dispute, but this is less Street Fighter than it is Mortal Kombat.
Once more, they step away from each other to call out to the wife penguin. Again, the wife chooses the homewrecker. Our bloodied husband penguin leaves to nurse his wounds, while the narrator claims the wife penguin, “has no time for losers.”
The video went viral. On Friday, one user tweeted, “Good morning to everyone except that Home wrecking penguin.” Then there was “You vs the penguin she tells you not to worry about,” and “When you ask Mr. Penguin for advice on women.”
Twitter turned itself into a meme-based commentary on penguin infidelity and marital disputes. Wife Penguin and Husband Penguin both had twitter accounts. The former tweeted, “I see that people are already calling me a hoe without hearing my side of the story.” Husband Penguin replied, “There’s no need a [sic] story. What else you gon say?”
We don’t deserve the internet.
Memes aside, there’s something dark and telling about this episode with the penguins.
I always assumed humans were the only species savage enough to attempt monogamy and then fail at it, and then furthermore to fight each other over it. Among humans, a partner’s betrayal can hurt something serious. We take it as a gesture of utmost disrespect and treachery.
In human infidelity, there’s all kinds of complex emotions involved that would bring me too far off topic to explore. Perhaps the sad story of husband penguin illustrates a parallel emotional connection among partners of other species that aim for monogamy. Perhaps the fact that even penguins can be unfaithful goes to show that humans aren’t as uniquely horrible as we first appear.
Nah, who the hell am I kidding?
But here’s one redeeming quality for humans that penguins don’t have. We can gather up our experiences and distill them into potent texts like Anna Karenina or Les Misérables. That may not seem like much in the grand scheme of things, but it at least helps make life more bearable in the face of ubiquitous savagery.
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of Antarctica Bound’s Flickr account.
Horus Alas is a senior philosophy major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.