Let’s not have any reality in our reality television, please
posted at 10:01 am on December 19, 2013 by Ed Morrissey
I’ll start off my rant on A&E and the Duck Dynasty contretemps with a couple of disclosures. First, I have never seen the show, although I’ve seen plenty of advertising for and commentary about it. I mostly stopped watching A&E when it stopped being about arts and entertainment, just like I stopped watching Bio when it stopped being about biographies and became the Exorcist Channel a few years ago. Except for one show — 48 Hours — I don’t watch reality TV at all.
Why? Because it falls into two categories — Freak Shows and Contrived Contests. When A&E suspended Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson, I happened to be watching 48 Hours, and one of the ads was for a new A&E (or Bio) show, Dinner Party Wars. It’s exactly what it sounds like — an opportunity for urbanites to talk smack about hors d’oeurve. It’s part of the TV industry’s attempts to produce cheap shows that don’t have to pay writers and actors by either conning people into buying into false “reality” drama or pointing fingers at people who are different from themselves and laughing at them.
That’s what makes this decision by A&E so absurd. Duck Dynasty is clearly on their schedule for the latter purpose — because the Robertsons are so different from their target audience that they may as well be aliens. That’s fine for the Robertsons, who have a large following, and A&E too, for that matter, even if it’s not my taste. I wouldn’t demand that they stop airing reality television; I’m just not going to participate in it, that’s all.
But suspending Robertson for expressing a routine Christian belief an interview promoting the show? That’s when Christianity apparently becomes just too freakily realistic for A&E. Let’s look at what Robertson said to GQ, as Mary Katharine did last night:
Out here in these woods, without any cameras around, Phil is free to say what he wants. Maybe a little too free. He’s got lots of thoughts on modern immorality, and there’s no stopping them from rushing out. Like this one:
“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.” …
Even though he’s in the far corner of the room, Phil dominates the house. There are times when he doesn’t look you in the eye while he’s speaking—he looks just off to the side of you, as if Jesus were standing nearby, holding a stack of cue cards. Everyone else in the room just stares at his phone, or at the TV, or holds side conversations as Phil preaches.
“We’re Bible-thumpers who just happened to end up on television,” he tells me. “You put in your article that the Robertson family really believes strongly that if the human race loved each other and they loved God, we would just be better off. We ought to just be repentant, turn to God, and let’s get on with it, and everything will turn around.”
What does repentance entail? Well, in Robertson’s worldview, America was a country founded upon Christian values (Thou shalt not kill, etc.), and he believes that the gradual removal of Christian symbolism from public spaces has diluted those founding principles. (He and Si take turns going on about why the Ten Commandments ought to be displayed outside courthouses.) He sees the popularity of Duck Dynasty as a small corrective to all that we have lost.
“Everything is blurred on what’s right and what’s wrong,” he says. “Sin becomes fine.”
What, in your mind, is sinful?
“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,” he says. Then he paraphrases Corinthians: “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.”
A few people on Twitter claimed that Robertson equated homosexuality with bestiality, but more accurately, he put homosexuality in a category by itself and equated bestiality with heterosexual promiscuity. Otherwise, he quoted Corinthians, which is standard Scripture for all Christian denominations, even if he offered a separate aside of a more blunt description of sexual organs than some wilting flowers seem to be able to handle. I wouldn’t have put it this way, but I’m a writer, not a small businessman with less time on my hands.
Anyway, the point is this: A&E knew that the Robertsons were fundamentalist Christians when they started making oodles of money off of them. That was part of the schtick. In fact, that’s part of GQ’s schtick in this interview, too, which comes across in bucketloads in the profile — pointing at the rednecks and laughing. Yet the moment that Phil Robertson expresses what is actually a mainstream Christian belief in sin, he’s booted off the show because he’s … what? Too real? Or too Christian?
Some people argue that this isn’t a First Amendment issue, and they’re right. It’s not a case of government censorship, but then again, no critic of this action that I’ve read or heard is insisting that the government or a court restore Robertson to the show, either. It’s a case of egregious hypocrisy, and a case of anti-Christian bigotry posing as a tolerance stunt. And this coming from a media outlet that survives on so-called reality television.
That’s worth pointing out, even if I think A&E is largely a joke, and never bother to tune into Duck Dynasty.
Matt Lewis writes today that this shows why we can’t ever escape the culture wars:
As RedState’s Erick Erickson constantly reminds us: “You Will Be Made to Care.”
And so, if you own a flower shop and — because of your religious convictions — decline to work for a gay wedding, you will be made to care. If your five-year old son makes a “gun gesture” with his hand, you will be made to care. If you’re a redneck in Louisiana who believes homosexuality is a sin, you will be made to care.
At some point, this became a zero-sum game. You’re either in the “Duck Dynasty” camp or the “Pajama Boy” camp. Somebody will lose.
No matter how hard you try, you simply cannot be a conscientious objector in the culture war.
Just when I thought I was out…they pull me back in.
Maybe A&E should just stick with such keen, insightful programming as Celebrity Ghost Stories, and give D-list celebs a little more work.
Update: Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal describes the “tolerance” perfectly:
“Phil Robertson and his family are great citizens of the State of Louisiana. The politically correct crowd is tolerant of all viewpoints, except those they disagree with. I don’t agree with quite a bit of stuff I read in magazine interviews or see on TV. In fact, come to think of it, I find a good bit of it offensive. But I also acknowledge that this is a free country and everyone is entitled to express their views. In fact, I remember when TV networks believed in the First Amendment. It is a messed up situation when Miley Cyrus gets a laugh, and Phil Robertson gets suspended,” said Jindal in a prepared statement.
They only “tolerate” it when they can make a buck off of it.