Duck Dynasty’s War on Christmas
February 5th, 2014
I haven’t had much time to post lately (still don’t), but I thought I’d share with you this little item I saw at the clearance shelf at Bed, Bath and Beyond. It looks like Duck Dynasty didn’t realize that their core audience wouldn’t appreciate a ‘War on Christmas’ cup.
Quackers are less of a draw, after controversy
January 16th, 2014
Much to my surprise (and probably that of the A&E executives), Duck Dynasty has not benefitted from weeks of defense by those who malign and demean gay people. (Entertainment Weekly)
Though Duck Dynasty was expected by some to return to its biggest ratings yet after its huge controversy last month, the Louisiana-based reality show returned to lower viewership than its previous two premieres.
Wednesday night’s Duck Dynasty season 5 premiere had 8.5 million viewers. That’s huge for a cable reality show, but down 28 percent from its record-setting fourth season debut in August (11.8 million). It’s also slightly down from the show’s third season premiere in February last year (8.6 million). A&E notes the number up slightly from the fourth season finale on Oct. 23 (though obviously it’s standard to compare premieres to premieres).
What this means is difficult to discern. Perhaps there were more interesting things to distract the show’s core audience. Perhaps the weather played some role.
Or, perhaps, we have reached the point where saying truly vile things about gay people will turn off even an audience that identifies as conservative and Christian. It is possible that there is some segment of Middle America that will not argue with the self-appointed spokesmen or talk to the papers, but for whom the rants of Phil Robertson left a bad taste in their mouths.
And, unless it was an anomaly, this drop in ratings does not bode well for A&E’s revenues. Undoubtedly a number of viewers tuned in to see what the fuss was about and, if they have any taste at all, they won’t stick around. It may be that the quackers have reached their zenith and that it’s all downhill from here.
Bigotry, Duck Dynasty, and Courage
January 6th, 2014
I don’t think we’re learning the right lesson from the uproar over Phil Robertson, A&E’s Duck Dynasty star and sex-with-minors advocate. The real lesson is this:
We know we’re right and we know we can show it. Let’s have the courage of that conviction.
I haven’t blogged much the past few months so I missed the initial furor, but on December 18 I did post this on Facebook:
I thought what the Duck Dynasty guy said was reprehensible, but I’m not thrilled about A&E him suspending from his show for it. Obviously A&E has the right to do whatever they please within the parameters of the contracts they sign, but if we’re going to silence stupid arguments, I’d rather do it by pointing out their flaws rather than punishing the speaker. Certainly, if this were turned around and someone hated what I was saying, I’d rather they engaged my statements instead of punishing me into shutting up.
One hundred and thirty-five comments later, I can say it’s my most controversial status update ever. It wasn’t deeply argued. It just focused on my gut reaction to A&E’s suspension of Robertson. When I looked deeper, I found two sources of my misgiving.
One is simply that I tend to sympathize with the person over the corporation. A&E is not a person (Citizens United notwithstanding), and I want to give our corporate overlords as little control over our lives as possible. I understand they can restrict my speech in the workplace and on the job, but I’d like to feel as though the rest of my life is the rest of my life. I’d hate to be called into my boss’s office and told, “You’ve written some pretty harsh things about opponents of same-sex marriage, so we’re letting you go.”
Of course, when it comes to Robertson, it’s easy to argue against this position. For instance, your advocacy of certain views outside the workplace might ruin your effectiveness on the job. I thought it was perfectly reasonable for Bank of America to tell viciously anti-gay Frank Turek, You can’t publish books and go on the radio maligning an entire segment of our workforce and then expect us to hire you to conduct trust-building exercises with them, for fuck’s sake! (Not a direct quote.)
Similarly, A&E might decide Robertson is too damaging to the show’s ratings or the network’s brand. In that case, people aren’t being fired for the content of their views, or for expressing them, but for making themselves bad at what they were hired to do. Also, given the presence of an A&E rep in the room during the interview, it’s easy to argue that Robertson was actually at work and not speaking on his own time. Ultimately, I’d be happier if A&E fired or suspended Robertson for business reasons than because he said something I detest.
But another factor is this: I don’t like attempts to silence people just because they say things that some find offensive.
Let me be clear. I’m not merely talking about the sort of hate speech laws they have in Europe against offense and insult, laws which I’m glad are unconstitutional here. No, I’m also worried by the sort of attitude that says: Let’s create such an uproar that no person will dare say such things again in public, even if it’s what they really believe.
That’s at the root of my worry about the calls to fire Robertson. Instead of Shut him down, shut him down, shut him down!, I’ll go with Thomas Jefferson, who said:
For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.
