This is a detail from a very famous The Far Side cartoon. This particular image is from a coffee mug that was made of the cartoon. Everyone seems to think it is funny. And I am very much in agreement. But it was only rather recently that I learned that my reading of the joke was completely different from that of others.
The standard reading of the cartoon is that the singing penguin is a fool. Look at him: he’s just like all the other penguin. He fancies himself special when the only thing special about him is that he thinks he’s special.
I find that reading of the cartoon abhorrent. What a tiny and awful worldview it exposes: we are all the same and the differences are trivial and unworthy of comment.
My reading of the cartoon is the opposite. Here is this one penguin who seems like the others. But he knows—just knows—that he is an individual. It doesn’t matter what it looks like on the outside. It doesn’t even matter how much he is like other penguins. He is willing to proudly proclaim to the world that he is own penguin. And that’s funny, because, you know, he’s a penguin.
But like with most of The Far Side, that penguin is all of us. At least he is when we are at our best. I gotta be me!