Just in time for Christmas, we’ve got a culture war! You’ve read all about Phil Robertson’s homophobic comments and A&E’s decision to edit him out of the reality TV show “Duck Dynasty,” even though he’s the patriarch and arguably the most compelling character. As moronic and offensive as Robertson’s comments were, the A&E decision is also a bit baffling, since the entire point of the show is that these Robertson men — particularly Phil Robertson and his dimwit brother “Si” (“Ran around naked until he was 6 years old,” Phil said in one episode) — are cultural throwbacks, living in the swamp, killing wild animals, biting snakes in half, gnawing on squirrel meat and trying to keep the vermin from setting up nests in their beards.
“Duck Dynasty” is essentially a remake of “The Flintstones.”
The cavemen even have the same pretty wives, who vainly try to impose civility on their knuckle-dragging mates. Horrible as Phil’s comments were, they were essentially within character. He appears to be a Biblical fundamentalist and no doubt thinks the Earth is 6,000 years old and we’re all going to burn for eternity if we don’t embrace his version of Christianity. Love him or hate him, he’s an authentic character, and people in my line of work are always on the hunt for unreconstructed folks like this. But A&E seems to have been shocked by the discovery that Phil has antediluvian opinions. (The Robertsons have released a statement saying they’re considering splitting with A&E. They refer to Phil’s “constitutionally protected” right to free speech, though I should point out that the Constitution does not tell A&E what it has to do.)
Rather than killing off the Robertson character (or whatever you call it when a reality TV show makes someone disappear), the A&E producers need to come up with a more creative solution. I’m guessing that Phil hasn’t actually met a lot of openly gay people. “Duck Dynasty” is transparently scripted, so surely the producers could arrange for a bunch of gay characters to descend upon swampworld (the GQ story by Drew Magary, which is quite good, follows the strange-bedfellows conceit, with the suburbanite journalist discovering his inner hunter during a swamp outing with Phil). Another idea: Phil could be forced to spend a few weeks in San Francisco. Full immersion. There are so many possibilities.
Of course, it’s already now a heavily politicized story, co-opted by presidential politics. That’s a completely different type of reality TV — one that, at the moment, I have no desire to watch.