Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Duck Duck Duck...DYNASTY!

Q (Editor): What are your thoughts on the Duck Dynasty controversy that blew up last week? Was A&E right to suspend Phil from the show?
A: I've been doing a lot of thinking about this topic. To catch people up, Phil Robertson gave an interview to GQ magazine (the full text of which can be seen here) several months ago in which he said a number of, well, colorful things. Early in the article the author pulls this bit of opinion out of Phil:
“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.”
I've been reading that this quote is homophobic. I can see how someone would interpret it that way, but to me that's an uncharitable reading. Phil is saying that he prefers heterosexual sex to homosexual sex. Does that make him a homophobe? No, it doesn't. He's stating a preference. But the reaction to it tells me that we've reached a point in the public discussion on homosexuality where it's no longer acceptable to tolerate. Now you must celebrate and champion, and anything less is considered to be denigration and hatred. Like it or not, that's where we are, and I'm not happy with this development.

Later Phil was asked this question by the author:
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.”
Like the first quote I can see how people would overreact to this if they chose to. But here's the thing: Phil was talking about sin, and in Christianity there's a lot of sin out there. Bestiality, homosexual behavior, stealing, being drunk, all sins. You can like that or not like it, but that's what the church teaches.

The specific issue people have is that they think Phil was equating homosexuality with bestiality. I'm interested in what leads people to come to that conclusion. Let's try this thought experiment: In a lecture to a group of students a professor says that arson, burglary, and manslaughter are all felonies. Does that mean that the professor is equating arson with manslaughter? Yes, in the sense that both are felonies, but not in the sense of the morality of the acts. Phil is quoting what Christianity says about morality in general. I think that the bigger morality point he was making was about promiscuity in general, be it with men, women, animal, whatever.

The other controversial thing that has emerged from the article was Phil's comments about his observations on race relations in America while he was growing up:
“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.”
First, notice the qualifier at the start of the quote: "I never, with my eyes..." Now, is this a cop-out? Maybe. But let's assume for a second that he's being truthful about his recollections. Does this mean that he cast a blind eye towards the racism that was going on around him? I don't know, because he didn't say so. As I read it he was talking about the moral state of the community, not about the legal state. I think it's self-evident that blacks are better off without slavery and Jim Crow laws, but the critics of Phil seem to be saying that he doesn't think so. I think that this is an interesting debating tactic. Nothing in the quote says anything about slavery or Jim Crow. I wonder what the reaction would have been if he'd said that slavery and Jim Crow were bad things before opining on the morality question. I think that the critics would have ignored the preamble and raked him over the coals anyway, because he's from the south and probably a racist and, well, you know, right?

As an aside, the topic of morality is an interesting conversation about race relations in America that would be good to have. Were blacks in America better off "pre-entitlement, pre-welfare" like Phil says? But if a person who even brings up the topic is immediately shouted down with cries of "Racist! RACIST!", how can a conversation take place? It can't, and that's the point of the critics.

The common theme I'm seeing here is one of judgement. I need to think a little more about this but watch that space.

So was A&E right to suspend Phil from the show? That's a question that only the executives at A&E can answer. I can tell you that I would not have suspended him. In fact, I would have risen to his defense against the bullies in mainstream society. But I am not in charge of a cable channel. I can tell you that Duck Dynasty will likely be canceled and find a new home in cable, grow more popular, then fade out just as quickly because that's how things go in television. The next new thing will come along and Duck Dynasty will be a footnote in television history.