A&E’s “Duck Dynasty” Suspension: Reality Show Ethics And Political Correctness


TV’s reality shows, particularly the cable variety, are like 19th Century freak shows. They are guilty pleasures where Americans can go to stare, gawk, snicker, be horrified and repulsed, and often feel superior to the weird mutations of the human species that they see exhibited. The phenomenon doesn’t speak well for the purveyors, the audience or the culture, but the it is popular and profitable.  Yesteryears’s dog-faced boy is today’s Honey Boo-Boo. Viewers aren’t offended by the awful things the stars say and do..they are entertained by them. Sometimes, sadly, they are inspired by them.

The current hot property in the genre is A&E’s “Duck Dynasty,” the saga of Louisiana’s willfully odd Robertson clan, who have become millionaires through their invention of effective duck calls, wear long beards as trademarks and are proud, God-fearing Christian conservatives of the most primitive variety. Their “Deliverance” lifestyle and profoundly counter-Obama Era attitudes are part of the  Robertsons’ “entertainment” package, just as  the late Anna Nicole Smith getting carried through her fat, drunk and stupid days by her greedy sycophants and enablers was part of hers. This is reality TV, Americans! Be proud.

“Duck Dynasty’s” patriarch Phil, however, made the mistake of stepping out of the bayou for an interview with Gentleman’s Quarterly, in which he held forth on, among other topics, his views on homosexuality. Lacking Rick Santorum’s subtle touch, Phil declared:

“It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.”

and on sin…

“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there…Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men…Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers — they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”

Horrified that an unsophisticated, ignorant Bible-obeying Christian conservative heterosexual would dare to express the typical views of an unsophisticated, ignorant Bible-obeying Christian conservative heterosexual, GLAAD and other groups attacked Robertson and  pressured A&E to punish him for being exactly what A&E hires him to be. Setting some kind or record for absurd dudgeon, Chad Griffin, the president of the Human Rights Group proclaimed,

“Phil Robertson’s remarks are not consistent with the values of our faith communities or the scientific findings of leading medical organizations. We know that being gay is not a choice someone makes, and that to suggest otherwise can be incredibly harmful. We also know that Americans of faith follow the Golden Rule — treating others with the respect and dignity you’d wish to be treated with. As a role model on a show that attracts millions of viewers, Phil Robertson has a responsibility to set a positive example for young Americans — not shame and ridicule them because of who they are. The A+E Network should take immediate action to condemn Phil Robertson’s remarks and make clear they don’t support his views.”

I know this disrupts the thrust of this post, but I can’t led it pass. Allow me to deconstruct Griffin’s absurd statement, which is—I’m sorry, but sometimes only one word will do—crap:

  • “Phil Robertson’s remarks are not consistent with the values of our faith communities…” That’s right, they are consistent with the values of Robertson’s faith communities, which have a right to their religious views too. 
  • “…or the scientific findings of leading medical organizations.” So what? The guy is a duck hunter, not a college professor and not a researcher, and doesn’t pose as one. If you want to complain, complain to GQ for its choice of interviewees.
  • “We know that being gay is not a choice someone makes, and that to suggest otherwise can be incredibly harmful.” To suggest otherwise is called having a different opinion, which the news media and the traditions of this nation are supposed to encourage. Yeah, I agree that he’s wrong. The way to address that particular misconception is to talk about it, not censor it.
  • “We also know that Americans of faith follow the Golden Rule — treating others with the respect and dignity you’d wish to be treated with.” The Golden Rule suggests that Griffin should allow Phil Robertson to express his opinions just as he allows Griffin to express his.  Griffin has no idea, based on Robertson’s remarks, how he treats gays at all. Robertson gave his opinion regarding homosexuality, and millions believe as he does. He can have any belief he chooses and still be in compliance with the Golden Rule, which says nothing about not regarding others as sinners. I think Robertson, for all his faults, probably understands the Golden Rule better than Griffin does.
  • “As a role model on a show that attracts millions of viewers, Phil Robertson has a responsibility to set a positive example for young Americans…” The Robertsons are role models now? Reality show stars are role models?  Was the carnival geek a role model? The horrible Kardashians,  the eight child exploiting Jon and Kate, pathetic and doomed Anna Nicole, Hulk Hogan, Dog the Bounty Hunter, Flavor Fav, Dennis Rodman, the horrible mothers, coaches and promoters on “Toddlers and Tiaras,” the certified low-life creeps on “Jersey Shore,” the Bridezillas, the desperate hustlers from “Blind Date,” the various disturbing “Real Wives,” TEEN MOM…are role models? Griffin hasn’t watched Robertson’s show—has he even looked at  Robertson’s photo?—and has no idea what he’s talking about. Most reality show stars are the opposite of role models—that’s why they are stars.
  • “…not shame and ridicule them because of who they are.”  What? Robertson’s family are the ones who are shamed and ridiculed because of who they are, and are PAID to be ridiculed because of who they are—and the interview only provides more ammunition.

Naturally, A&E, being cowardly weasels when confronted with the threat of a gay advocacy onslaught, immediately complied, suspending Robertson indefinitely and saying in a statement,

“We are extremely disappointed to have read Phil Robertson’s comments in GQ, which are based on his own personal beliefs and are not reflected in the series Duck Dynasty.” His personal views in no way reflect those of A&E Networks, who have always been strong supporters and champions of the LGBT community. The network has placed Phil under hiatus from filming indefinitely.”

