Duck and Cover

A friend of mine is a Duck Dynasty fan. I haven’t spoken with him about it, but inter-office gossip has it that it was unintentional on his part.

So when I heard about Phil Robertson giving an interview to GQ and spilling his beliefs on homosexuality, I didn’t make the connection right away. I went to the wiki entry on the man and compared the clean-cut 60′s look with how the man presents himself on his reality program. I thought, “Hmm, looks like a conversion to me. Somewhere.”

Mr Robertson is pretty clueless about homosexuality, and his comments reflect that. It is beyond his experience as a man. Like many people, they stumble about when they are out of their element.

I can confess to you readers, and it will be no surprise, that I would stumble about and splash and scare ducks were I decked out in camo in a Louisiana swamp and juggling a bow and a semi-automatic weapon. Princess Merida and Chuck Norris may well be pop culture polar opposites, but I can triangulate both when it comes to operating with arrows and/or bullets. I’d rather be shooting wildlife with a digital camera and munching on edible plants than spreading animal brain matter over the leaves.

Mr Robertson’s discussion reminded me of the Al Campanis interview on Nightline. Chosen to honor Jackie Robinson in something of a sugar-coated way, it was a shock to ABC suits that the chat with Ted Koppel didn’t go according to script. (Long feature here.)

Sociologist Harry Edwards on the interview and the man:

It wasn’t a simple case of Al being a bigot — to say he was just a bigot is simply wrong — people are more complex than that. To a certain extent, it was the culture Al was involved with. To a certain extent, it was a comfort with that culture. And at another level, it was a form of discourse he was embedded in.

The parallels aren’t exact, but there are some commonalities. Mr Robertson is comfortable in his environment as an evangelical Christian and reality show personality. In the former, there is a “form of discourse” and that’s mostly what I saw in the GQ interview excerpts I read. It would be a bigger surprise if Mr Robertson were a truly dangerous man, in the sense of being a racist who was going to mug and murder a gay man. He says he loves people–I have no reason to disbelieve that. But all is in the context of his culture.

I’m more of a critic of the culture of media personality. On that score, Mr Robertson has quite a bit going for him. He is not your average family patriarch, your average hunter, your average college athlete turned business owner. And he is not average in appearance in the sense that he looks as out-of-place as a girl who swings naked on a wrecking ball. Such things attract attention. Modern media, both the “professional” and the pajama varieties, like people who attract attention. Because first they sell product. And maybe second, they tell a good story to keep product buyers coming back.

Scanning media reports, I see a lot of stuff.

  • Mr Robertson will be suspended. (Like this was a school prank or a red card. Typical of the modern neo-aristocracy movement of meting punishments to the serfs.)
  • His products will be pulled then put back on shelves. (The plutocrats can’t decide which way makes them the most money, so they play it both ways.)
  • His fans are outraged. (The Culture of Complaint triumphant even if the War on Christmas was a bust this year.)
  • He will come back to the show in January. (Maybe he wanted a vacation anyway, and the people most outraged by the interview will be swamped by the surge in sympathy.)

My inclination is to be a cynical scrooge about the whole darn thing. Celebrity is about calling attention to oneself. In modern pop culture this has worked wonders for people from Elvis to Miley. It probably was effective long before the 50′s, let alone before the era of instant media.

To be sure, I’m not a homosexual person, so perhaps my gay brothers and lesbian sisters have more outrage to invest in this episode. I’m willing to be convinced if y’all think I’m letting Mr Robertson off too easy on this. My instinct tells me this is an orchestration, at least in the handling of the aftermath. (If not all along.) A&E know their product, their market, and seem quite competent at remaining solvent. I’m not so sure same-sex people and their allies aren’t being played. But like I said: take a stab at proving me wrong.

A successful business guy and tv celebrity is not the most persecuted Christian in the world. But people have somehow leveraged him into the news and the Syrians out.

The bottom line may get missed: how to spread a sense of compassion and understanding? Isn’t that what we all want from people who aren’t like us? Are you buying into this mess? My suggestions: caveat emptor, and change the channel.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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