Thursday, December 19, 2013

A&E downs the Duck

I didn't know who Phil Robertson was until just the other day when I stumbled upon A&E's Duck Dynasty and watched a bit before moving on. I had never watched the show, despite it's immense popularity, despite my fondness for shows about people who live in swamps, tiny towns and remote places -- People who hunt alligators, catch crawfish and run bait shops in towns like  Pierre Part  (the end of the world as the sign says) or Bayou Pigeon -- their cuisine, their music and culture, so quickly fading in an urbanizing country that still, as it always has, is forcing people into a cash economy, into paying jobs with regular hours while their environment - our country- is cut down, paved over and polluted. 

In general I'm comfortable with people who love the 'outdoors,' that odd term we call the actual environment of planet Earth -- people who own fishing gear, snake boots, snowshoes, canoes and all that and still prize the ability to use them in unspoiled country.   That's partially because such people are environmentalists although most will carefully explain that "they ain't no treehuggers or hippies."

That love of nature often sets them against entities like Florida's sugar cartel which has done more damage to our formerly vast wilderness than any terrorist could dream of,  so you'd think that the rapacious right would despise anyone who didn't support fracking, strip mining, clear-cutting, toxic waste dumping, smoke belching and generally destructive industry, and perhaps you'd expect to hear the voice of  the Right raised against such folks, but no.  The American Family Association is calling him a New American Hero, now that the network has suspended the release of next season's show.

Robertson likes to spend his time

"daydreaming about what he calls a “pristine earth”: a world where nothing gets in the way of nature or the hunters who lovingly maintain it. No cities. No buildings. No highways."  

says Drew Magary in a GC magazine interview.  But he also hates sinners and takes the Christian Bible as the standard of morality for the world, or at least the nastier parts favored by the Christian Right. That's where we part company. He's a gracious gentleman, says Magary and he doesn't like swearing or any of the other things Bible thumpers insist God doesn't like either, like people who don't subscribe to current, Christian Right sexual prohibitions.  Like the loathsome 'Reverend' Phelps's God, Robertson's god damns homosexuals and assorted other non-conformists.

“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.” 

he says peremptorily and without regard to empiricism.  Fox News and the extremists in it's orbit  can hardly fail to come to his defense because impediments to religious authoritarianism attract them more than the Robertson's duck calls draw ducks to your blind.  Now of course anything Fox Condemns, anyone Sarah Palin supports ordinarily demands my opposition, but I have to ask myself, should a man be fired for expressing his opinions because we don't like them? 

That's not so easy to be sure about.  If Fox had fired someone for an opinion, for saying their position was "just wrong," I wouldn't hesitate to make it slime time for Fox, so I have to question Robertson's suspension.  After all, his opinion is that one never judges people but leaves it to God to sort out.  He believes in redemption as much as he believes that legal behavior that hurts no one can be "just wrong."

I have no way of knowing whether his contract with A&E stipulated that he make no controversial statements, no expostulations on his religious beliefs, but lacking that, I have to wonder about silencing people for "moral" reasons no matter who does it.   Certainly a network has the right to air or not to air any content, but it's not about the content of Duck Dynasty, but about the opinions expressed elsewhere.

 Some small voice still continues to ask me something the ACLU is asked all the time: are we attacking our own freedom when we curtail anyone's ability to say what "we just know" are ignorant, nasty and disgusting things?



  1. I'm not so sure this is about free speech. I have a feeling that A&E is making a business decision, and that decision is based upon how many people will tune out a program where someone denigrates gays and lesbians. It's no longer acceptable to bash this minority, and a majority of Americans agree with that. I don't think that what Robertson said (and I'd never heard of this cable show until the other day) would be acceptable if he had slammed or denigrated Italians for being mafiosi thugs, or Jews for being responsible for killing Jesus, or African-Americans for being inferior because of the "curse of Ham.". Trashing gays and lesbians is not a profitable thing to do when you're in business. Plus, since the government had no part in this, there was no infringement on anyone's free speech. A business made a decision, I think, for its bottom line.

    1. Of course you're right, but it will be refurbished, as history always is, as exactly that and just the way and for the same reasons trolls we refuse to publish complain about censorship.

      When I wrote it, I was remembering an incident when the ACLU defended the Klan's right to peaceful assembly in a town with a significant Jewish population.

      Freedom is a very precious thing to me and I'm defensive of it and because the business of America is business, business decisions are as important to our collective freedom as government decisions. Many events like Krystallnacht were in large part business decisions.

  2. This post reminds me of a defense I wrote some years on behalf of a conservative blogger who has been a friend of this forum. To recall events, after I invited our friend to contribute a short post, the rabid rabble accused her of nothing less than apostasy and treason. Why? Because she contributed an article to a liberal blog; because she has liberal friends; because the rabid rabble demands partisan SEGREGATION and cultural WARFARE. Here is an excerpt from A Blessed Kristallnacht to All:

    Rightwing critics disparage the term political correctness as a Marxist plot whose aim is to undermine conservative values and impose social conformity. The linguistic argument is one more front in the so-called culture wars. Yet, the same rightwing critics employ a far more sinister version of political correctness. They make use of litmus tests to enforce ideological orthodoxy in thought, speech, and personal associations. They will not hesitate to browbeat fellow conservatives into submission with condemnation and excommunication. How ironic! The rightwing accuses the left of using political correctness to impose social conformity; yet, the same rightwingers use coercive means to enforce groupthink within their ranks.

