Anthropology of peacocks

Published May 7, 2024

The Shoval Perspective

Last night, in a moment of impressive escapism, I found myself staring at the TV screen. Reflecting on my actions with a pinch of guilt, I was reminded of our innate human drive for stories. Stories do more than merely chronicle human experience; they serve as a communal hearth where lessons are learned and shared. This is evident in the tradition of the Jewish people, often referred to as “the people of the book,” who weekly engage with the old text, weaving these narratives into the fabric of contemporary lives and creating a shared identity around these stories.

Marshall McLuhan, a scholar from the mid-20th century, posited that television had become the modern campfire, around which families (used to) gather to partake in the collective narrative. This evolution from the written word to the televised story signifies a profound shift in our storytelling methods. Today, screens often replace pages, becoming the primary medium through which stories are told. This shift has birthed a new genre of storytelling where visual narratives meet a deep-seated human need to tell our stories through alternative means.

In 2020, Comcast Corporation and its subsidiary NBCUniversal, which oversees various channels including NBC, Telemundo, CNBC, and MSNBC, launched Peacock. This platform is more than a commercial entity competing with giants like Netflix and Disney+; it is a creative space designed to foster cultural exploration. Peacock serves as a “sandbox” for creative experimentation with new formats and content that might not find a home in traditional broadcasting. It is an effort not only to describe the zeitgeist but also to create it.

One standout show on Peacock, “Couple to Throuple,” set in a secluded tropical resort, introduces four couples to singles experienced in polyamory. The series explores the potential transformation of these relationships into triads, testing their limits and potentially reshaping them.

The first episode features a gay couple contemplating the addition of a third partner—each partner having a different preference for the new addition’s gender. This scenario unfolds under the guidance of Shamyra Howard, a licensed clinical social worker, and AASECT-certified sex therapist, who completed her undergraduate studies at Southern University and A&M College and furthered her education in human sexuality at Widener University.

Ms. Howard’s response to the couple’s dilemma was particularly revealing, as it highlighted the anthropological premise of Woke and Gen Z ideologies: Ashmal: “I think both of us felt really comfortable opening up to Jess. I really made the extra point to really open up to a girl and see if I could bring that guard down.” Shamyra Howard: “So that is so big of you to do that.” Ashmal: “Absolutely.” Shamyra Howard: “To see you first as a person, not necessarily how you identify. What they have in their pants might not matter as much, right?” Ashmal: “Right.”

This exchange underscores an essential cultural shift: the view that human beings should be seen for who they are, irrespective of their identities. The anthropological premise here suggests that humans are essentially born empty, existing without preordained content. The identities we assume—gendered in this context—are seen as external additions to the essence of man as a person. This notion mirrors the philosophical current of existentialism, which asserts that existence precedes essence, allowing for a culture that practically realizes this perception.

But is man really born empty? Not. Man is forever born into connection. The context of time, place, family, gender, language, culture—which he did not choose. He didn’t even choose his first name. Every interaction with the world is subject to an inescapable connection. A person can try to escape from his identity, he can sever ties with his family, move to another country, change languages, change genders, devote himself to another culture—but the world of roots from which he came will correspond with his identity.

When we look at human beings, abstracting their identity, from total excitationism, we see human beings as equal. But they are equal precisely because we have removed their individuality from them.

It is worth returning to the book of Genesis, which offers a different anthropology. The concept of human in Genesis is a combination of male and female. “And God created humankind in the divine image, creating it in the image of God— creating them male and female.” (Genesis 1:27)

Our point of view is subordinate to who we are. Only if we embrace our identity, our uniqueness, our singularity, our individuality, and recognize the essential diversity of others can we together realize the concept of humanity.

Dr. Ronen Shoval is a Visiting Fellow in Jewish and Political Thought at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. His work focuses on the deep interplay between theology, politics, and society.

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