'Duck Dynasty': Does being offensive make it news too?

Yet another commentary about “Duck Dynasty,” and it’s hard for me to believe I’m the one writing it. But the brouhaha over the racist and anti-gay comments made by someone I assume is kind of the star of the reality show (because I’ve never seen it and this hasn’t aroused my interest enough to do so) has to, at some point, lead to these questions: Who cares? Why should the comments of a man with no real clout cause such an uproar?

Take it a step further: The Internet, for all its blessings, also has this uncanny ability to whip people into sharing, posting, tweeting, blogging, commenting and otherwise hyping one another into a frenzy even over something as low level as a solitary man with an opinion or two, as though we’re not all people with opinions. He happens to be better known than most of us, but he’s not an icon or a public leader. And if we didn’t know there are a lot of people with ideas with ideas we find offensive, then we have a lot of growing up to do.

It would be one thing if these kinds of comments were made by the head of admissions to Stanford University or the hiring manager of a major corporation, by a governor or legislator or school superintendent. Then the sentiments would be rightly controversial and, for the most part, unacceptable. Such people would be unfit for their jobs.

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Phil Robertson doesn’t have the power to decide others’ fates. He’s just a guy on a TV show. He and all other celebrities have the right to speak their minds (or wear an unflattering outfit or take their makeup off to show how not into looks they are), and we have the right to ignore them, which is something we should do a lot more often. Robertson’s sentiments have nothing to do with his ability to do the job. I can’t stand his positions; others can’t stand mine. What else is new?

Of course people can boycott in an attempt to get him, or the show in general, off the air. And the other side will march forward to show its support. Just think of all the publicity, without having to pay for so much as a single ad. An entire subculture of the nation — those who had no idea what “Duck Dynasty” was just a couple of weeks ago — are now clued in, happily or not. (And yes, I realize the irony of my adding to the pile of attention.)

To my colleague Paul Whitefield, who blogged on “Duck Dynasty” last week, the problem is that we have grown too tolerant of trash TV. I don’t really agree. TV is a great, direct democracy, in which viewers have a lot of say about what will be there to see. The more people who watch, the more likely the show is to stay on TV.

Even presidential elections don’t always follow the people’s will so closely. No one set of taste should be the arbiter for what is and isn’t trash. It’s just TV, and that’s the point: Things are getting out of hand when everyone gets all worked up about something that, for all the “reality,” has little to do with what’s important in real life.

In other words, it’s offensive, but is it news?

To abuse a quote from Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” the fault lies not in our (reality show) stars but in ourselves — that we’re better informed on and more worked up about what a celeb says than on climate change.


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