    I believe the more common expression is ‘RINO’ whenever a conservative Republican fails to pass the ultra-lunatic litmus test.

    For the rabid rabble, the term political correctness serves another purpose. They wield the term to create an unequal playing field. Huh, you ask? After they say something utterly offensive, they invoke the PC term to neutralize our criticism of them. IOW, they invoke their right to act as pompous ass, but revoke our right to call them to task. You see, any criticism, any rebuttal is ohhh sooo PC. If homophobia, misogyny, racism, and anti-Semitism are forms of protected speech pursuant to the First Amendment, then political correctness is too. Don’t forgot that!

    At least political correctness serves a justifiable purpose. We describe the framing effect of language and word-choice in shaping the attitudes and actions of speakers and listeners. In concept, the abuse and misuse of language contributes to negative stereotypes that can restrict the rights, opportunities, and freedoms of people. One goal of political correctness is to render pejorative labels as socially unacceptable, thus encouraging us to view individuals on their merits as opposed to stereotypes.

    Oh, but I forgot. How clumsy of me! The rabble has never been wowed by concerns for equality and justice. That’s just tooo … PC!

  3. "One goal of political correctness is to render pejorative labels as socially unacceptable, thus encouraging us to view individuals on their merits as opposed to stereotypes."

    Yes, of course and well said, as usual. It's truly remarkable how many nasty and ugly things can be defended by calling the opposition "correct." But that's your typical human for you. I just can't think of enough pejorative labels for those misbegotten apes. They're just wrong but maybe that's why God loves them so much -- or some of them.

    Of course what's true on the macro level gets bogged down like quantum physics when it comes to details. labels, like any definition, are constantly changing and always a matter of opinion and unimpeachable authority is an illusion. I have to smile, for instance when people get nervous about calling me a Jew, which I don't object to and say things like "member of the Jewish community" which I emphatically am not. If you look to "the Jews" for a definitive answer to that one, you'll get 11 answers for every 10 Jews and a vicious debate to boot. Is the N word -- the Q word acceptable according to who says it and how and when? some certainties are uncertain and more so the closer you get to specifics.

    It's also debatable to assert that we can change human nature as we've seen it in 5000 years of recorded history by tinkering with the language -- but as I said, those damn two legged, featherless vermin are all alike. Hell with them all and let God sort it out.

    But seriously, who gets to determine the minimum amount of respect and permissible vocabulary and tone of voice? That's what I worry about. Was Robertson venting bigotry or quoting the Bible? Who is to blame for the apparent bigotry and intolerance? Who gets to take books off the shelves because of certain words? The Gospels, the Book of Mormon are full of racist statements. God hates the Amorites so much he'll kill you and your children if you don't kill them! The motivation for that is entirely political, of course. Aren't most religions prejudiced against other creeds -- infidels, unbelievers and apostates? What do we do when the objectionable speech is a quote from the Bible?

    Who makes the decision? What are the social consequences of saying Asiatic art or of quoting Mark Twain or Joseph Conrad verbatim - are they suddenly racists? We have to guard against becoming what we oppose as well as against excessive seriousness sometimes.

    Robertson was airing standard Christian arguments, both in saying homosexuality is wrong in the eyes of God and that we should only let God be the final judge. How can we damn him without damning Christianity and if we damn Christianity aren't we being socially unacceptable? Some Christians see A&E's reaction as a slap in the face to their beliefs and an attack on their right to preach and practice their religion. Don't forget that we're talking about the "right" to fire someone for their beliefs, because after all, Robertson wasn't calling for anyone to do anything to homosexuals. In that respect he's being a hell of a lot nicer than God.

  4. Shaw's analysis is dead on target. Freedom of speech and the first amendment have nothing to do with Robertson's suspension. A&E isn't the government nor an agency of the government and like any employer can suspend or fire an employee at will. The big exception is that an employer can't fire someone for discriminatory reasons if it can be shown that the individual belongs to a protected class as defined by law and the rational for the dismissal is directly linked to the person's status as a member of a protected class.

    Bigots aren't a protected class and Robertson is bad for business, There are consequences for expressing your views. He can continue to express them but I'm not losing a bit of sleep because A&E said, "Not on my network!"

    Besides, Robertson isn't quoting the Bible. There are only seven references in the Bible that appear to be about homosexuality and Robertson quoted none of them. Just making up crap and attributing it to the Bible doesn't make it about Christianity. Robertson did not quote the Bible, he interpreted the Bible according to his understanding and beliefs. Direct quotations from literature or the Bible are still safe and there is no slippery slope.

    Here's a more conservative view of the Bible's statements on homosexuality, still only seven references.

