We’re long past the point in contemporary America at which the concept of tolerance has any traction. Our cultural conversations have devolved into shouting matches with a cabal of white urban liberal enforcers insisting the rest of us be outraged by something no one was much concerned with five minutes ago.
And so we find ourselves discussing Duck Dynasty, a “reality” show on the A&E television network featuring the Robertsons, a family of Louisiana rednecks with a successful business making duck calls. When the show’s second season premiered this summer, nearly 12 million people tuned in, shattering cable ratings records. A huge part of the show’s appeal is that it is expressly targeted toward a vast demographic that is almost completely ignored by entertainment executives: rural and Christian Americans.The show celebrates the ups and downs of family and never shies away from religion. One of the Robertson boys is a preacher, and they are often seen on the show praying or going to church. Each show concludes with a pithy observation about life that might as well be homily.
But Phil Robertson, the family patriarch, is now on indefinite suspension from A&E for an interview in which he vented on the subject of homosexuality. Frankly, Robertson was more than a bit crude in his remarks: “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.”
Robertson went on to give his gloss on Corinthians, saying that “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.” Robertson also said, “We never, ever judge someone on who’s going to heaven, hell. That’s the Almighty’s job,” etc. etc.
Of course, anyone who’s remotely familiar with Duck Dynasty, let alone who knows any of the millions of Americans that share Robertson’s opinions, shouldn’t be surprised he thinks this. Others have observed that Robertson’s crude wording somehow makes what he said especially appalling to those who disagree. There may be something to that, and his remarks certainly could have been expressed more decorously. But isn’t the point of “reality” TV to expose us to the unscripted remarks of “real” Americans? These shows aren’t The Scrapbook’s cuppa, but it seems to us that with reality entertainment, the motto should be, in for a dime, in for a dollar.
What’s really going on here is that Duck Dynasty has become a cultural force. It’s probably no coincidence that the interview that got Phil Robertson in trouble was published by GQ, a magazine that has clung to a culturally and politically narrow viewpoint even as its circulation has cratered. Robertson seems to have tremendous public support and may well weather the storm. Even a great many liberals are having a hard time ginning up outrage over a redneck saying something you’d expect a redneck to say. But if the goal is simply to poison the well so that other expressions of Duck Dynasty’s in-your-face Christianity don’t continue to get a foothold on television, we fear Robertson’s inquisitors may have already succeeded.