Current Trends    

Reality TV, a viewing phenomenon that came on full force in the early 2000’s which began as mildly interesting with shows like Survivor, Big Brother, The Amazing Race, even The Osborne’s held some intrigue for a time, yet increasingly reality TV, despite its name, came to symbolize heavy on the TV, low on the reality and, in recent years, has become synonymous with the word joke. Creating people, personalities like Snookie, programing such as Jersey Shore, 16 and Pregnant, showing off the worst hooliganism not part of a police video, the worst attributes of the younger generation while inspiring a whole new generation to do anything and everything to get their 15 minutes of fame stands for everything that is currently wrong in our culture according to many. Though, others regard it as viewing to be ignored, rightly fodder for late night comedians, to be given no more thought. So why is there such an uproar over reality star Phil Robertson, patriarch of the Duck Dynasty family, from calls to remove him, if not the entire show, from A&E to petitions demanding an end to his suspension from the show, lest they boycott the network, why are politicians weighing in, usually lending their support? Of course you’d have to be living under a rock not to know about his GQ magazine interview housing jaw dropping comments on homosexuality and African Americans, comparing the former to bestiality, even a backhanded reference to terrorism, and stating he never saw mistreatment of the latter under Jim Crow laws, going so far as to say they were happier before “welfare, entitlement.” Still pot stirring loud mouths are nothing new; what gives this such a different feel, what makes this so over the line? Could it be because it is just the latest in a growing number of alarming trends, scenarios warning us human rights, civil rights are in real jeopardy; could it be because this reaches beyond political correctness to the very essence of right and wrong?

To a wide demographic Phil Robertson’s comments on not just gays, lesbians but African Americans as well signal a step backwards in American history; his remarks come at a time of dangerous duality, where on one hand, we are sure of the rights for minority races, creeds, ethnicities after years before, hard fought and won, victories. We have expanded the rights, tolerance levels for those in alternative populations surrounding gender, sexual orientation; however, it is also an era where the Supreme Court struck down a key part of the voting rights act, feeling it was no longer needed, even in the midst of a record number of voter suppression laws effecting primarily minorities, legislation significantly multiplying after the verdict. These hair-raising comments follow shocking declarations from conservatives about identical groups of people; Michele Bachmann stating things were better in times of slavery due to the abundance of two parent homes. Coupled with a conservative push toward an extremist level neo-morality attacking merits related to birth control, full access to reproductive care for women under the healthcare law, things people thought were settled circa 19565. New personhood bills more than challenging, attempting to abolish Roe V. Wade, trying to ban abortion after 20 weeks, disregarding facts most abortions done past that time are for medical reasons indicating something has gone horribly wrong, but going one step further impacting some fertility treatments. The conservative resistance to environmental legislation founded in a religious view of how old the earth is, shouting the science is wrong on that; how can they be trusted regarding global warming? Similarly voting to defund science centered research out of entities like the National Science Foundation because it doesn’t support their religious doctrine.  Representative Bachmann along with former Alaska governor Sara Palin mangling basic history, Glen Beck and Fox News stopping short of announcing a Romney victory in 2012, all deeper entrenches this conservative mindset creating a fractured, near alternative reality, America than the one that is functional and representative of all, or at least a majority. Simultaneously people have grown tired of the conservative/religious narrative, political or not, in the wake of a still struggling economy, high unemployment rate, an even higher long term joblessness rate, government shut downs perpetuated by people so focused on their particular ideology, agenda, pet peeve social ill, they can’t see anything else. People so obviously locked into their tunnel vision that in light of Syria, Iran, our troops still dying overseas, world hunger exc. said individuals are virtually, exclusively screaming from the rooftops about the same tired, dead issues premarital sex, birth control, abortion couched into the neat little box of I was irresponsible and now want to kill my baby so I don’t have to take care of it, homosexuality. American’s are concurrently screaming we get it; you don’t agree. Ok, live let live, but don’t expect to go on TV, sit down for a magazine talking like that and not have someone contradict you, don’t blame us for thinking in the 21st century some thought patters should be long done away with. That has to be where some of the backlash originates separate from various advocacy agencies’ and pinpointed group members’ vehement responses.         

