20 December 2006

Dancing Around And Tango Makes Three

America's penguinmania continues to such an extent that Happy Feet, George Miller's first fully animated movie, beat the latest James Bond entry at the cinema box office.

Yet there's a tempest in parts of the increasingly inaptly named "heartland" of America over the nonfiction penguin picture book And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson, Peter Parnell, and illustrator Henry Cole.

This book describes the behavior of chinstrap penguins Silo and Roy of the New York Aquarium, who were observed trying to hatch a rock. Normally that wouldn't be seen as a sign of wise parenting, but zoologists gave Silo and Roy another pair's extra egg, and in time Silo and Roy hatched and raised a little female named Tango. So what's the fuss? Silo and Roy are both males.

As AS IF! has tracked, some adults have complained about the book. The Chicago Tribune reported how one parent stopped reading to her kindergartner halfway through "when the zookeeper said the two penguins must be in love." Yes, you wouldn't want to expose your little girl to love.

In March, librarians in the Rolling Hills' Consolidated Library of Missouri responded to a parental complaint by moving the book from the "young readers" section to the nonfiction--presumably adult--section. In contrast, the Shiloh, Illinois, elementary school is keeping the book in an elementary school library.

And today a McClatchy Newspapers dispatch reported that in Charlotte, North Carolina, the school superintendent ordered the book removed from elementary schools before any parents complained, and without following the system's rules for reviewing a book. Why? Because, after reading something about the book, "Republican County Commissioner Bill James had e-mailed him."

And of course we only hear about libraries that already have the book. As coauthor Richardson told Publishers Weekly, some librarians and teachers feel unable to buy the book at all because of fear of offending people. And it's about penguins!

Baptist Press News columnist Michael Foust has claimed that the coverage leaves out a more recent development in Silo and Roy's story: one of the pair, after several seasons together, left to hatch an egg with a female partner. Of course, that behavior couldn't be part of the book because it happened after the book was published.

Foust quoted Warren Throckmorton, an associate professor of psychology at Grove City College in Pennsylvania who specializes in "sexual orientation change" from a religious perspective:

Throckmorton said neither side of the "gay marriage" debate should "read too much into" the relationship between Roy and Silo--whether the two penguins are together or apart. Indeed, there are reports of other "same-sex penguins" in the Central Park Zoo. . . .

"What we shouldn't do is commit the naturalistic fallacy that if it's natural then it's morally acceptable," Throckmorton said.
Of course, the point that Throckmorton and Foust ignore is how for many years such people as Rep. Zach Wamp of Tennessee have criticized pairings they disapproved of as "unnatural." If And Tango Makes Three really has no lessons for human behavior, then it shouldn't arouse so many people.

1 comment:

fusenumber8 said...

There is also the rather amusing development that Tango herself paired up with a fellow female penguin not too long ago. The book's author Peter Parnell is one of my husband's professors at Columbia. When asked if he would be writing a follow-up starring Tango he politely declined.