12:54 PM EST, December 23, 2013
Every once in a while, a media kerfuffle arrives that succeeds in elevating some banal stupidity to unimaginable heights of urgency and importance. At the center of the frenzy is usually some basic cable TV program of questionable artistic merit but produced by people with a well-developed skill at self-promotion and touching the cultural zeitgeist.
About an hour ago, it was either singer Miley Cyrus or tabloid queen Kim Kardashian and her family having their 15 minutes of fame saying or doing something outrageous. This week it is Phil Robertson, hirsute patriarch of the Robertson clan, stars of the mystifyingly popular A&E redneck "reality" show "Duck Dynasty," who gave an interview to GQ magazine in which he equated homosexuality with bestiality and, in general, suggested it was the cause of humanity's ruin.
Mr. Robertson, 67, a Christian evangelical who runs a company that makes duck calls and related products, also had quite a few other unpleasant things to say in the piece, including his observation that African-Americans in his native Louisiana were more content in a bygone (presumably pre-civil rights) era "singing and happy" in the field. Yet it was clearly his views on homosexuality that caused A+E Networks to issue a press release announcing that he was suspended indefinitely from the show for his remarks to GQ that "in no way reflect those of A+E Networks, who have always been strong supporters and champions of the LGBT community."
Meanwhile, the backlash has picked up its own momentum. A number of prominent Republican conservatives, including two possible presidential candidates in 2016, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, rose to Mr. Robertson's defense. His supporters see the decision as an attack on the reality star's First Amendment right to free speech and/or an attack on a religion that condemns homosexuality as a sin. Petitions seeking his reinstatement have gathered thousands of signatures and are all the rage on various forms of social media.
Most recently, the Cracker Barrel restaurant chain announced it would put Duck Dynasty merchandise back on its shelves after initially taking the inventory down only to be flooded with complaints from the show's fans. "We apologize for offending you," the company stated on its Facebook page — a remarkable about-face in a corporation's moral outlook even by contemporary standards. (Apparently, somebody eventually counted the number of Duck Dynasty fans that patronize the Southern-themed restaurant chain versus the number from the LGBT community and decided to be outraged on behalf of the larger number.)
There are all levels of hypocrisy on display here. Clearly, Mr. Robertson's rights are not being denied. He's still free to voice his opinion — and continues to do so — and his network can exercise its right to televise whomever it pleases. Early in the dust-up, network officials likely made their own financial calculations and decided that the highly-profitable Duck Dynasty had to stay but such attacks on gays couldn't go unanswered either. Presumably, A&E would like to keep its blue state viewers as well as its duck hunters.
Thus, what appears to be happening here is the same sort of polarization and cultural upheaval that accompanies any civil rights movement. The legalization of same-sex marriage — which recently spread to its 18th state in Utah with a court ruling overturning a statewide ban — is fueling a corresponding desire among opponents to reinforce old beliefs that homosexuality is evil. Segregationists saw biblical justification for their racist beliefs, too, and it fueled the church burnings, lynchings and other protests that sought to preserve Jim Crow-era separate-but-equal treatment.
"Duck Dynasty" and its ratings may very well prove to be the chief beneficiary of the current brouhaha, but like other cultural trends, the current crop of laugh-at-the-rednecks shows set in swamps and gun shops, storage centers and mining pits will eventually come to an end. As The Sun's own H.L. Mencken once observed, "Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public," but surely this is about as far as the envelope can be pushed — at least until somebody comes up with something even worse.
Too bad the current formula for success it to be as offensive as possible, apologize and then be offensive some more. Polls show the majority of the nation accepts same-sex marriage and homosexuality. (We would also suggest the "Duck Dynasty" cast talk to some African-American people once in a while.) In the context of his life, Mr. Robertson's views are unsurprising, but they merit condemnation nevertheless. Anything beyond that is just the usual sort of babble that only profits cable TV networks and cut-rate politicians.
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