The reaction to the comments of Duck Dynasty “patriarch” Phil Robertson, a day after he was suspended for homophobic and racist remarks in a magazine, has been more illuminating than the interview itself.
In the GQ article, Robertson dismissed opposition to the Jim Crow laws in the South, noting the African-Americans in his neck of Louisiana were pretty happy.
“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.”
But most of the interview’s criticism comes from his comparison of being gay to bestiality.
So, operating under the theory that you’re judged by the company you keep, A&E suspended Robertson.
You punished the Christian guy for being a Christian because you got some angry emails from a bunch of whiny gay activists who lack the spine and maturity to deal with the fact that there are still people out there who have the guts to articulate opinions that they find disagreeable. In so doing, you’ve kowtowed to a pushy minority of vocal bullies who don’t even watch your channel, while alienating the fan base of the one show that keeps your entire network afloat.
Clearly, gay rights is a more recent phenomenon than the repeal of the Jim Crow laws, Robinson’s defense of which is abhorrent by the standards of 2013, even though there probably are still people who believe a white person shouldn’t have to touch that already touched by an African American.
But the suspension, Linda Holmes of NPR’s Code Switch blog writes today, doesn’t really accomplish anything.
This entire brouhaha has unleashed some of the usual arguments over (perhaps ironically) whether he’s being punished for being too genuine. Authenticity, of course, is no defense unless the charge is a lack of authenticity. One can be truly authentic, real, honest, and perfectly appropriately fired — it happens all the time. The concept that you enjoy a kind of immunity whenever you speak from the heart is surprisingly popular but, like the interpretation of double jeopardy in the movie Double Jeopardy, wrong. It appears from A&E’s own comments that the last thing they want interfering with Show Phil is Real Phil.
GLAAD applauded the suspension, saying that A&E “sent a strong message” about discrimination, but … did it? Or did it send a strong message about staying on message? Is Phil’s punishment for what he thinks, or for what he said, or for disregarding some understanding he has with the network that Certain Things We Do Not Talk About? (My friend James Poniewozik has written about this today as well.)
That a deep-South, white, evangelical would be against gays isn’t particularly surprising. That people see no hazard in rushing to the aid of a person who apparently longs for the days of segregation is.
It’s another day in post-racial America.