Peacocks can be phenomenal blueprints for characters who have trouble finding their confidence. Their fascinating mating displays could be representative of an inability to see the truth due to their severe social anxiety, using their beautiful biology as distractions to hide their demons from society.
As a result, the biology of a peacock can be a strong foundation for a story that teaches its audience about self-love, as social anxiety is an illness that the average viewer can relate to, and empathize with. Alternatively, peacocks can also prove to be phenomenal villains for this very reason.
In many cases, an individual who suffers from social anxiety may develop a fear of being judged as inferior or inadequate. Because of this, they may seek an aggressive lifestyle as a coping mechanism for their anxiety. By developing a violent and diabolical personality, they’ve created a false sense of security and superiority that serves to combat their fear of judgment from others. The biology of a peacock can symbolize these anxieties, as their suffocatingly-beautiful tail feathers embody their fear of inferiority.
Peacocks can be great resources for characters attempting to mask the truth of their anxieties, as evidenced by the symbolism of their enchanting and charismatic biology. Despite their obvious grace and elegance, they fail to value anything beyond what society thinks of them due to a lack of self-confidence.
Kung-Fu Panda 2
At the beginning of Kung-Fu Panda 2, it is explained that long ago, peacocks were responsible for the creation of fireworks. However, Shen, a disturbed young individual, found an alternative use for the product that could be optimized for war. The Soothsayer, an old fortuneteller, foretold that if he continued down this path of darkness, a warrior of black and white, would defeat him.
As a response to this information, Shen gathered an army of wolves and raided the panda villages until every last panda had been slaughtered. When he returned home and boasted to his parents, they resented him and banished him from their village, hoping he would learn from his exile.
Now that Shen’s backstory is explained, we can use the information it provided to us to explain the motives behind his behavior. Shen developed a diabolical personality out of a fear of feeling inferior. After his actions were met with disgust from his parents, he never wanted to experience the pain of feeling subordinate ever again. As a result, he developed an aggressive personality and a thirst for conquest to cope with his tragic past. After all, if he were to become the new ruler of China he would satisfy his desires to feel superior.
Since all peacocks are male, (“Peafowl” is the true name of their species, female peafowl are referred to as peahens) we can explain that the purpose for their extravagant tail feathers is to attract mates. So, one could say that getting approval from a potential mate is the only thing that truly matters to a peacock. Of course peacocks aren’t sentient, and don’t seek a self-actualization process, so this is merely a product of evolution. However, one could use this information as symbolism for a character who cares too much about what society thinks of him.
In Shen’s case, his biology is representative of his attention-seeking behavior, as evidenced by his tragic childhood. If he was truly indifferent to what people thought of him, he would never have slaughtered the pandas in the first place, nor would he have the desire to create gunpowder from fireworks. Although peacocks created fireworks, Shen was never forced to follow the same path.
The whole reasoning behind his intention was to impress his parents by creating something new that would make him stand out from the other peacocks. When the Soothsayer gave him his fortune, he thought his parents would be proud of him for taking initiative and slaughtering all animals of black and white.
Shen was developing a thirst for conquest before his parents resented him, but it merely serves as another example of his flamboyant behavior. We don’t get to see Shen as a child in the film, but it can be assumed that he was neglected of attention from his family in his childhood. As a result, Shen is a radical example of individuals who suffer from a lack of engrossment from their parents. After all, his parents are also peafowls. Considering that peafowls are known for their swashbuckling behavior, it can be assumed that his parents may have suffered from the same circumstances.
It can also be theorized that all peafowls in this universe may suffer from some sort of genetic disorder that encourages attention-seeking behavior. After all, this is a universe where all animals are sentient. As a result, we can make an educated consensus that this behavior was developed in peafowls to encourage males to seek out females, and vice versa.
As we’ve discussed, we know that Shen’s diabolical personality was a byproduct of his neglectful childhood. Using this information, we can discuss how this personality benefits from the symbolism offered from the peacock, and explain how this personality contrasts with Po’s character arc.
Instead of following Po’s footsteps and forging his own destiny and leaving his tragic upbringing in the past, Shen’s behavior lead him down a path of conquest so that nobody could challenge him. This is evidence of a coping mechanism enacted by his brain as an avoidance tactic to forget about the pain from his past.
Individuals who have faced Shen in combat claim that his kung-fu skills are inferior to their own, however, Shen has proven the falsehood of these statements. The true reason Shen loses to many of his opponents is a lack of self-confidence. If Shen believed in himself he would never have the desire to impress anyone in the first place. After all, in every one of his battles (aside from his final battle with Po), just when the tide starts to turn in the opponents favor, he retreats, further exemplifying his fear of inferiority.