That’s a great fundamental principle. It’s the difference between showing why someone’s beliefs are so wrong (so very wrong) instead of just shunning them into silence.
But the shunners do have a reply…
What about the harm done to gay kids who hear such damaging public speech?
I was one of those gay kids in western Pennsylvania in the 70s. And it did harm me. But the problem is that shunning homophobes into public silence won’t protect gay kids. As long as these views are held privately, gay kids will still hear them. From classmates and family, in churches and schools — they’ll hear them. What they won’t hear is our reply, because we won’t be there in those private spaces to give it. Those kids will grow up being told:
Everybody knows homosexuality is wrong — even the gays, in their corrupted hearts — but these days people can only say what’s politically correct. All this pro-homosexual propaganda is just them trying to make Christianity illegal.
That’s the persecution complex percolating through anti-gay websites. That’s what they really believe.
If these beliefs show up only in anti-gay echo chambers, then we’ll never have a chance to rebut them head on. It’s not enough for gay kids to hear positive, affirming messages in the media. They need to know there are real answers, real replies, to the bigoted rhetoric they hear in private. The only way to do that is to keep the debate public. And this is where we need to have the courage of our convictions. Here are three ways we need to trust ourselves, three ways we can be confident victory belongs to our side.
1. The truth is with us.
I hope I don’t have to convince anyone of this. The whole point of this site, its raison d’être, is to refute anti-gay lies and mythology — and not just for this blog, but for an army of blogs and commenters out there. Our best opportunities come from their most public statements. If we drive that bigotry underground it’ll do nothing but fester, and it will fester in the minds of those gay kids. The best thing we can do for them is win the public debate. The worst thing would be to shut the public debate down before it’s actually won.
2. The other side is its own best opponent.
People don’t always respond to logic and debate. Research has shown how people make complex decisions: As Daniel Kahneman writes, “When faced with a difficult question, we often answer an easier one instead, usually without noticing the substitution.” Instead of asking, Why is or isn’t it bad to be gay?, people will substitute Which side do I like/trust/feel more comfortable with?
Fortunately we’ve reached a point where the wishy-washy middle is uncomfortable with unadorned homophobic bigotry. The more vile the homophobia, the more vicious and disgusting — the more you and I wish it had never been said aloud — the more it will shift those people in the middle to support us. The more it will make them say, I certainly don’t want to be associated with that. The more it will push even lesser homophobia into the fringe.
3. Bigotry runs broad and deep.
Bigotry a poisonous swamp. It’s not a puddle with muck on top and clear water underneath. It just gets filthier as you diver deeper, and it taints everything around it. Look at Phil Robertson. First we heard about his quote paraphrasing the Bible.
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.
After the calls for his firing, we learned about this:
They’re full of murder, envy, strife, hatred. They are insolent, arrogant, God-haters. They are heartless, they are faithless, they are senseless, they are ruthless. They invent ways of doing evil.
People might shrug or nod at theological statements, but they’ll back away from a direct and vicious attack on their friends. Then came this bit on marriage and young girls:
These boys are waiting ’til they get to be about 20 years old before they marry ‘em. Look, you wait ’til they get to be 20 years old, the only picking that’s going to take place is your pocket. You got to marry these girls when they are about 15 or 16. They’ll pick your ducks.
And finally this:
That’s why they run jet aircraft into buildings, because they’re under control of the evil one, that’s why they rob and kidnap and rape and pillage, because they’re under control of the evil one. That’s why they murder, from the Nazis, to the Shintoists, to the communists to this latest crop!…
Because all of them, those four groups, 80 years of history, they all want to conquer the world, they all rejected Jesus, and they’re all famous for murder. Nazis, Shintoists, communists, and the Muhammadists. Every one of them, the same way.
(“Shintoists,” by the way, includes over 80% of the Japanese population.)
Again: the truth is with us, the other side is its own best opponent, and bigotry runs broad and deep. That means our first response to hateful rhetoric from a prominent figure should be to publicize it and then dig deeper. Then we can frame the issue as, Do you want to be part of this bigotry? Instead, with Robertson, his supporters successfully framed it as, Do you want to be fired for quoting the Bible? We’ll lose that question.
Robertson gives us a great chance to show that homophobia isn’t a principled moral stand, but generally comes bundled with a whole set of toxic views. That’s not random chance; that’s the corrupting nature of bigotry. Whenever we show that, we take a step forward.
One last thought: Our cause is winning because each year more straight people come to know us as friends, neighbors, family, and colleagues. They see first-hand that folks like Robertson are tragically wrong. Our opponents’ only chance to defeat us is to keep us closeted, invisible, and silent. Our best chance to defeat them is to make sure everyone out there hears what they have to say. What a heartening moral truth that is.
