In defense of unicorns

I have noticed a recent habit of political pundits to mock perceived idealism and naivete with phrases like “rainbows and unicorns.” 

For instance, a commenter on the latest episode of The Young Turks, in explaining that Arlen Spector has never been principled (he was the guy who voted for a bill that he himself argued would set human rights back 700 years), noted that “he was not voted in on rainbows and unicorns.”

In a sign of just how much of a standard cliche this has become, in the Washington Post former CIA Director Porter Goss makes the topsy-turvy argument that making the torture memos public has jeopardized national security: “The suggestion that we are safer now because information about interrogation techniques is in the public domain conjures up images of unicorns and fairy dust.” (Has anyone actually argued that the move makes us safer? I thought the whole point was it is not worth it to torture people even if it does make us “safer” and that the people who pushed for and praised releasing these memos see it as a step in disclosing mistaken and illegal policies that were done in our name)


But you know what? Unicorns are nothing to mess with! It only takes a cursory reading of the animal’s Wikipedia page to prove why:

1. Unicorns are as strong as the Lord: The bible (or rather its translators) considered unicorns “untamable creatures” and noted that God himself was only as strong as a unicorn:

“God brought them out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of the unicorn.”–Numbers 23:22

2. The ancient Greeks and Romans considered unicorns to be both real and fierce: The Greeks, for all their polytheism and fantastic mythology, believed that unicorns really existed somewhere in India:

Pliny the Elder mentions the oryx and an Indian ox (perhaps a rhinoceros) as one-horned beasts, as well as “a very fierce animal called the monoceros which has the head of the stag, the feet of the elephant, and the tail of the boar, while the rest of the body is like that of the horse; it makes a deep lowing noise, and has a single black horn, which projects from the middle of its forehead, two cubits in length.”

3. Unicorns are so insane that they must be placated with virgins to stop their bloodlust (see above painting): In the middle ages, unicorns were used to mix pagan stories with Christian virtues, such that “The original myths refer to a beast with one horn that can only be tamed by a virgin maiden; subsequently, some Catholic scholars translated this into an allegory for Christ’s relationship with the Virgin Mary.”

Moving into Renaissance times, Leonardo Da Vinci had this to say about how to hunt a unicorn:

“The unicorn, through its intemperance and not knowing how to control itself, for the love it bears to fair maidens forgets its ferocity and wildness; and laying aside all fear it will go up to a seated damsel and go to sleep in her lap, and thus the hunters take it.”

Bottom Line 

This “unicorns are fuzzy cute happy creatures” concept apparently originates in more modern imagery, particularly the My Little Pony animated series and toys and some other “fairy princess” pop culture. A product of the 1980s, My Little Pony offered saccharine-sweet entertainment for young girls that could not have anticipated the ballooning of ironic humor in the 90s and 2000s. Hence, when Homer Simpson uttered this classic, oft-repeated line:

Ohhh look at me Marge, I’m making people happy! I’m the magical man, from Happy Land, who lives in a gumdrop house on Lolly Pop Lane!!!!…… By the way I was being sarcastic…

it was only a matter of time before someone added a unicorn in there. But as we start to retreat from irony a bit as a society (see the return of earnest saccharine with Disney hits like High School Musical and Camp Rock, along with South Park’s reaction), it might be a good time to stop equating unicorns with frivolous and naive idealism and recognize their historically badass mythological status. I mean, honestly – how happy and nice could an enchanted animal with a deadly sharp horn actually be?

3 thoughts on “In defense of unicorns”

  1. Interesting post.

    I’m confused on the Bible verse:

    *King James Version*
    “the strength of an unicorn”

    *New King James Version*
    “strength like a wild ox”

    *21st Century King James Version*
    “the strength of a unicorn”

    (by the way, the Japanese for that verse is 彼らをエジプトから連れ出した神は、彼らにとっては*野牛の角のよう*だ。(新改訳), which leads me to believe that ‘bison’ is probably closer to the original than unicorn, unless ‘unicorn’ refers to an animal much different from the ones that adorned Trapper-Keeper covers twenty years ago.)

  2. The bible is the word of God, so if He said “unicorn” then He obviously meant Trapper Keeper unicorn. Case closed, unicorns are awesome, and Porter Goss tricked himself into complimenting the people wanted the memos released.

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