A&E has distanced itself from Phil Robertson, the patriarch in its enormously popular “Duck Dynasty” series, following his comments about homosexuality. Yet the opinion he expressed, that homosexuality is a sin, is shared by 45 percent of Americans, according to a recent poll.
Fully 78 percent of white evangelical Protestants agree with Robertson, according to the data. They are demographic group analyzed in the poll that is presumably most likely to watch “Duck Dynasty.”
Scott Collins compares A&E to other networks that have condemned the same traditional world views that make their shows so popular and so lucrative:
Once again, TV finds itself in another cultural hot zone. The “Duck Dynasty” situation recalls last summer’s uproar over celebrity chef Paula Deen, who lost her Food Network gig and many sponsorship deals after she admitted she had “of course” used a racial epithet in the past. . . .
These cases reflect larger rifts in American life — call it a split between progressives and traditionalist values.
But the particular problem for the TV industry is that it’s trying to profit off the same cultural tensions it’s exploiting. That inevitably leads to problems such as the current one engulfing “Duck Dynasty.”
The reality programming trend in recent years has made stars out of everyone from bakers to pawnbrokers to catfish-wranglers. That these “authentic” people have opinions and values that don’t always jibe with those of the media elite in New York and Los Angeles isn’t necessarily surprising.
But it means that the executives and PR handlers have had to get very good at backpedaling away from uncomfortable realities. That’s most likely what is happening now on “Duck Dynasty.”
As recently as 10 years ago, a majority of Americans believed that gay sex was sinful, but the proportion has fallen steadily as gays have won wider acceptance of their sexual orientation.
A&E indefinitely suspended Robertson from filming after Robertson’s comments appeared in a profile in GQ. His show returns next month, presumably with episodes including Robertson that have already been shot.
Although A&E focused on Robertson’s comments about sexuality, he also spoke offensively about blacks and the Japanese. Alyssa Rosenberg considers why these remarks have been widely ignored:
While Robertson’s views on homosexuality are presented as consistent with his religious beliefs, his remarks about African-Americans are actually more politically extreme, aimed at undermining the validity of the safety net. . . .
That’s a vision of the American South and American racial history that’s in keeping with Paula Deen’s alleged plantation nostalgia. It’s an attempt to substitute Robertson’s own memories of his interactions with African American laborers, whose behavior around him may well have been influenced by his relative privilege as a white man, even a poor one, for the larger history of organizing against and resistance to the economically and racially ruinous consequences of the Jim Crow system. It’s a kind of narrative that’s aimed at retroactively manufacturing black consent for policies aimed at maintaining white supremacy.
But in the absence of an organization like GLAAD, which is extremely familiar to both media companies and media reporters, condemning those remarks, most of the entertainment reportage focused on Robertson’s anti-gay comments. That’s less a matter of disregard for racial bias, I think, than a focus instead on covering conflicts or potential conflicts between large organizations. And there’s a particularly strong incentive to cover disputes that could evolve into disputes with economic consequences, like the advertiser boycott GLAAD was clearly threatening.
Conservative politicians and advocacy organizations, by contrast, have been outspoken in their defense of Robertson. Possible contenders for the G.O.P. presidential nomination in 2016 in particular are taking his part against A&E:
“The politically correct crowd is tolerant of all viewpoints, except those they disagree with,” [Louisiana Gov. Bobby] Jindal said in a statement prominently displayed on his official Web site, adding: “I remember when TV networks believed in the First Amendment.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), another probable 2016 candidate, chimed in on Facebook, writing: “If you believe in free speech or religious liberty, you should be deeply dismayed over the treatment of Phil Robertson.” And 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin wrote in a Facebook post that “those ‘intolerants’ hatin’ and taking on the Duck Dynasty patriarch for voicing his personal opinion are taking on all of us.”
Their embrace of Robertson — who in an interview with GQ described “homosexual behavior” as sinful and compared it to bestiality and infidelity — underscored how gay rights remain a potent political issue for many religious voters on the right. . . .
Conservative Christians “feel like they’re under siege in a culture that is increasingly intolerant and discriminatory toward their views, and they don’t feel represented,” said Ralph Reed, founder of the Faith & Freedom Coalition, who noted that Robertson paraphrased from the Bible’s Book of Corinthians in his interview. “I did not get any impression at all that there was animus expressed,” Reed said
By jumping into the “Duck Dynasty” maelstrom, conservative leaders such as Jindal and Cruz sent a clear message to evangelical voters: We’re on your side.
“Make no mistake,” Reed said, “these voters are paying attention, and they are going to remember who stood up.”
For past coverage of Phil Robertson’s suspension from “Duck Dynasty” shoots, continue reading here.