Phil Robertson is not a victim, but he plays one on TV. Behind the ZZ Top beard is a man who holds a masters degree in education. He built a successful business developing duck calls and other products for “duck killers.” “Duck Dynasty is the most popular reality show on cable,” a feat that is not accomplished without having an exceptional understanding of one’s audience. Have no doubt, Robertson knew exactly what he was doing when he sat down for an interview with GQ magazine. His hate filled words were not an accidental glimpse under his beard, they were fuel for his well-oiled publicity machine.
In the end, Robertson’s “indefinite hiatus” was the equivalent of being suspended from school during winter break. A&E did not pull reruns of the show from it’s lineup, most of the next season had already been shot and filming is not even scheduled to resume until the spring. Perhaps the network’s actions were less about their “core values” of “creativity, inclusion and mutual respect” and more about stirring up controversy to bolster the ratings of the show.
The entire Duck Dynasty incident was perfect fodder for the Conservative outrage machine. Sarah Palin, the queen of faux persecution, said “so many American families have spilled blood and treasure to guarantee Phil Robertson and everybody else’s right to voice their personal opinions and once that freedom is lost, everything is lost in our country.” For someone who ran for an office where she would “solemnly swear” to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States,” one would think that she would know a little more about the document. The First Amendment does not guarantee a forum for speech, only that the GOVERNMENT will not suppress it. At no time was Robertson thrown in jail for his hate speech. The President did not threaten to shut down A&E if they did not remove Duck Dynasty from the cable waves. As long as the Robertson family is willing to accept $200,000 per episode for their show, they are subject to whatever rules the network wishes to make.
Proving Obama’s assertion that some Conservatives “cling to guns or religion,” Robertson's suspension was immediately framed as another battle in the supposed war against Christianity. Bobby Jindal saw the reinstatement as a recognition “that tolerance of religious views is more important than political correctness.” Without even reading the article, Sarah Palin defended Robertson by saying that he was just “quoting the gospel.” I am in no way a biblical scholar, but I am reasonably sure that the words “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!” do not appear in any holy book. It does, however, show an ignorance that confuses the available ways of sharing sexual relations with the definition of loving another human being. Did Phil marry Kay simply because he fell in love with her vagina?
While the Pope has tried to move the the Catholic church’s focus away from social issues like abortion, gay marriage and contraception, conservatives like Robertson seem strangely obsessed with these subjects. When asked “what, in your mind, is sinful,” he did not start with an act like badly beating “up a bar owner and the guy’s wife.” Perhaps this was because this type of sin hit too close to home. Instead he suggested that we “start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there.” Even if one were to agree that homosexuality is a sin, and all religions do not share the same conclusion, it would be a transgression of a personal nature and have no effect on Robertson’s life. Can Robertson claim that his sins had no victims? If not, perhaps assault is a more logical place to begin a study of sin.
While Jindal thinks that “the politically correct crowd is tolerant of all viewpoints, except those they disagree with,” he fails to explain why anyone should be tolerant of bigotry. If, as Phil says, it is “the Almighty’s job” to “judge someone on who’s going to heaven, hell,” then why the obsession with homosexuality? No one is responsible for anyone else’s spiritual salvation. Speaking out against the things that Robertson said in his interview has nothing to do with religious freedom as no one has suggested that the duck hunter should be forced to engage in homosexual activity. Others simply want to be left alone with their personal choices without continued verbal harassment.
To continue to preach an unwanted message is, at best, rude. At some point it can also become dangerous. “Surpassing crimes committed on the basis of religion, the number of reported hate crimes committed against gay men and lesbians increased from 1,277 in 2010 to 1,293 in 2011.” While overall crime rates have plummeted in New York City, by August the number of attacks against gays had already surpassed the previous year. This included a 32-year-old gay man who was murdered after his attackers called him a “queer” and a “faggot.” At some point people like Phil Robertson need to take responsibility for the fact that their public message enables an atmosphere where these types of crimes occur.