And the quacking goes on
December 28th, 2013
On one side are those whose argument seems to me to be, “How dare Phil Robertson have vile homophobic opinions? He should not have access to the public airways with opinions like that!” And, yes, his opinions are homophobic. And also racist. And more than a little ignorant.
On the other are those who are screaming about censorship (it’s not) about religious freedom (which does not include the unquestionable right to be on television) and about the horrible horrible homosexuals.
In a nation that values free speech, even odious speech has a right to compete in the marketplace of ideas (right up there with the “ideas” of Honey Boo Boo, Sarah Palin, and Perez Hilton). And in a capitalist economy, television producers can decide what ideas with which they want to be associated.
But this isn’t really much about ideas. I suspect that most of those “supporting Phil” have no idea what he actually said or why it is that gay people are offended. They are just emotionally connecting a fear that in a rapidly changing world, their ability to practice their faith openly may be further curtailed.
And GLAAD and other gay supporters failed in articulating the concerns we had with his speech, missed that part of it was a paraphrase of a scripture, and lost the opportunity to distinguish between religious position and hate speech.
This is little more than a replay of the Chic-fil-A squabble. It’s people supporting “their side”.
The vast majority of pro-gay people really are not looking to silence and censor and ban all of those who are religious, even those who are conservatively religious and have beliefs which include the idea that homosexual acts are sinful. And the vast majority of religious people really do not think that gay people are like terrorists or that homosexuality and bestiality are in any way comparable. It’s just the stupid pointless Culture War.
And now A&E has announced that taping of Duck Dynasty – including Phil Robertson – will resume this spring. And the quacking from ‘family’ activists has resumed with vigor.
But maybe now this whole thing will soon be over.
A ducking stupid controversy
December 22nd, 2013
So if you ask the long-haired wild-bearded Southern hillbilly redneck biker-wannabe Jesus freak from the reality show about long-haired wild-bearded Southern hillbilly redneck biker-wannabe Jesus freaks about gays, it turns out he has long-haired wild-bearded Southern hillbilly redneck biker-wannabe Jesus freak opinions. Who’d a thunk it?
In the past week we’ve added two new equality states to the total, the Ugandan parliament has passed their odious Anti-Homosexuality Bill, and three world leaders have announced that they will not be attending Russia’s Olympics due to its homophobic laws. Anyone care?
Not much. Instead the media and blogosphere is obsessed with Phil Robertson. Does he have free speech rights? Should A&E have fired him? What other things has he said? Will Cracker Barrel carry his merchandise?
I couldn’t ducking care less!
But as this thing doesn’t appear to be going away, here are my two cents. Don’t spend them all at once.
For those of you who have blissfully missed the controversy, Phil Robertson is the patriarch of a family that operates a duck-call manufacturing business and which is the subject of a reality television show called Duck Dynasty. He was a hard drinking, pill popping, bar fighting kind of guy who found Jesus and settled down to hunt ducks and raise a family.
Duck Dynasty is the highest rated show on the A&E Channel.
This year the hype caught up to me so I recorded and watched a few episodes of the show. It’s bilge, reality television at its worst.
Reality television, that genre in which artificially contrived plot lines and scripted scenarios are acted out by ‘non-actors’ who generally use their own names, is pretty light-weight entertainment to begin with. This show, however, takes artifice and banality to all new highs. Not only are the self-promoting family members (this is their third reality show after creating a youtube series) completely artificial roles, but the antics they get up to are absurdly unrealistic. Even their trademark beards used to be shaved after duck season; now they are part of the show’s contract.
The program is supposed to be about Phil Robertson, his wife Miss Kay, three of his four sons Willie, Jase, and Jep, as they live a hunter’s life and run a multi-million dollar business. But very little business appears to get done, or duck-calls made, and we are treated to the family drama of a family without drama. Basically Leave it to Beaver plotlines, but without the charm or the convincing acting.
In one of the episodes I watched, Jase wanted an office so he built one right off the outside door of Willie’s office. In one afternoon. Without anyone noticing. And when Willie found out, he attached a rope to the office and drug it to Miss Kay’s so it could be a goat shed. Supposedly down a public road. Without wheels. And it arrived intact.
In another, the family goes to Hawaii where the drama was whether the family would go along with Willie’s itinerary. Oh, and will Phil sleep all day? I found that last question to be so inspiring that I turned it off, deleted all the episodes, and went to bed.
But the show has a huge following, and I think that is for a simple reason. Most television is designed to appeal to the largest television markets, urban centers. And those who live outside cities seldom find television shows that reflect their lives, issues, and interests.