Even in the climax of the film during his final battle with Po, Po couldn’t even keep up with him and would likely have been killed if it weren’t for Shen’s recklessness. Po was only able to win against Shen because he believed in himself and left his tragic backstory in the past. As a result, Po was able to move on from his past and develop a progressive personality that aims to learn from his problems as opposed to avoiding them.
So many people have told Shen that he is wrong, or some similar statement to imply that he is inferior to individuals who enforce justice. Much like a peacock attracting a mate, all that matters to him is what others think of him as that’s all he’s known since his childhood. Even in the beginning when he was creating gunpowder, his actions were intended for attention seeking rather than fulfillment. All that matters in life is where you belong. If you believe in yourself you won’t have to worry about what other people think of your decisions.
This is why Shen seeks to control China, and eventually, the whole world. All he wants is for everyone else to be below him so he never has to relive the pain of his past. Anything or anyone that threatens his rule, such as, Po and the Furious Five, scares him to death. Shen can’t let go of his past and as a result, suffers from a lack of confidence that would allow him to embrace his past and move on, seeking a better life.
Peacocks aren’t necessarily exclusive to characters suited for villainy. In the real world, not everyone who suffers from social anxiety follows a path of violence and torment. In these cases, they might use their beauty to advertise themselves as more than what they are. Attention can provide a false sense of fulfillment that can serve as an artificial supplement for self-love. When people seek attention, they do so because they don’t have the confidence to pursue their own goals. If they did, then their successes would grant them social traffic organically.
Peacocks can represent attention-seeking personalities quite well because of their biology. Their beauty would only enable them to seek gratification. To these types of people, attention is everything because they don’t have anything to offer to the world. If they had something to offer, they would no longer feel the need to flaunt and boast because they can rely on themselves for seeking fulfillment.
Speaking from personal experience, I suffered from social anxiety because I desperately wanted to avoid feeling worthless or lost. The purpose of my attention-seeking behavior was to adopt someone else’s identity. If I could be someone else, at least for a moment, I wouldn’t feel so lost and empty. This is the exact reason why people who suffer from social anxiety often cosplay to remedy their pain. If you don’t have an identity to represent yourself, your brain is going to find replacements, much like a Chameleon.
Subsequently, I would often lie about my successes and failures to be seen as favorable in the public eye. As an example, in some circumstances, it isn’t uncommon to see people in this position claiming other people’s intellectual property (art, writing, characters, etc.) as their own. If they had something they’re passionate about to represent themselves, they wouldn’t feel the need to steal someone else’s successes to feel gratification.
Taking this information into consideration, characters who suffer from dependency issues and social anxiety would be perfect fits for peacock characters, as they have to learn how to love themselves so their enchanting charisma and good looks can serve more of a purpose.
Much like octopuses, peacocks also make phenomenal mentors for this very reason. Once a peacock finds out where he belongs, his beauty is no longer representative of desperation, but rather, what he has to offer to the world. His colorful and attractive displays now reflect the existence of identity, passion, and purpose.
These characters can be great mentors or teachers for other characters, as they can use their extensive wisdom from their journeys of self-discovery, to teach people how to unlock their confidence and find their inner peace. Since they have experience with dependency issues, they can empathize with other characters and guide them down a different path. His extensive beauty that was once a symbol of desperation, is now one of unending wisdom.
One example of this type of character is Jotaro Kujo from Jojo’s Bizzare Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable. Jotaro was previously the main protagonist in Stardust Crusaders, but now serves as a mentor for the main cast. Due to his extensive experience, he was able to teach the cast important skills to help them survive in a hostile world.
For a peacock, this means that his next role in further entries could be one that teaches the new protagonists what he learned in the first film. When he passes, the new protagonists will be able to spread his wisdom and continue his legacy, much like an octopus, which we discussed in the last post.
One great example of this phenomenon is at the end of War of the Planet of the Apes (SPOILERS) when Caesar passes away after leading his troop away from human civilization. The message from the first film, “Apes Together Strong”, is perhaps even more important here than when it was conceived. Caesar’s legacy lives on in the hearts of his followers as they build a new world in his name.
To summarize, peacocks are phenomenal for representing social anxiety. However, once a peacock finds out where he belongs, his beautiful mating displays are now representative of what he has, as opposed to what he lacks. For this very reason, peacocks can make for great villains, as some people who suffer from social anxiety and dependency issues will follow a much more dark and sinister path to cope with their emotions. If you are suffering from the consequences of a lack of identity, you are never truly going to be happy until you find the knowledge that can become a part of you that sets you apart from everyone else.