A&E has some serious nerve putting Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson on "indefinite suspension" following a series of unbelievably homophobic comments he made during a newly published GQ interview. I don't say this because I think what Robertson said was acceptable or because I believe the punishment is somehow disproportional to the crime here -- I say it because it's laughably disingenuous for A&E network executives to suddenly balk and express shock and righteous indignation that this cantankerous Bible-thumping redneck they pay to act like a cantankerous Bible-thumping redneck on a reality TV show really is a cantankerous Bible-thumping redneck.
If you haven't been paying attention to the internet today, here's the gist: Given that he's one of the "colorful" stars of the most popular reality show on cable at the moment, Phil Robertson was interviewed for a profile in the new GQ. During that interview, he unleashed this little gem about gay people:
"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 of course from there, he went right on to drop some Biblical knowledge on everyone:
"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... 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."
As soon as this went public you could've counted down the seconds before GLAAD fired off an angry public response condemning Robertson's comments as intolerant and ignorant bordering on paleolithic. That was to be expected; it's what GLAAD does. But what happened next should piss everybody off. A&E didn't just recoil, it scrambled to release the following Very Outraged statement on Phil Robertson and his views on gay people:
"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 network has placed Phil under hiatus from filming indefinitely."
Now make no mistake: Phil Robertson shouldn't be on television. But here's why everyone should be pissed: he very likely never should've been on television, and for A&E to pretend that it had no idea the nitro glycerine it was carrying in its schedule is an unbelievable pile of horseshit. The network and the production company behind Duck Dynasty sought out this family from backwater Louisiana specifically because its members represented exactly the kind of subculture A&E knew it could cynically target a show toward. They played up the rich redneck point-of-view, making the Robertsons look like a bunch of good-natured, fun-loving, faith-abiding country folk who happen to have made a lot of money doing something unusual to many but certainly not unusual to much of the target audience. (That audience would love it on principle; the rest would eat up the freakshow kitsch as they always do.)
The problem is that Phil Robertson isn't playing up a damn thing. He really is a 67-year-old conservative Christian redneck who was almost certain, at some point, to make a comment like the one he did to GQ. The fact that a bunch of assholes at a production company and television network in Los Angeles believed that they could somehow put a muzzle on this guy and keep the unappetizing reality of his belief system in check is the height of arrogance and stupidity. The production company in particular has worked closely with Robertson for four seasons; it always knew what he was truly all about and because of this there's little doubt the network knew as well. It just chose to overlook a little provincial ugliness because the money was rolling in.
Robertson's done interviews with Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network. He's appeared at world-class huckster Rick Warren's Saddleback megachurch to do his trademark guns-and-camo shtick and proclaim that America is a Christian nation. He's claimed that Jesus personally saved his marriage.The network has had previous run-ins with him over his religious beliefs. The point is, this guy telegraphed his public comments on gay people from a mile away.
I'm certainly not saying that Phil Robertson isn't entitled to his opinion. He can think and say whatever the hell he wants, no matter how awful, and in most situations it shouldn't even immediately cost him his job. But the hypocrisy of A&E righteously declaring that it won't tolerate the kinds of views Robertson expressed when it essentially paid to enable those views for the past three years is jaw-dropping. He may have been a character to the audience, but he was always a flesh-and-blood person to the people behind the scenes. They knew the real reality, not the reality show they shot and edited and promoted until it was a safe and benign caricature of the truth.
They went looking for somebody like Phil Robertson to make into a hit television show -- and Phil Robertson is exactly what they got.
Adding: Right on time, professional troll Sarah Palin is weighing in by posting a picture of herself on Facebook with the Duck Dynasty crew alongside some of her usual authentic frontier gibberish. Say hello to the next Chick-fil-A, everyone. A bunch of asshole duck hunters get to become the new cudgel in our never-ending culture war. God bless America. Oh, and if you want to read the completely predictable F5 tornado of racist and homophobic anger over Phil Robertson's suspension, put on your helmet and jump into the comment section here.
Adding Further: A television executive producer friend of mine just brought up a great point that's worth relaying. When they shoot a reality show, they typically shoot hours and hours of video and they do it candidly and construct the show out of that material. I know this because I've worked on several reality shows and most crews overshoot like hell. What's interesting about this is the insight it gives the production company, network people, writers and editors -- basically anyone who handles the bulk post-shoot -- into what's really going on behind the scenes. So many people have watched and listened to Phil Robertson during those moments when he had no idea anyone was paying attention to him that there's no way the network didn't know his true thoughts and feelings. He could barely keep them to himself most of the time anyway; someone almost certainly had to work around his commentary that wouldn't be appropriate for air. As my friend said, A&E has likely been dreading this moment for years. The moment when the jig was finally up.
Still Further:The Superficial's takedown of those holding up Robertson as some kind of Christian martyr to the cause of freedom of speech is definitely worth reading this morning.