Cable network A&Esuspended the star of its mega-hit reality show “Duck Dynasty”after the star, Phil Robertson, made some comments in GQ magazine.
Robertson, the patriarch of a Louisiana family that has built a fortune off its participation in the show, blasted homosexuality, bestiality, adultery, and other “sins.” He also said that black people were perfectly happy under the South’s old segregation laws and that he had never personally witnessed any racism.
For obvious reasons, these comments infuriated people.
And A&E reacted the way most corporations react when someone they are associated with makes comments like these: They condemned the remarks and suspended Robertson.
But this action immediately triggered a second outcry. Robertson had merely been expressing his religious beliefs! The bible says that homosexuality is a sin! By suspending Robertson, A&E had effectively insulted all Christians! Sarah Palin quickly capitalised on the opportunity, as did other politicians. A Facebook page that advocated boycotting A&E immediately got more than 900,000 “likes.”
Meanwhile, the Robertson family put out a statement saying that it has “spent much time in prayer since learning of A&E’s decision” and that Robertson is a God-loving man who is now being punished for “expressing his faith.” Although it is amusing to imagine that the newly enriched Robertson family might have been praying that A&E would not cancel the show, the implicit threat was clear: If A&E doesn’t reconsider its decision, the family might take its celebrity and viewership elsewhere.
So, should A&E have suspended Robertson?
It’s obvious why the network suspended him. (Because the comments presumably offended millions of more tolerant viewers, executives, and advertisers and threatened to cost the network money.)
But is suspension really the best response?
Might it not be healthier and more helpful for all involved for the A&E to have branded Robertson a closed-minded troglodyte and condemned his remarks… but observed that Duck Dynasty is a “reality show” and let him air his views?
The reality, after all, is that lots of people in America — including many A&E viewers — agree with Robertson. Robertson’s comments, in fact, are a real reflection of what the commentator Josh Barro has described as “two Americas.”
If these “two Americas” are ever to better understand each other, might it not be better to agree that sunlight is the best disinfectant and just have these conversations openly on a national level? If Robertson is reviled and mocked for his remarks, including on the show, wouldn’t this move mutual understanding along? Would it not make great reality TV for A&E to follow Robertson around on a media-apology tour in which he is forced to interact with gay people and explain to them why he feels they are “full of murder”? That would certainly make for interesting viewing!
In any event, the reality is that, unfortunately, Robertson is expressing views held by tens of millions of Americans. Firing him for expressing those views when he ostensibly works for a “reality show” would seem to be a lost opportunity to move the national dialogue along.
Aaron Task and I discussed this issue on Yahoo’s Daily Ticker this morning…
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