    We live in a country of at-will employment laws. Employers can fire employees for no reason, for cause, for anything that is not prohibited discrimination under the law. Robertson stuck his foot in it.

  5. I'm not saying this is a first amendment case. I thought I said that before. I just think people have a right to ugly, ignorant and stupid ideas and if I didn't I'd be at war all the time, chasing people around like a madman and winding up in jail. As I said, I supported the right of the Klan to hold a rally even though if something accidentally happened to all of them, I'd throw a party.
    I support their rights only to support yours and mine.

    I'm lot losing sleep - at least not over this, but seeing as most people have employers, the hint of discrimination against workers for their opinions makes me a bit uneasy, legal or not. I know people who were not hired because of their religion and ethnicity and fired because of the same and I'm willing to bet you do too. Christian or not, his religious opinions are genuine and if I don't respect his ideas, I still have to afford him some minimum level of respect -- sorry, that's my religious belief as a secular humanist.

    Are they Christian ideas? Well they've been preached in Christian churches for centuries and nearly everyone who tells us God hates homosexuals and adulterers and cross dressers is a self-professed Christian partly because that describes about 90% of Americans. The abortion issue, the gay issue is a religious issue just like divorce, interracial marriage and dancing on Sunday once were religious issues and every damned man, woman and preacher has the right to call himself Christian if he likes even if we think they're rolling on the floor with Satan pagan lunatics.

    Philips is a church goer who thanks Jesus at every meal, hates blasphemous words and believes what he's saying. I'd have fired him too, but I'd first remember how much of an idiot I am, how many stupid and ignorant things I've said and done, and given him a second chance, because I believe in redemption and the power of light over ignorance - after that, the hell with him.

  6. "I know people who were not hired because of their religion and ethnicity and fired because of the same and I'm willing to bet you do too."

    That's illegal and they should have sued. Merely being a particular ethnicity or having religious beliefs is no basis for being fired. Robertson held his beliefs when he got the A&E gig. They didn't fire him for his religion they fired him for spouting off about his interpretation of his religion in an interview which he only obtained because of his work for A&E. GQ wouldn't have devoted space to interviewing him if he weren't on Duck Dynasty. It's very distinguishable legally from firing someone simply for holding negative or bigoted religious beliefs.

    GQ didn't interview Robertson about his religious beliefs. He volunteered that information and according to the interviewer, wouldn't shut up about it. Unless he is truly a mental midget, he knew damn well that his views were offensive but felt that he had to profess his great Christianity by stating them. Any one of us is entitled to be a bigoted fool but the rest of us, including one's employer, are entitled to say that we don't want such a bigot representing our brand.

    I don't respect bigotry of any sort, religious or otherwise as genuine. The gay issue is no more of a religious issue than divorce, interracial marriage and dancing on Sunday ever were religious issues. People attaching the cloak of religion to their own petty prejudices and beliefs doesn't elevate bigotry to religion. Children are beaten, women are tortured around the world in the name of someone's religious beliefs. It's a convenient rationale for whatever nonsense humans want to perpetrate on others. I'm far more concerned about the emotional hurt and psychological pain inflicted on my gay friends and gay people in general due to the repetition of such vile and filthy beliefs than an idiot bigot losing a cushy job because he has no tact.

    By the way, I've never attended a Christian church that preached any such vile nonsense about LGBT people, about race, or ethnicity. Most of the people that I know identify as Christian and they don't espouse such beliefs. Certainly there are those who identify as Christians who are bigots but they don't speak for all, or even most Christians. Lots of Christian churches welcome gay members. The Episcopalians have openly gay and lesbian clergy. Most of those expressing homophobic bigotry belong to small, fundamentalists sects that have split from their larger denominations because they object to the policies of inclusiveness espoused by the larger body.

    1. Churches may be moving away from condemning homosexuals in recent decades, but this spirit of inclusiveness is relatively new. Centuries of sermons leave their mark. Attaching the cloak of petty and political opinions to 'god's word' is what the history of Western religion is all about and has been for a very long time. the bible is full of it.

      Seeing it or not seeing it, scarlet letters or not, moral condemnation of consensual behavior is inseparable from religion, whether or not some churches are moving away from it. Christianity is hardly in the vanguard of the movement toward tolerating the right of people to "sin."

      I can't agree that the source of anti-Sematism, racism and intolerance for any number of things has no source or support in the history of Christianity, or Judaism or Islam for that matter, whether it's technically part of the doctrine or not.

  7. By the way, I doubt it was only Robertson's diatribe against homosexuals that gave A&E pause. He also decided that he needed to speak out about all the happy black people he knew in pre-civil rights Louisiana in his GQ interview.

    Phil On Growing Up in Pre-Civil-Rights-Era Louisiana:
    “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.”

  8. I don't know why you think I'm supporting him or his opinions. I'm only saying he has a right to them and cautioning us all that stupid, ignorant and even malicious beliefs are a guaranteed right. An employer can have the right to fire him, but we don't have the right to prosecute him for them or to silence him.

    Perhaps you can't fix stupid, but you can fix ignorant and there is always hope.


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