Over the course of this recently passed holiday season, I espoused the point of view - more than once - that if you were hanging out with your friends and family and discussing Phil Robertson's relatively recent remarks, then you had already lost, succumbed to the trap the Robertson family (and maybe A&E) wanted you in from the very beginning - talking about the stars of Duck Dynasty during the off-season, just after the Christmas special had run, and in the break before the show comes back on the air with new episodes mid-January. Think that's paranoid? Do you imagine it far-fetched that this is a plan? These people are hunters and trappers by primary vocation, and they run a media empire that breaks records AND you had never even heard of them two years ago. Not even two: the show started in March of 2012. So you got spanked by a bunch of rednecks if you spent the holidays posting and arguing and spouting off about Phil. You're prey, a mark. Congratulations: you got suckered.
Probably not as badly as I did, though. I watch this show. Pretty regularly. I wrote a paper comparing it favorably with "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo." I read the books that came out last year (took me about four hours in total to read all three), and I had 40 of the episodes built up on my DVR for decompression time after I graduated. Granted, they were there with the specific intent of killing brain cells: the re-runs have a relaxing kind of rhythm to them. I like the show and think Uncle Si and Jase are funny. I think Willie's probably a business genius. I don't have the "killing animals and eating them" objection that a lot of my friends have, and there's been nothing on the show I haven't been more or less comfortable letting my kids watch. There are far fewer adult words and ideas than on the sit-coms and dramas we sometimes watch together. The show also doesn't follow the format of other reality shows with the endlessly repeated scenes, long cuts, sensationalism and degradation, and it evokes, emotionally, people I grew up around as a Southerner. That includes jackass people like Phil Robertson.
Every left-of-center person I know who watches Duck Dynasty has put forth, in some form or another, the idea that the more we watch, the less we like Phil. You cannot watch the show for any length of time and not get a pretty good bead on the fact that he's an old-fashioned, intolerant titan of arrogance. From his casual sexism to his assertion that an effeminate photographer has "mommy issues," Phil's an unabashed dick, but he's only one person on the show. Herein lies my second point (the first being that this kerfuffle is just twerking naked for rednecks) - PHIL'S NOT THE ONLY PERSON ON THE SHOW. Fine, he's the patriarch, he's the "Duck Commander," whatever - but what do YOU do when someone in your family's a fuckwit? How many chances do you give your Uncle Douchebag, racist grandpop, or old dog cousin? And before you answer, I'd invite you to measure your excised number of family members against mine. Most people in families don't just kick people out - I'd also invite you to remember that. There's a bunch of other Robertsons, and $$$ aside, it's none of our fucking business how they proceed from here unless they make it so. Some would argue that they have - I'm not as sure.
Next: There is the "what did you expect from a pig from a grunt" argument. Phil's old, white Church of Christ and not terribly bright - he has made his success from working hard, often a Southern or broke people's substitute for being smart. His unenlightened views on homosexuality are widely shared here in the American southeast, disgusting and wrongheaded as they are. Sounds like an opportunity to talk about that, yes? His remarks on black people are so profoundly stupid and blinkered, they sound like where White Guilt intersects with White Privilege, so it's kind of easy to see where that comes from, too. None of this excuses the dumb shit that he said, and continues to say, and likely believes, but one has to wonder where the outrage and surprise comes from. It rings hollow. (If he weren't rich, he'd be another dumb motherfucker I ignore at a truck stop, failing a teachable moment.) Really, Media America? You didn't see this coming? As a group, the Robertsons know who their audience is - they just put their name on a line of guns, and made nice with 'Murica everywhere from Baba Wawa to Fox News. The fucking Christmas show pointedly opens actually inside a Wal-Mart.
So, "Free" Speech: Phil has oodles of free speech. Anyone who says different is desperately trying to latch onto the controversy for their own gain, SARAH FUCKING PALIN. Or they're mixed up about the concept. Phil's employer disciplined him (barely) for some shit that he may even have been contractually obligated to shut the fuck up about - and we don't know anything about that. Find me a contract if you'd like to fight about that. What we do know is that his comments were printed in a magazine, and are still available on the Internet with "the 25 greatest breasts in movie history" right next to them. Free speech, people. Free speech is not saying whatever you want without repercussion - there are limits and laws restricting it, as well there should be. The private entities involved in this further complicate what is, in this case, a nonexistent issue.
Maybe reacting to this at all was pretty stupid of us as a group, yeah? Maybe a nice, measured action after the fact would be something to do? Unfortunately, this is where I find myself now. I made the mistake of saving the Xmas special until yesterday - I didn't want to watch it during the flap - and now I find that the thrill is gone. I knew the car guzzled gas, but now I know it takes jobs overseas, too? That might just be too much. I'm pissed and disappointed with Phil Robertson's hypocritical ass and wish that he could have kept his fool mouth shut and not ruined his family's show for me, even though I kind of already knew he was an intolerant gasbag, but I think now that if I watched it, I would not want my kids in the room, would not be able to face my gay friends or anyone else, and might find it inconsistent with what I think is good in the world.
Which is a shame. But we'll always have this.