Bamboozled, Led Astray and Run-Amok: Reality Television, Celebrity Worship, and Why It Needs To Go Away but Won’t

“I almost protested the (Iraq War) in the beginning. Almost. Till I saw what happened to them Dixie Chicks. I said ‘Fuck that!’… But I’m like for real though why, why you care so much what the Dixie Chicks say? It’s not like they political scientists. They just bitches who can sing good.” –-Dave Chappelle on Celebrity Worship

I haven’t had cable television for years now so when I heard the phrase Duck Dynasty I thought it was a commemorative Blu Ray Mighty Ducks Trilogy box set. Much to my “Don’t Really Give a Shit” err chagrin, I learned it was a reality show. During a lunch break at work an episode of Duck Dynasty came on, and it took all of two minutes to figure out the shtick. In the episode the Daughter Character had recently started dating the captain of the middle school football team. Of course the Father Character didn’t know, became incensed and proposed a scheme to intimidate/size up the Boyfriend Character. The plot revolved around the Father Character, and the Uncle Characters taking the Boyfriend Character out into the swamp to hunt. Throw in some cliché subtle threats aimed at the Boyfriend Character should he have carnal knowledge of the Daughter Character, Boyfriend Character proving his manliness by killing a small creature with a well-placed shot, the Father Character’s acceptance of the Boyfriend Character, shots of the young couple in their junior prom attire, and finish it off with a shot of the family praying at the table Raising Arizona style. Sprinkle throughout with colorful, quirky characters in the form of the Uncle Characters that provide comic relief along zany bits of folk wisdom and voilà! You now have a pretty solid, clichéd soap opera plot.

Being that Duck Dynasty purports to be a reality show I wasn’t all that surprised to learn that one of the Uncle Characters was a flesh and blood human being named Phil Robertson. Having lived, until recently, in East Tennessee for most of my life I’ve met men like Phil. They’re colorful, a little out of their mind, know a thing or two, and from time to time will say some outlandish shit that’ll record scratch stop a polite conversation. There’s usually not much point getting into it with them about what they just said because it’s so far from the horizontal sanity graph line you’d just be wasting your time. It could be anything: Obama’s a secret Muslim, Hillary Clinton had Chris Kyle assassinated (Overheard that one at a diner), juice boxes turnin’ ya queer, or Jews running the World Bank. You tend to brush off these comments, because a ‘teachable moment’ is really just too much effort. Besides no one else really puts much credence into it, and it’s not like they have any real power like say elected officials or corporations.

Chez Pazienza wrote an awesome takedown of A&E’s hypocrisy concerning Phil Robertson’s suspension. In case you missed it during GQ interview Phil Robertson made some offensive claims about gays and African Americans.

On gays:

“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.”

On African Americans during the Jim Crow South:

“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.”

Phil Robertson’s comments were pretty ignorant, but what else would you expect from him? By all accounts he’s not very educated, or at least he’s not educated in gay rights or issues affecting the African American community. I’m not defending what he said, or his right to say it. That’s between him and A&E (and whatever PR scheme they come up with to maximize their exposure on this so-called scandal.) In fact there’s really no point slicing, and dicing his statements. It’s pretty evident Phil Robertson lives in his own insulated world free from the constraints of reality where economic, cultural, and political oppression are forces that the African-American and the LGBTQ community still struggle with.

I don’t want to write about Phil Robertson. I really don’t care what his views are just like I don’t care about Kayne West’s. The Megyn Kelly “Santa is White!” so called scandal is in its second week now, and I’m sure the Phil Robertson “scandal” will go on as long if not more. I really don’t care what celebrities have to say. It’s not like you need a background in politics, or cultural studies to be one. In fact you can become one just because you’re cursed with the three terrible karmas (See: Paris Hilton).

Of course there is the “teachable moment” argument. That celebrities are more familiar to the average person so when something like this happens we should view it as an opportunity to drop some knowledge. That’s all well and good, but the problem is the celebrity “scandal” usually so trivial, so banal that we get lost in the minutia. The lesson becomes The Digital Dozens, Facebook Profile Flags fly, and everyone becomes a Dunning-Kruger-esque expert on socio-cultural-political-economic macro . But we wade into the fry, determined to illuminate the Cave, or drag those distracted by shadows into the sunlight. Instead we just end up arguing about the shadows all the while remaining in the Cave too distracted to noticed the chains around all our ankles.

The “Culture War” is utter bullshit, and it never ceases. It’s a distraction, like sports fans arguing about why their team of highly paid professional athletes with no connection to the city they represent is better. It’s a distraction, a sidebar, trivial entertainment. It should be given a minimal amount of our valuable, finite time. The question we should ask is: “Does this person have the power to influence society in a meaningful way?” before we invest an inordinate aount of time on whatever they said. Does anyone remember what the Dixie Chicks actually said without googling it? Did it have an impact on the conclusion of the Iraq War? The only impact it had was giving them a concept for their next album and helping Toby Keith’s career slightly.

When Bernie Goldberg wrote 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America he went on The Daily Show to plug his book. Jon Stewart responded that the “Culture War” was a fiction. He said to Goldberg: “I wish smart guys like you spent less time worrying about Barbra Streisand and more time worrying about Richard Perle or Karl Rove, or whoever the Democrats had in those positions during the Clinton years.” Stewart’s point was the people in Hollywood think they have real power, but they don’t. It’s the people in Washington, and the State Houses who write the laws that have the real power.

But Phil Robertson is something to talk about. It requires so very little effort, and bringing about real change is so extremely difficult especially when you consider how over-worked we are. Maybe the next celebrity mistweet, or candid moment of stupid will turn it all around?


Until then here’s some pictures of Dylan Penn to keep you distracted.