No, it isn’t the first time an interview with a celebrity, TV personality, famous person has generated controversial content or said person has shot their mouth off to headline making results; radio shock jocks have been doing that since they came on air. Most would not be surprised Robertson, with his conservative views, had something to say about homosexuality, considering the Supreme Court ruling on DOMA (the defense of marriage act), the increasing number of states voting to legalize same sex marriage. Neither is it just he that called homosexuality a sin, implied they will go to hell for their same sex practices; evangelical preachers, Christian teachers have been doing that for years, whether on a talk show, TV special or on their own programing aired across both broadcast and cable networkers. Nor does it come down to homosexuality being the only sin mentioned by the now embattled star, for indeed he rattled off misdeeds from fornication, drunkenness, swindling, to name but a few. It’s that when asked what he deemed sinful, he started with homosexuality; as if, in the wake of the anniversary of Newtown, accounting for headline stories about, say the Tupelo armed robbery turned killing spree, the bride who reportedly shoved her husband off a cliff, a number of rape cases igniting debate on “the rape culture in America,” homosexuality is the first and the worst thing he could think of. Countering the bestiality compression, and make no mistake it was, at the very least, a subliminal, subconscious comparison whether the words “morph out from there” were included or not; he wasn’t just listing sexual perversions the bible speaks against, he began with homosexuality deliberately placed bestiality next, before moving on to sleeping around. Yet is more than confronting an arguably overstated inaccuracy; instead going to why bestiality is wrong and illegal vs. why homosexuality is thought wrong and remains illegal throughout pockets of the country. Both laws and ideals have their foundation in this country’s Christian roots, both have been called unnatural, seen as gross, disgusting, even disease spreading, however; bestiality is prohibited under law because it can spread disease not normally found in human populations, transmit human diseases not normally found in animal populations, dire circumstances for endangered varieties. Sex with animals is also logically categorized as traumatizing, hurtful and abusive to the animal on top of being solely for the gratification, pleasure of a higher order being (humanity), who can find aforementioned pleasure elsewhere not involving lower order, innocent animals. Addressing purely legal concerns, there is likewise no way to obtain consent from an animal. Conversely any sexual contact, sans sexual preference, can lead to sexually transmitted diseases, infections; homosexuality is about what two consenting adults choose to do to/with each other, breaking no other laws, and the futility of hauling people off to jail predicated singularly on who they choose to have sex with. A defining parameter in a legal system, code of conduct, set of guidelines, city ordinances on numerous issues separated from exclusively religious rules and regulations.

 Examining the veiled connection made between homosexuals and terrorism, true said reference was a list of persons, groups “without Jesus” including communists, Nazi’s and Islamists, residing a full 6-7 paragraphs, several questions and answers from the sexual sin diatribe; unfortunately, he is reinforcing the concept every person, group with “no Jesus” is not only violent and dangerous morally but in terms of existing in society. Therefore, homosexuals are committing sin with their lifestyle, are without Jesus and are, according to his distinction, dangerous to society, even violent akin to terrorists. Taken into account must be who he is to his community and now to a swath of viewers nationally; he stands as an impromptu pastor, church speaker, local leader and role model. People are going to look at him and think, if it’s ok for him to think like that, speak that way about gay people, about black people using the terms, images he did, it’s ok for me to do as well, hints why the likes of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are so vocal in opposition. Adding fuel to the fire against the Duck Dynasty family leader’s comments is the undisputed fact here is a man who has an openly admitted, colorful past including several of the sins he listed for GQ, drugs, alcohol, infidelity, bar fights. Independent of the redemption, “being born again” the Christian faith attests to conjunctively  being a concept overwhelmingly misconstrued and misunderstood, hearing him talk about his former life and then come out decrying sin, however he characterizes it, smacks of hypocrisy readers, TV viewers, citizens nationwide  have no interest in listening to. Hypocrisy embodied in the following quote: “We never, ever judge someone on who’s going to heaven, hell. That’s the Almighty’s job. We just love ’em, give ’em the good news about Jesus—whether they’re homosexuals, drunks, terrorists. We let God sort ’em out later, you see what I’m saying?” Aside from the eerie correlation to a Marylyn Manson lyric that reads: let’s just kill everyone and let your god sort them out, at first glance, appearances lead news watchers to the conclusion his words were manipulated to make the let god sort them out portion sound more negative than it is, drawing direct suppositions between the two based on similarity to, and popularity of, the second quote, but hold on. Looking at the actual article text, here is a quote about giving people the good news of Jesus, supporting their family credo involving loving god, each other, their idea that should extend to all mankind, when not 2 paragraphs earlier you were not only condemning certain individuals as sinful but putting homosexuality, bestiality in the same sentence, homosexuality and terrorism far too close to each other to avoid sparking reasonable outrage. Except, the good news of Jesus is not encompassed in a laundry list of what is sinful; groups of people at odds with god, the good news of Jesus is about the reality of a savior, everyone needs one and you have the opportunity to get to him. Except, you’re not loving anyone into the kingdom, helping change anyone’s mind, progressing anyone’s moral enlightenment presenting your beliefs that way. Having the exact opposite effect, it sounds almost like you’re announcing you’re going to continue to be obnoxious, crude and let god sort it out.