And this is especially true when it comes to faith. More than 40% of Americans claim to attend church weekly (and at least half of them actually do), but almost no one on television goes. None of the big network lineups seem to have even a passing acquaintance with church attendance and certainly you don’t see anyone praying. In fact, the only shows I can think of in which the family regularly attends church are animations.
So Duck Dynasty with it’s praying, church going, rural living good ol’ boys who spend a lot of time loving and caring for their family has an appeal to people who seem themselves as similar. And having sat through more than a few dreadful gay movies, I can see how something even as craptastic as Duck Dynasty could have the appeal of familiarity to a huge chunk of this country, even if it is an entirely fictitious presentation.
But now there’s a huge huge big dramatic oh my god clutch your pearls controversy. In an interview with GQ Magazine, Phil decided to evangelize.
“We’re Bible-thumpers who just happened to end up on television,” he tells me. “You put in your article that the Robertson family really believes strongly that if the human race loved each other and they loved God, we would just be better off. We ought to just be repentant, turn to God, and let’s get on with it, and everything will turn around.”
What does repentance entail? Well, in Robertson’s worldview, America was a country founded upon Christian values (Thou shalt not kill, etc.), and he believes that the gradual removal of Christian symbolism from public spaces has diluted those founding principles. (He and Si take turns going on about why the Ten Commandments ought to be displayed outside courthouses.) He sees the popularity of Duck Dynasty as a small corrective to all that we have lost.
“Everything is blurred on what’s right and what’s wrong,” he says. “Sin becomes fine.”
What, in your mind, is sinful?
“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,” he says. Then he paraphrases Corinthians: “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.”
And in case that wasn’t enough, he later expounds on his religious conversion.
As far as Phil is concerned, he was literally born again. Old Phil—the guy with the booze and the pills—died a long time ago, and New Phil sees no need to apologize for him: “We never, ever judge someone on who’s going to heaven, hell. That’s the Almighty’s job. We just love ’em, give ’em the good news about Jesus—whether they’re homosexuals, drunks, terrorists. We let God sort ’em out later, you see what I’m saying?”
And he expounded a bit more on what seems to be a real concern of his
“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.”
The significant number of gay employees at A&E didn’t much like being thrown in the same category as terrorist or goat aficionados. And that he threw his former drunk self in the mix wasn’t much solace.
So A&E put him on “indefinite suspension”. And the duck hit the fan.
People were furious that a good Christian man could be fired just for saying what the Bible says. Those little parts about terrorist and goat aficionados were irrelevant, this was an attack on free speech and religious freedom.
Conservatives and religious, family, and anti-gay groups squawked and quacked. NOM (having decided that anything anti-gay is now ‘defending marriage’) launched their most successful petition to date, demanding Robertson’s reinstatement and getting more signatures in a few days than either their Dump Starbucks or Dump General Mills efforts did in months.
A&E is continuing to air episodes shot before the kerfuffle and it remains to be seen how long (or if) Robertson’s shooting schedule will be limited to ducks. The family has announced that if he’s banned, they won’t perform.
So that’s the story and now on to the questions.
Is Robertson a bigot?
Yeah, that’s probably a good term. If you think that immorality starts with homosexuality and then spreads to bestiality and terrorism, you aren’t really basing your views on logic, thoughtful discourse, or even the bible.
Is Robertson entitled to spout his nonsense?
Yep. Just like I’m entitled to call him an ignoramus.
Should he have been suspended by A&E?
That’s really up to A&E. If they believed that he offended their employees or that sponsors would pull out or that he had poorly represented the network, then they are entitled to boot his vagina-loving ass.
But, we probably also should be aware that they had to know that the controversy would fire up the crazies and that their ratings are going to go through the roof.
And, as a bonus, now they have a new plotline to write about that isn’t completely and entirely contrived.
Is the show going to downplay religion?
Nope. In fact, Alan Robertson, son number four, joined the cast for their fourth season. Before joining, Alan had been the pastor of a church for 20 years and he sees the show as a way to preach his beliefs.
And with all the new fine Christian people tuning in to see what it’s all about, you can be sure that there will be a strong religious component to keep them coming back.
Is Robertson being attacked for his religious beliefs?
No, he’s being attacked for being an ignorant idiot who thinks that the height of immorality is two people of the same sex falling in love. If your launching point to Jesus is always from the handful of Scripture that can be read to be anti-gay, your issue has little to do with Scripture or with Jesus.
But he would definitely think that is why he’s being attacked.
Can we all just shut the duck up about this nonsense now?