Again, a crock. Since when does any reality show on any network “represent the views” of that network? Donald Trump is a birther: did anyone assume that this meant that NBC, which broadcasts it (and owns MSNBC! ) is the birther network? TLC broadcast “American Muslim”—did that mean it was an Islamic company? Of course his comments in GQ are his own personal beliefs, and “Duck Dynasty,’ being about Phil and his family, has always been about that family’s beliefs.

A&E can decide to dump any employee it chooses if it concludes that the employee, fairly or unfairly, threatens its bottom line. That’s not what’s happening here, though. Obviously the Duck Dynasty clan’s eccentric credo is part of their “charm” (I forced myself to watch an episode  before writing this—I will not do so again except at gunpoint); A&E can’t possibly be surprised or disappointed at what Phil believes. It just caved to political correctness, that all: the political and cultural bullies who believe that their point of view not only is the only one, but the only one anyone should be allowed to express without punishment.
Any media or arts organization that capitulates to this anti-speech attitude is a disgrace and so hypocritical that it should not be taken seriously. The Constitution’s guarantee of free speech won’t work if anyone being candid in broadcast or print faces the constant threat of an organized effort to have them fired, and nobody is willing to stand up for the open expression of ideas. For there is no evidence that Phil Robertson has ever discriminated against anyone, or been anything other than a model citizen. I’m sure GLAAD doesn’t agree, but what we believe doesn’t make us bad people. What we do does.
What A&E did is wrong—unfair, cowardly, and disingenuous, and harmful to open dialogue in the United States. Mediaite’s Andrew Kirrell is one of the few commentators who understands. He writes:
“Speaking out and ridiculing Robertson’s views on homosexuality is a much more effective way of changing the culture than forcing him to shut up and sit in the corner. All this A&E suspension does is give ammo to the culture warriors like Fox’s Todd Starnes or AFA’s Bryan Fischer who genuinely believe there is a “gay agenda” coming after “good Christians” in popular culture. While they inflate that so-called “war” to a hilarious degree, this sort of incident gives them unwarranted credibility for the next time they cry wolf. If we want to change attitudes about homosexuality, it’s probably best not to advocate for the silencing or suspension of every single backwards thinker. Instead, we should have a rigorous debate and allow rational, humanistic thought to prevail over the reductive, knee-jerked anti-gay rhetoric of social conservatism.”
There are a few others. Ann Althouse writes, “…the attacks are unfair. He didn’t compare being gay to bestiality. He put homosexual conduct — not the status of being gay — into a category of sins that included ‘sleeping around with this woman and that woman’ as well as bestiality. We don’t see the heterosexual men who enjoy multiple sex partners getting hotheaded over Phil Robertson. Why not? They’re not organized to make political demands at the moment, but they haven’t had to fight for the right to fornicate recently. So those who are organized and in the middle of a movement are taking Robertson’s bait (or answering his duck call or whatever). It’s ‘anti-gay.’ The “bestiality” business is forefronted. This is the political game of the moment.”
Even Geraldo gets it. “I want to say it’s ridiculous to suspend him over his remarks,” Rivera said. “It’s political correctness that’s gotten malignant,” noting that Robertson’s views on homosexuality, while now culturally disfavored, were the majority viewpoint for most Americans not ten years ago. “I would have said something on the order of, ‘His views are vile, according to many people. We don’t agree. We don’t endorse his views, but he has the right to have his point of view. My fear is, by victimizing or targeting people like Robertson, what you do is you dilute the main message — the message of tolerance.”
There are professions where public expressions of such sentiments can’t be tolerated. I have written here about teachers who condemn gays on their blogs: that is disqualifying, just as expressing dislike for women or blacks. A public servant advocating less than full human and citizen’s rights for any group of Americans, or a bias, religion-based or otherwise, against them, does not warrant the public trust. Reality show star, however, is not one of those professions. It is unfair for  the broadcasters of a reality show to suddenly express distaste for such a star’s counter-culture conduct, beliefs and attitudes when those are exactly the qualities that network has been profiting from, and created the show to highlight in the first place.
Most reality shows are swill, but the swill’s chef should be its defender, and not join the chorus of critics out of rank cowardice, to the detriment of free expression.
UPDATE: Well, this is unexpected. Andrew Sullivan, of all people, wrote almost the same post, at about the same time.
Sources: GQ, Mediaite 1, 2; Althouse

105 thoughts on “A&E’s “Duck Dynasty” Suspension: Reality Show Ethics And Political Correctness

  1. From the “and it gets worse” department, compliments of PETA:

    “PETA wants A&E to do more than suspend one of the characters on Duck Dynasty for damning gays. We call on the channel to challenge the entire crew of duck slayers to ignore Sarah Palin’s self-serving slap on the back for spewing hate speech and deny that they are as anti-gay as they are anti-animal.

    “All people who consider themselves followers of Christ should follow all His teachings—and that includes showing mercy, compassion, and kindness to all of God’s creation, human and nonhuman alike.

    “What’s “sinful” is hating people and animals. PETA asks everyone who consider themselves to be Christian to reject hate speech and call for this show’s cancellation.”

  2. Jack, great write up. I see that the sponsors are starting to speak up and not running away. It looks like with the sponsors in support of family this is going to put A&E in a very difficult position, see if they turn it into a train-wreck. To my great surprise there are gay advocates who have also come out against the suspension and rightly have pointed out that more damage has been to the LGBT cause by the hatred and backlash being expressed from the gay/advocate community, basically what could have been a discussion and teachable moment was lost. Well done to them.

    Tex, read the link and I think that take seems like it there may be some truth to it.

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