More than the NAACP, the Human Rights Campaign justifiably calling the statements about black America dangerously revisionist, more than doubting his perceptions in the pre-civil rights south about what was or wasn’t mistreatment, just as owning a person was still morally wrong under the ‘legality’ of slavery; purposefully creating a population of second class citizens, second class human beings with whites only eateries, public restrooms, drinking fountains, public bus seats, schools was, is and always will be wrong. Especially when that class distinction is instituted on such an arbitrary factor as the color of your skin, not the content of your character, the sum of your actions, choices. To say nothing of the reason blacks refrained from being openly hostile, name calling to white people, in the time and area Phil grew up in, is because doing so would have potentially gotten them arrested, at bare minimum, harassed by whites who were allowed to treat them little better than animals, often worse directly in public view. Adjacently, regardless of who he didn’t see singing the blues, dissidence grew to culminate in the civil rights movement; not to be forgotten is legislation on food stamps, food acts aimed at ensuing people didn’t go hungry, starve didn’t come to complete fruition until 1965-70, the same with many aspects related to how modern day social security functions, though the programs began in the 1930’s under FDR.  Meaning, of course there wasn’t any “welfare, entitlement,” because it hadn’t been fully actualized yet, having no bearing on the need for the programs as they now operate, a need not isolated among only African Americans. Next unclear from either the interviewing reporter or Robertson himself, definitions of what he meant by welfare or entitlement; politicians and critics use the first one to mean a range of programs temporary aid to needy families, food stamps, the second to include social security, Medicare even Medicaid.  Bringing us to the crux of advocates’ issue, tone; implications we should go back to not possessing provisions to help the poor, destitute among us, we should go back pre-civil rights society because having those rights has led to an inflated sense of entitlement, feeding the perception all African Americans, a majority are on welfare, the problem with welfare is black people too stupid/lazy to work. Never mind statistics show a greater number of whites are receiving food stamps than blacks, Hispanics or Asians, working does not preclude the need for certain types of assistance, specifically food stamps, as nearly half of those on this nutrition program have a job, others are retirees, social security recipients, disabled persons, but let’s all be like Newt Gingrich, and now Phil Robertson, contorting the concept into our neat little box regardless of reality.

Click to read complete GQ interview

Consideration too must be given to who these people are, perhaps of greater importance than who they’re not; these are not persons, a family that fashioned themselves for the purpose of getting on television, who project a persona while on television for the sake of ratings, continued seasons of their program. These people are franchise, brand, business-owners who got extraordinarily lucky in being able to mass sell their product and turn that product into the show we see. Part of the appeal is these people are real; their opinions are real, genuine, causing the biggest problem. In the post-race dominated societal conversation after president Obama, in the midst of a post racial darkness south that likes to believe it no longer has racism, racial tension, “a race problem,” there is Phil Robertson and his comments. Again coming on the heels of other red flag, disbelieving incidents, the recorded phone call by a Florida pizza customer whose delivery driver accidentally pocket dialed him while lying to his passenger about not getting a tip then proceeds to sing derogatory, crass songs about African Americans using the N word several times left on the customers voicemail, the Cheerios ad advertising cereal with a bi-racial family moment setting social media aflame with venom laced backlash, one school’s prom desegregated as late as spring 2013, equality statutes circumvented because it was held by private venues, in another southern state. Outside the south, known for its problems, there’s stop and frisk in New York brought to the height of public attention when a deli employee frisked successful African American actor Forest Whitaker. Ironically parallels between the equality fight waged by African Americans and gay rights create a powerful argument in favor of the latter; changing our vocabulary on gay people equates to removing the N word from acceptable speech, equates to removing the word retarded from federal documents. We removed the N word because it was wrong to refer to black people in such a debasing manner; President Obama removed the word retarded where he could, indicating other areas should do the same, because it is wrong to refer to variously challenged individuals in a way that will immediately marginalize them. Additionally we currently have a better grasp on what effects people with learning challenges, delays in cognitive function leading to the term developmentally delayed that, both better explains their condition and is far less demeaning. Exactly why entities like GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) are highly upset; they are not demanding uber political correctness, especially not from cable TV. Yet they see these statements encouraging the violence, hate, harassment many encounter, endure daily in their country supposedly founded on freedom; freedom that means them too. And in the tumult of gay rights issues across the globe France in early 2013, the winter Olympics coming up in Russia, threats to gay athletes, Uganda voting to make homosexuality a crime punishable with jail time, Nigeria set to follow suite as of November, one such African nation making it a criminal offence not to report a gay person as gay, report consensual homosexual activity, coupled with clear resistance still at home, here is Phil Robertson and his comments.

