Swan Upping

So, Tiger Woods is not the only one in the news for belying his carefully manicured image among advertisers, the media and those who held him in such high esteem as a family role model! That bastion of dutiful and faithful creatures, the swan, is now a number one target for those who would uphold creatures who symbolise all that is good, right and proper in human social mores. It has long been held as incontrovertible that swans pair up for life. Maybe they have been around humans too long (from Leda on) but the times they are a-changing. Well, our view of their monogamous behaviour certainly is.

Some few years back I remember seeing a nature documentary in which night vision infra-red cameras were trained on swans on a pond. What a shocking set of events unrolled. One or two male swans – cobs -drifted silently away at night and had their bit of tail in watery lay-bys before returning pre-dawn, as if nothing had happened.

Now, on the BBC web site and on tv news programmes, I see a headline which reads ‘Scientists shocked at swans’ ‘divorce’. First, let me say that I don’t know these scientists but the fact that they are shocked is a bit of a disappointment. I always imagined scientists to be a dispassionate lot whose constant appeal to reason would make them immune to moral outrage. Actually, thinking about it a little more seriously, all the scientists I have met and whose work I have read, display what Derrida calls a leakage of subjectivity. They can’t keep their emotional baggage out of even the most arid pieces of work. Anyway, you can picture the scene in the lab as they are rerunning footage of swans setting up new homes next to their old partners. “NO! I can’t believe this! Check it again, Miriam! My God, what is the world coming to? We can’t show this on prime time tele, I’m afraid.”

Given that Emperor Penguins became the totems of monogamous living for the US Christian fundamentalists as a result of the film showing how they survived the arduous ice flows of the far north, by sharing household duties and looking after the kids, it is borne home to me (and you) that we search for animal metaphors in order to shore up social convention. In this regard, it may be no coincidence that the greatest golfer of all time is called Tiger and tigers are actually a bit wayward in their affections, putting it about, as we say.

His Dad might have called him Swan Woods a while back but to no avail.

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