A&E reversed its decision and lifted Phil Robertson’s suspension. For the few who may not remember, Robertson is a cast member of the cable channels wildly successful show Duck Dynasty. In a recent GQ interview, Robertson gave his opinion on homosexuality, comparing it to bestiality and lumping gays with terrorists and adulterers. He also defended the Jim Crow era, insisting that black people were happier under segregation.
Of course an inevitable backlash popped up when the interview was published, and A&E quickly suspended Robertson. And then something interesting happened. Phil Robertson became a symbol of free speech. Instead of coming off as the idiotic and knuckle-dragging bigot that he is, because of A&E’s heavy-handed and rash decision, Robertson has emerged as a hero – the latest in the imagined oppression of white Christian men.
You know what I’m referring to, when I talk about the oppression of white Christian men, right? It’s that mythical space where white male privilege doesn’t exist, and the progress of civil rights for women, gays, and racial/religious minorities has made white Christian men the victims of discrimination. It’s nonsense, of course, but it’s nonsense that many believe in.
Upon Robertson’s suspension, conservative pundits, bloggers, and Internet trolls lamented A&E’s trampling of his civil rights. Of course, it’s a very convenient reading of the First Amendment of the Constitution; obviously A&E’s decision to pull Robertson was in no way a violation of his free speech. Robertson exercised his freedom of speech by having his verbal garbage published without government intervention – no where in the Constitution are we guaranteed a spot on a television reality show.
But the folks at A&E did not anticipate the backlash the suspension would cause. They also didn’t want to endanger the channel’s brand and its fortunes (Duck Dynasty brings in some 14 millions viewers). So, after taking an ill-advised “stand” the channel reversed its decision, enabling anti-gay forces and affirming their point of view. This latest episode will only add ammo to the argument that fictional political correctness police is the real bully in our society.
As I suggested in my earlier post about this story, I think A&E should’ve held off on suspension, and instead donate some of its profits from Duck Dynasty to LGBT organizations. I think the channel could’ve taken a lesson from comedian Lisa Lampanelli, who faced the Westboro Baptist Church during her show in Topeka, Kansas. What the insult comic did was nothing short of brilliant: she pledged a thousand dollars for every WBC protestor to the Gay Men’s Health Crisis; because 44 dum dums attended the protest, the GMHC received a nice fat check of $50,000 in Westboro Baptist Church’s name. A&E could’ve followed Lampanelli’s model of LGBT rights activism and not only avoided an unnecessary media gaffe, but also raise money and awareness – and best of all: screw over Phil Robertson, who would’ve been responsible for gay nonprofits getting some cash.
What’s interesting about this flap is how desperate some folks are for the cultural wars. With progress in LGBT rights at an all-time high, anti-gay folks feel their privilege slipping, and they don’t like it. So if they can score victories, no matter how minor, they’ll make sure that everyone knows about their wins. The important thing to remember is that A&E isn’t necessarily a pro-LGBT organization, and Robertson’s supporters aren’t necessarily pro-freedom of speech activists. Remember – these dummies are the same folks who remain silent when gays get fired from religious institutions and when conservative activists protested Ellen DeGeneres’ spokesperson gig for JC Penny. Or where were these freedom activists when the Dixie Chicks were slaughtered in the public eye?
All this silliness will blow over when something else stupid happens, and Robertson’s status as a freedom fighter will eventually fade and he’ll emerge as what he truly is: a narrow-minded bigot who hides behind religion and tradition to justify his ignorance. In light of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s pardon of the members of Pussy Riot, the cries and laments of Robertson’s freedom of speech seem offensive and trite. The ladies of Pussy Riot really did pay for voicing their opinions – with jail time. Those who defend Robertson in the context of freedom of speech, should look to the Pussy Riot example for some much-needed perspective.
And where does A&E stand in all of this? Well, the channel realized that bigots spend money and watch TV too.