 Glaringly this was never about freedom of speech, trampling on an individual’s right to that speech; freedom of speech is not an endangered species, no matter which popular politician says so, using twitter to do it might have been a clue. Rather what transpired proceeding the remarks is a little talked about phenomenon known as the consequences of said speech; he is allowed under the constitution to  say what he said and no one has arrested him, attempted to arrest him, threatened him with arrest, any legal action whatsoever. That does not mean however he is guaranteed to keep his television show under the immunity of free speech; subsequently there are laws prohibiting slander, defamation of character, dissemination of known to be inaccurate information. Precedent exists for extracting offensive content, offensive content generators from the airwaves; several talk personalities, entertainers from multiple branches of media have lost their jobs, their programs when their mouth went too far. Don Imas lost his then radio show after name calling a largely black basketball team, Rush Limbaugh was pulled off the air in select cities post calling Sandra Fluke a slut completely opposite of the testimony given to a congressional panel on women’s issues, access to contraception, Alec Baldwin lost his CNN show after an anti-gay slur, Mel Gibson and Michael Richards have lost fans plus employment opportunities in the aftermath of comments on Jews, blacks respectively and a PR manager was just fired after tweeting about returning to South Africa jokingly hoping she didn’t get AIDS; stating she wouldn’t because she was white. Long before political correctness, morals clauses regulators, advisory boards have debated and restricted language, violence, sex on television, usually spearheaded by conservatives, extending to interviews given for entrainment programs, via print media. Notice when the shoe is on the other foot is when the proverbial stuff hits the fan. Never was this about freedom of religion, obstructing that right; again he is free to practice his religion to his heart’s content, is free to preach his religion to any and all willing to listen, free to mention, talk at length about, his religion to any media interested in recording it in a variety of ways. He was not targeted because of his religious beliefs, because they decry homosexuality or a dependence on welfare, because they pray at the dinner table in the name of Jesus, they do catholic blessings on the hit drama Blue Bloods without so much as a peep from pro-atheism entities. People’s objection was to the blatant using of religion to promote inflammatory, borderline hate speech in the name of god. A&E’s decision to bring back the show with every member, intertwined with the why (money), after taking such a strong stance in favor of the slighted groups, then watering down their position promising public service announcements on tolerance and inclusion seems to vindicate all offended parties’ concerns.

For those who think this is much ado about nothing, a situation, “controversy” to be ignored, no worse than what we have come to expect from television, particularly the genre called reality TV, multitudes of regular people would have you reconsider. To them Phil Robertson is the living personification of a whole negative package, stereotypical of gun toting, redneck, backwoods lifestyles, uncouth, unwashed, racist, ignorant, bigoted, ill-educated; all helped along by his appearance, the abundance of facial hair, state of his clothing, consumption of squirrel meat, frogs legs. Totaling the experience, he then opened his bearded maw and spoke; not only speaking, but speaking in an amalgamation of the most coarse, vulgar language you can get away with in mainstream print media. Piling on to the negative energy that is concurrently Phil Robertson, is that the controversy doesn’t end; a new year brings yet another new video carrying eye popping opinions, this time on women saying in part, “you have to get them, marry them young 15, 16; you get them at 20 the only picking that gunna happen is your pocket book.” It isn’t that this isn’t his first instance denouncing gays, most can get behind homosexuality as at least not their cup of tea, understand a filmed sermon vs. a magazine interview, can respect opinions out of a house of worship, even if it’s not their own. Tying blacks and into it gets admittedly too dicey even if they agree there is a misuse of assistance, an entitlement culture in full swing. But the comments on when to marry a girl, not a woman, sound too much like pedophilia for one and religious cult practices a-la Warren Jeffs for two. It’s that where DOMA was struck down, gay marriage is legalized in more places daily, forget what homosexuals really want is same respect given anyone else, stop and frisk was limited by a judge, no one is doing anything in this case. Even with the latest video A&E intends to go ahead with the show because it is a cash cow. Result, it’s what people will extrapolate from his words, the undeniable outcome they will use it as an excuse to denigrate blacks, be violent, intolerant and discriminatory to gays and now female members of the population. That’s why every single American, every human being should care about the goings on of reality TV.