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Are Penguins Liberals?

The animated movie Happy Feet soared to the top of the box office receipts the first week it was released, with parents only too happy to take their kids to an animated movie that features penguins. As we all know, penguins are everyone's favorite formally dressed bird, and possibly the one animal that makes everyone who ever felt awkward feel that they are not alone. Even better, the star of Happy Feet is a cute oddball of a penguin that dances like Gregory Hines, while all the other penguins of his species establish their identities and attract friends and mates by singing. All of us know how it feels to be an outcast in some way.

Kids and parents alike seem to love this movie — the theater was filled with families with young children when I saw it recently — and it's probably because these types of animated films have funny scenes and hilarious dialogue and feature the voices of familiar stars, in this case, Robin Williams, Elijah Woods, Hugh Jackman, Brittany Murphy and Nicole Kidman. And there's a fun soundtrack with one great soul or salsa song after another, but that's getting ahead of the story.

I don't usually go to these movies. My kids are grown and gone, and I saw enough emperor penguins in that exhausting penguin documentary. No, I went to this movie because CNN's Glenn Beck and Fox News told me not to go.

You see, the Protectors of Family Values at Fox had warned me that Happy Feet was nothing more than barely subtle liberal propaganda, disguised as a cute, innocent family movie. That sounded promising, because if anyone understands subtle propaganda disguised as something innocent, it's the folks at Fox "News." Steve at Crooks and Liars thinks this is just silly, [check out the original link to see the embedded links] and from one perspective, he's right:

. . . conservatives believe the cartoons are part of some nefarious liberal plot. CNN Headline News' Glenn Beck, for example, railed against the animated film Happy Feet this week, calling it "propaganda" and an "animated version of An Inconvenient Truth." Discussing the movie with Bob Thompson, director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television, Beck went on quite a tirade.

Similarly, Fox News' Neil Cavuto whined incessantly about the movie this week, calling Happy Feet "offensive," "big-time objectionable," and "far left" political propaganda. Of course, it's not just this movie. From Tinky Winky to Shrek, Shark Tale to SpongeBob, conservatives seem to have an unhealthy fixation on the alleged dangers lurking in animation.

But I think Beck and Cavuto are also right, at least from their right-wing point of view.

I can happily report that Happy Feet is possibly the funniest subversive, liberal/progressive movie this year. It's got many issues liberals love and conservatives hate: environmental harm caused by indifferent corporate greed and industrialization, dangers of overfishing and global warming, dependence on oil, ethnic stereotyping, religious fundamentalism revealed as extremism, fact-finding science confronting faith-based beliefs, and the sin of casting those who are different as both subversive and morally wrong. There are even scenes depicting renditions and psychological torture as shameful. My goodness! This will not become the neotheocon's favorite flick.

From Fox's perspective, it probably seems even more dangerously subversive than the revolutionary movie V, not because we see penguins blowing up the British Parliament buildings after the fall of a fear-mongering Emperor Penguin, but because the not-so-subtle messages of Happy Feet are aimed at children, innocent, unsuspecting children, whose parents think they're just bringing their kids to watch a cute kids movie about penguins.

If you're a Glen Beck/Fox fan, it's easy to see the risks of movies like this. Those liberal bastards are going after our kids! or so it must seem to them. No matter how hard they work to purify the school curriculum and make sure that only appropriate materials are provided to schools, or rescue them through home schooling, they just can't seem to shield their children from this propaganda. Subversive messages are everywhere, even on popular PBS kids programming that feature cartoon aardvarks condoning lesbians, for heaven's sakes. And will the NRA ever trust Walt Disney again after Bambi?

The risks to Fox' viewers of allowing children to see this perversity may increase as parents are forced to explain to young inquiring minds why people are doing all those awful things to these cute, hip penguins who dance and sing soul and salsa. And there's the ever present danger that unprepared parents might not yet know how to deal with those questions about such liberal myths as global warming. Before you know it, the kids will be clamoring to get their parents to take them to see [gulp] An Inconvenient Truth and asking to watch the "big bang" and evolution reruns of Carl Sagan's Cosmos. No wonder Fox finds it necessary to warn parents. Their kids may soon be wearing buttons that say "Penguins and Kids for Gore."

Some liberals, of course, are upset at Senator Hillary Clinton, because she planned to spend the day after the release of the Iraq Study Group report warning parents not about the unspeakable violence of the Iraq policies she embraced but rather to be careful about the violent content of video games.

I understand parents have to make choices about what their young children see. So my advice is, "teach your children well." Go see Happy Feet, and if you don't have kids of your own, take your nephews and nieces and cousins, and their kids and neighbors, and then sit down when they're ready and talk to them about other inconvenient truths.

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John has been writing for Firedoglake since 2006 or so, on whatever interests him. He has a law degree, worked as legal counsel and energy policy adviser for a state energy agency for 20 years and then as a consultant on electricity systems and markets. He's now retired, living in Massachusetts.

You can follow John on twitter: @JohnChandley