Firstly, I hope that one and all had a safe holiday season and a Happy New Year. I spent some time up North with my parents for Thanksgiving and Chanukah, followed by a week-long vacation in the Caribbean, and then laid low for a few weeks at home around Christmas and New Year’s.
I know this story has been played back and forth for a while now, but living in Louisiana and seeing the new season of Duck Dynasty has begun as planned, I thought a light first post of the year might address the Phil Robertson “scandal.” (Did it have a name, by the way? Robertsongate? Ducknado?)
To begin, though this plays very little into my own view of the situation, I do identify as a gay woman. As such, I feel as though Phil is allowed to have and express his own viewpoints. After all, they were unsurprising viewpoints given his background as well as his particular religious beliefs. He was not indicting only homosexuality in the article, but what he took to be “promiscuous” sexual expression. Having intimate relations with anyone before marriage or having multiple sexual partners with any person is sinful in his eyes. And he is entitled to having that opinion. Nowhere did he express any words that called upon people to express violence against any group of marginalized people. He has his beliefs, and he is entitled to express them how he wishes.
Now, at the same time, right to free speech also entitles people to disagree. In this bipolar political climate, people seem to feel as though disagreement makes someone the enemy. It does not. Phil can express his opinion on homosexuality and casual sex, and people also have the right to disagree both publicly and privately. And taking it a step further, anyone is free to agree or disagree with the people that are responding positively or negatively to Phil Robertson’s views.
Now, there are some elements of A&E’s response that do not sit well with me, but for those that say that they are not allowed to pull Phil off the air or not, which they ultimately did not do, of course, I would argue that the same set of rights and values that entitle Phil to answer a question honestly as a private individual also enable A&E to decide who represents them as a private company. A private company can decide that someone that represents their name and brand in public is a poor example of their beliefs. Look at the athletes that lose endorsements when they’re caught misbehaving. On a smaller scale, look at the people that lose their jobs because they publicly tweet something offensive. If you want a recent example, look up Justine Sacco. If you say something publicly and you work for a company, even if you have a nice little, “Opinions expressed are mine alone” tagline in your biography, you have to take responsibility for everything you send out into the world.
On the other hand, what troubled me about A&E’s response, while not surprising in the least, is that they treated Phil Robertson’s interview like it was the first time they heard beliefs like this expressed from him. They carefully edit (and probably stage) Duck Dynasty: in the years they have been working with the Robertson family, I doubt that they have heard nothing similar come out of Phil’s mouth. They sent him into that interview likely knowing what questions would be asked. A question like that is nothing but a setup; the interviewer probably also knew what Phil would say in response. As a result, the whole things seems as though it was setup. Which, to be fair, given how reality television worked, it likely was.
As an aside, I’m stunned more people were not upset by Phil’s comments about pre-civil rights African-Americans. While I suppose it is equally as unsurprising that he holds this viewpoint, questioning whether black people seemed happier to him pre-Civil Rights Movement raised my eyebrow a little bit more than having more puritanical views of sex. It is interesting, though, to see the differences and evolution of beliefs and expression of faith from the older generations down to the younger ones. And with their adopted daughter Rebecca returning from her two-year fashion internship in Los Angeles this season, we may see even more diverse viewpoints being introduced.
All this said, I enjoy the show, and if it improves tourism in Louisiana, I am all for it. It is an interesting time in Louisiana’s economic development, and further mostly-positive attention to the state can only help it. The show is mostly harmless (I suppose unless you’re a vegan), and though much of it is likely staged, they outwardly portray a closer and healthier family than many of the “Reality Families” currently on television.