Thursday, December 19, 2013

Duck crap: when pandering overrides common sense

For those unaware of what Duck Dynasty is, it's one of those psuedo-reality TV shows that happens to air on the A&E network. It has become very, very popular. The show centers on a family in Louisiana--the Robertson's--who made it big manufacturing duck calls and other hunting equipment. In essence, it's a kind of "look at these hicks who have more money than they should" show. In the way of a full disclaimer, I have to admit that I have never watched this show, and I never will.

As a matter of course, "reality television" holds no interest for me whatsoever. I've never watched Jersey Shore, Real Housewives, the Ozzy Osbourne show, the Kardashian one, or any of the others. They are--all of them--fundamentally dishonest and stupid, in my opinion. The popularity of this stuff is without a doubt one of the biggest indicators of our steadily decaying culture. That said, if someone wants to watch theses shows--and clearly many do--who am I to judge? But viewers should be honest about this. What they are watching is no different than professional wrestling. All of these shows are staged, all are planned to provoke various emotions from viewers. What makes it different from pro wrestling is that the primary emotion that is sought is schadenfreude, without a doubt. The networks broadcasting these shows want viewers to feel superior to the cast members, a point probably lost on a number of cast members in various shows, though certainly not on all.

So what's going on in Duck Dynasty that has so many people worked up? Well, the family patriarch, one Phil Robertson, gave an interview to GQ for its January issue, an interview now online. In it, Robertson says some stupid--to put it mildly--things. Like this, for instance:
“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 this (in response to the question "What 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 also this:
“I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field.... They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!... Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”
Needless to say, all of these comments have created something of a backlash, enough of one that A&E has decided to suspend Phil Robertson from the show indefinitely:
In a statement, A+E Networks said, "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 networks has placed Phil under hiatus from filming indefinitely."

Predictably--sadly predictably, in my opinion--A&E's decision has been met with feigned anger and outrage by some elements on the Right. Like Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal:
“Phil Robertson and his family are great citizens of the State of Louisiana. The politically correct crowd is tolerant of all viewpoints, except those they disagree with,” Jindal said in a statement released by his office. “I don’t agree with quite a bit of stuff I read in magazine interviews or see on TV. In fact, come to think of it, I find a good bit of it offensive. But I also acknowledge that this is a free country and everyone is entitled to express their views.”
And Senator Ted Cruz:
If you believe in free speech or religious liberty, you should be deeply dismayed over the treatment of Phil Robertson. Phil expressed his personal views and his own religious faith; for that, he was suspended from his job. In a free society, anyone is free to disagree with him--but the mainstream media should not behave as the thought police censoring the views with which they disagree.
And many, many others, unfortunately. I say that because I think Cruz, Jindal, et al know they're blowing smoke. Robertson is free to say whatever he damn well wants to say. But A&E is not obligated to employee him, is free to take the actions it has taken. That's a necessary freedom, too. It's not a one-way street at all, that should be the point of all this. If folks on the Right want to take a stand here, the spiel should be "okay, A&E was within its rights, but those on the Left who wanted this outcome need to recognize that other companies--like Chick-fil-A--have the same kinds of prerogatives, to act on what they believe." Such a response would have been far more effective.

As it is, Jindal, Cruz, Palin, and others are getting called to the carpet for establishing--in their criticism of A&E--a clear-cut case of hypocrisy on the Right, as effectively (and quite gleefully) made by Dean Obeidallah at The Daily Beast:
However, this measured response [by A&E] outraged many on the right. Some took to Twitter to scream that “freedom of speech” is being destroyed. GOP USA has blasted A&E.

Never one to miss a chance for publicity, Sarah Palin posted on Facebook: “Free speech is an endangered species. Those ‘intolerants’ hatin’ and taking on the Duck Dynasty patriarch for voicing his personal opinion are taking on all of us.” (Only Palin could claim that a person who has just voiced intolerant comments like Robertson is being attacked by “intolerants.”)

Of course, when Martin Bashir made despicable comments about Palin, she didn’t defend him by saying, “Free speech is an endangered species.” Nope, instead she slammed Bashir’s comments as being “vile” and “evil.” And officials at Palin’s political action committee demanded that MSNBC punish Bashir.
See? All too easy. What response is there to this? Any attempt to counter the obvious hypocrisy here will look stupid and weak, in my opinion.

But as I said, the people on the Right who seem to be getting worked up over this know they are being inconsistent. So why are they doing it? Simple, they're more interested in immediate "attaboys" than in intellectual consistency. They're apparently willing to set aside their own personal honor in the hopes of political gain, by appealing to the lowest common denominator, the easily outraged, the shallow thinkers among us (which makes them no different than most leaders and pundits on the Left, but that is for another time).

As to what Robertson actually said, I understand that the first two quotes above are religiously-inspired, are the product of a fundamental lack of knowledge on these things. And I doubt Robertson actually intended to be hurtful with the comments; he spoke up, when given the chance and was somewhat baited, as well. Still, ignorance is ignorance. As to the last, I find it to be far more problematic, as does Jonathan Merritt at The Atlantic. He notes:
Contrary to Robertson’s assumption, his single experience in Louisiana—however true it may be—doesn't tell us anything about the realities of the Jim Crow South. For that, we (and he) need to hear many stories. And not just stories of statutes and signs that specified “whites only” or overlooked public beatings or slogans that reiterated black inferiority or the crushing poverty inflicted upon an entire race that was almost as bad as death at the hand of a lynch mob. We also need to hear the stories that comprise what Howard Thurman called the “anatomy of segregation” in his famous 1965 book The Luminous Darkness.
An excellent example, that. And Merritt gives a number of others, sources for stories that directly contradict the idealized--and phony--version of the Jim Crow South being presented by Robertson. Moreover, Robertson seems oblivious to the realities of his own position--as "white trash"--in relation to the blacks around him, to the "hidden transcripts" there. For "the blacks" is a label that indicates them as something other than just people; Robertson relegates them to a different class as a matter of course. He is only near their level because of the circumstances of his life as "white trash," while they can--as a people--aspire to nothing more. It's a terribly racist viewpoint, even if not intended to be so.

Defending stuff like this is exactly why conservatives often struggle to attract minority support to the larger movement. Robertson is of course free to speak his mind, but he has no right to be heard, at all. And when he--or anyone else on the Right--says things so very, very wrong like the above, conservatives should not feel compelled to defend him, merely as a means of pacifying others with similar warped views. Rather, such errors should be pointed out and corrected, in order to detach them from other views and concerns, in order to prevent a broadbrush of a particular segment of society.

Most likely, Robertson and Duck Dynasty will not suffer much from any of this. Hell, ratings will probably increase, given how much people like controversy, manufactured or otherwise. And those on the Right who leaped to Robertson's defense will probably get away with their hypocrisy, by and large. But see, that's the problem: this was an opportunity to demonstrate that conservatism proper can be separated from such ignorance, an opportunity to actually better the image, as opposed to just maintaining the status quo. And it was missed. Like far too many other ones have been.

Cheers, all.