Not since reading "Charlotte's Web" in second grade have we felt such sympathy for pigs.
With John Edwards grabbing headlines again (now he's facing criminal charges in connection with his Rielle Hunter affair), Dominique Strauss-Kahn getting creepier by the day and Arnold still garnering his fair share of attention, our porcine pals are proving metaphorical gold.
"Sex. Lies. Arrogance. What Makes Powerful Men Act Like Pigs," shouts Time magazine's May 30 cover. "Bail for the IMF Pig," announced a New York Post headline on May 20. And "A Sexist Pig Myth," carried the New York Time's Week in Review section on May 21, with the opening paragraph: "The question in many women's minds last week was the same cry of outrage that hangs over every male sex scandal, 'How could he be such a pig?'"
The question in this woman's mind, actually, was: Why pigs?
The Oxford English Dictionary offers as its fourth definition for pig, "A boorish, coarse, obstinate, or disagreeable person or animal; (in later use esp.) a lecherous or sexist man." It cites such usage as far back as 1546 and lists, among others, examples from Charles Dickens (1846 in "Pictures from Italy") and James Joyce (1922 in "Ulysses"). Which seems to debunk the theory that '60s-era feminists were the first to associate the animal with men behaving badly.
We turned to Dave Bernier, general curator at Lincoln Park Zoo, for a little background on pigs. Do they, in general, behave like politicians?
"Pigs have gotten a bad rap," says Bernier. "They're very intelligent. They're much brighter and more involved in their environment than a lot of other domesticated animals — cows, sheep, things like that."
Even wild pigs, Bernier says, don't behave particularly lecherously.
"Their mating habits are very similar to other animals' mating strategies," he says. "A small group of females stay with the offspring for a year or so and the males are solitary. The males enter the group and fight for dominance and the ability to breed the females. That's a pattern not dissimilar to a lot of other hooved animals. Deer have a very similar mating strategy."
Yet deer get Bambi, while pigs get Charlie Sheen. Are they especially, well, piggish in other areas of their lives?
"Not really," Bernier says. "Lots of animals will hoard food even if they're well fed, and it runs the gamut from primates to birds to small mammals. I don't think pigs in general are any worse than many types of animals at hoarding or eating a lot of food when it's available to them."
Bernier was hesitant to offer up another animal whose lifestyle lends itself more readily to Arnold Schwarzenegger comparisons. "There are many normal mating systems where males breed with multiple females," he says. "There are some where it's normal for females to breed with multiple males. Each system has its own value.
"If anything," he points out, "some people might come to (Arnold's) defense and say he's just doing what nature intended. But as far as we conduct ourselves in society, people are supposed to be beyond those urges."
He also points out that pigs aren't the only animals getting a bum rap, reputation-wise.
"You hear people say 'a bunch of lemmings' and there's some truth to that," he says. "'Bull in a china shop' works perfectly fine. But weaselly? It's hard to pin down what makes a weasel a bad character. Some comparisons are characteristically accurate and some are a bit of a stretch or not really fair."