MEDIA DECEMBER 19, 2013
You don't have to watch "Duck Dynasty" to have an attitude, but in the next 48 hours or so, it will probably help. Once again a conservative voice was publicly chided for supporting views critical of homosexuals.
Today's supposed victim is Phil Robertson, star of the A&E reality TV series "Duck Dynasty," who in a GQ profile issued familiar Evangelical condemnations of homosexuality while demonstrating an inability to understand that gay and straight people aren't attracted to the same organs.
"It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man's anus. That's just me," said Robertson, which, well, duh. This is no more offensive than a gay man explaining that he finds the whole straight fascination with boobs mystifying. But Robertson went on to say, "But hey, sin: It's not logical, my man. It's just not logical." And: "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."
To most people, that might sound merely like a list of what Robertson finds disgusting, but it's awfully redolent of Rick Santorum's notion that homosexuality is a gateway perversion that leads to "man on dog." And even if Robertson doesn't mean to suggest that homosexuality is the first step down a path of ever deepening perversion, at the very least he's equating two consenting adults demonstrating affection for each other with the sexual violation of a dumb beast that cannot consent to anything.
A&E suspended Robertson on Wednesday, which means it's time for conservatives to boycott A&E or vengefully only watch "Duck Dynasty" reruns. If this sounds familiar, it's because it comes from the same playbook as last year's right-wing imperative to binge-eat fried sandwiches for 24 hours to spite liberals and homosexuals somehow.
All of which is funny, for various reasons. You could find the usual suspects erupting over Twitter and Facebook late last night. Today the story tops Matt Drudge's glower aggregator, and Bobby Jindal has already gone on record equating dehumanizing homosexuals with Miley Cyrus' tacky MTV Video Music Awards ass-seizure.
We've also seen the rare false true equivalency. You could pick tweets from any of the surprisingly employed message-board trolls featured on the aptly named Twitchy, but in a pinch let's take Dana Loesch:
So @AETV caves to groups that excused Alec Baldwin for "toxic little queen" (and other actual slurs) slams Robertson for Scripture?— Dana Loesch (@DLoesch) December 19, 2013
Loesch quotes, as evidence of a free pass, Alec Baldwin's indisputably repellent and stupid characterization of a reporter as a "toxic little queen," but omits mention of when he allegedly called a paparazzo a "cocksucking fag," a comment for which he was terminated by MSNBC. The queen comment came when Baldwin was unemployed and when the negative publicity of it could expand and then dissipate unrelated to any programming bottom line; had Robertson made his comments when he was not a representative of a network, likely no one would have cared, but, rightly or wrongly, the public now perceives him as a voice related to one. The strangest thing here is that it would have taken Loesch less effort to claim that Baldwin and Robertson were equivalent—both cable stars saying something marginalizing gays and paying a price—than it did to go further back in the timeline and cry injustice.
Nor could this incident pass without an exasperating misunderstanding of the First Amendment. If you feel like gorging at a smorgasbord of intellectual despair, help yourself to the comments on Sarah Palin's Facebook post about Robertson's suspension. Palin writes, "Free speech is an endangered species. Those 'intolerants' hatin' and taking on the 'Duck Dynasty' patriarch for voicing his personal opinion are taking on all of us." It's not just Palin who gets free speech wrong but hundreds of the thousands of responders. One commenter wasted no time being victimized: "Christians don't have any freedoms or free speech." Another had no trouble reading a theological message into A&E's conduct (everything sic'd): "So now the bible is wrong. Phil only spoke what the bible said. You're ruining the country with your that offends me and u can't say that bullshit get over it. It's called freedom of religion freedom of speech. Drop A and E guys show them who is boss."
This is enervating for multiple reasons. Many of the same people quoting a part of the Constitution that declares that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion" would very much like Congress to do just that, by appealing to the Bible to justify the criminalization of much if not all of the private lives of homosexuals. Furthermore, A&E is a private company, and private companies have enormous latitude in terms of punishing employees for their speech. In fact, due partly to pro-business and anti-union legislation pushed by Republicans, employers can not only intimidate you into voting a particular way and punish you for political speech around fellow employees, you can sometimes even be "commanded to pee or forbidden to pee."
This last part provides the blackest source of humor in the entire "Duck Dynasty" affair, because if anything has defined the conservative movement in the last decade outside of fearing Arabs, voiding brown people's voter IDs, and interfering in homosexuals' lives, it's submitting uncritically to the market—what A&E is most worried about.
A&E's reasoning seems fairly basic, albeit oblique, in their official statement. "[Robertson's] personal views in no way reflect those of A&E Networks, who have always been strong supporters and champions of the LGBT community." However arcane their calculus, A&E's thought process is doubtless that, though their most popular show might depict Evangelical red-staters with back-country folkways, the network's overall demographics include enough gay viewers or gay-positive viewers that losing them hurts the bottom line more than losing the Chick-fil-A-huffing conservative-victimization complex. Heck, as RedState’s Erick Erickson retweeted, Nancy Pelosi is a fan. The biggest fan of the show I know—the only person who has sat me down and made me watch it with him—is my father, a Silicon Valley broker who hasn't voted for a Republican in a quarter century.
The fun paradox at work is that you can't have a slavish devotion to the market and then cry foul when a rational actor makes a market decision in what they presume is their best interest. Rational actor theory is always amusing to hear from religious conservatives—you can't find a worse example of it than Jesus—but it's especially so here. Because it's hard to avoid the sense that a lot of this outrage stems from people who style themselves as market players being told, summarily, that the market power of gay consumers is simply more important than they are.