by Glenn Littrell
UPDATED: see ** section below (9-7-14)
Too begin with let me make it very clear that I have until recently had no clue as to who Phil Robertson was. I have never watched his A&E TV show Duck Dynasty.
I don’t watch as much TV these days as the quality of TV programming has decreased much faster as the number of options has increased. Four 24-hour news channels has resulted in less news not more, less information not more, and less truth not more. The Movie channel is no longer 24 hours of movies, its made for TV zombies, mobsters, meth makers, and Ad men. The History Chanel shows no History, religious channels are now political channels, religious shows are slanted news, news is commentary, children's TV is teenie-bopper sex pots and endless sugar drenched cereal and candy commercials, and the Discovery Chanel no longer discovers anything.*
My original fondness for Survivor and The Amazing Race being the exception I have found the abundance of reality TV shows has been the greatest catalyst to the absence of quality TV shows. Reality TV shows are cheap and easy to produce. Were Survivor and The Amazing Race possessed an element of real physical and mental competition to go along with suspense and drama sometimes manufactured by editing and coaching most reality shows that followed rely on over manufactured drama through editing and coaching with the competition element reduced to irrelevant silliness.
Duck Dynasty. As I've said I’ve never watched it and in spite of my soon to follow criticism of it let me be clear that I will probably never watch it. Many have recommended that I watch it and many would say that I shouldn’t judge the show if I haven’t watched it, but to be clear my criticism of the show is not based on its content, which would require me to watch it, but on its premise. None of us have the time to check out every new show on TV so we make judgments and decide based on the premise, or theme of the upcoming new show. That theme is presented to us in the form of previews and reviews. It is these previews that convinced me that Duck Dynasty was a show I would not watch. Why, because the previews presented it as a mix of the the shows described in the preceding paragraph. A reality show with no competition and nothing but manufactured drama and selective editing to present people in the worst, degrading or at least bad light that catered to stereotypes that could be used to attract viewers.
In this case the stereotype was of southern (hill folk, swamp folk, poor folk, etc.) of low intelligence and resources who accidently run a successful business. Is this how the show plays out? I don’t know, but that is certainly how the previews of the show did. This wasn’t going to be a show about successful businessmen. This was a show about stereotypes, a show about some ‘ya-whoos’ that struck it rich. “Beverly Hillbillies 2012”.
I have no interest in finding out if Duck Dynasty, or Honey Boo Boo, Swamp People, The real House Wives of…wherever, Jersey Shore, or any other stereotype promoting show has any redeeming value. If the presentation of any show is that of promoting a stereotype of any group of people you will find that negative stereotypes will draw more attention than positive ones.
Could I be wrong about any of these shows content, yes, but that is not because of my own prejudices, it is because of the producers presentation of those shows (their titles alone suggest the stereotypes). I have been wrong before, case in point is the show Snake Salvation. Its presentation, while not totally absent of stereotypical imagery, presents previews that at least suggest a thoughtful presentation of Jamie Coots and Andrew Hamblin and their beliefs. While I am perplexed by some of their beliefs I respect their devotion and on the occasions that I have stumbled upon the show I have found it enlightening. I gave it a chance and was pleasantly surprised.
What does my opinion of these show have to do with the controversy over Phil Robertson, his remarks, firing, and free speech? Two things:
- What did he expect? Manufactured drama and controversy is the bread and butter of these “day in the life of…” reality shows. Hadn’t he ever seen one of these shows. He had complained about the editing and of A&E bleeping non-profanity words to give the illusion that they cursed more than they did. Didn’t he get it! This is manufactured reality, not real reality, and he played along. Until he went off script.
- Did he not understand that he was contracted to play a role? His TV character was supposed to be real and if so either he was in character 24 hours a day or the TV character was really him. It’s the equivalent of selling your soul to the devil… you can’t just say never mind, and for this he was handsomely rewarded. Remember the Seinfeld Episode where Kramer sold his stories to Peaderman? He then had no stories to tell.
As always I am perplexed by the continued need for American Christians to portray themselves as an oppressed people in a country where they themselves claim to be in the majority, a country they call Christian in the same breath that they condemn fellow Christians who even slightly disagree with them.
Of course the Christians as victims is a narrative promoted and trumpeted by the thought police, or word police, at FOXNews, as they and the Conservative Right-Wing promote their own version of ‘Political Correctness’
Who portrayed Phil in the worst way?
Had the producers of the show chosen to edit and manufacture an image of Phil as a homophobic racist I would have imagined that Phil would have objected, based on what little I know of him.
And there is the irony.
Phil's beliefs were well known and documented prior to the incident (browse YouTube). If his publicly stated Christian beliefs were the problem for A&E then he would probably been fired long before this incident. Was Phil fired for statements about his religious beliefs? Or was he fired because his statement (accurately or not) manufactured an image of a homophobic racist Phil? I think it is the later.
There was a line that could be crossed and Phil chose to cross it. A line that would terminate his contractual obligation to A&E. He crossed a line with his employer and was fired. This is the same line that Paula Dean, Alec Baldwin, and Martin Bashi crossed.*
Over the last few years of recession and unemployment I have seen more tears shed over celebrities being fired for crossing those lines than have been shed for millions of workers who have been fired/laid off from jobs even though they have never crossed that line. Recently Congress failed to extend unemployment benefits for those people, people who were workers, not deadbeats. Maybe you belief that he was fired for his Christian beliefs, well many of those workers were Christian and virtually all of them were not like Phil, Dean, Baldwin, and Bashi who are millionaires with celebrity and businesses to fall back on (not to mention royalties and separation settlements).
Phil, Dean, Baldwin, and Bashi were all fired and in my opinion rightfully so, While I don’t disagree with the point some off them may have been trying to make I believe they crossed the line in what they actually said. In all four cases it was offensive and inappropriate. I also believe Myley Cyrus should have been punished for her vulgar display, but her employer is hardly concerned with being ‘appropriate’. The careers of Phil, Dean, Baldwin, and Bashi are not ended and they will not end up in the unemployment line so don’t cry for them.*
*Don’t know the controversy surrounding these people? Think one of them but not the others shouldn’t have been fired? Well then the odds are that this isn’t really about free speech, fairness or equal treatment. It might be about whether you like what they said or not or their removal upsets your TV schedule. If they all didn’t have a right to say it none of them did… that’s how rights work.
Do you know what free speech is?
In spite of tirades by Bobby Jindal, Sarah Palin and talk radio this is not a free speech issue. The government did not step in and fire Phil, an employer did so. Our free speech rights do not protect us from ramifications of violating our employee-employer contracts. You would think that politicians and radio talking heads would know the limits of free speech protections, but then you would think that if they defended Phil's right to speak his mind they would have defended Alec Baldwin and Martin Bashi’s right to do the same, but they didn’t. Not only did they not do so they actually led the charge to have them fired.
Freedom of Speech: The legal means to say what you want, but even that right comes with some restrictions. Your right is to be free from government censorship.
We're free to be racist, bigots, anti-Semitic--most anything we want, and that’s how Phil portrayed himself in that interview.
But that doesn't mean within a society we won't face consequences for those "freedoms." If he gets locked up for saying it, then cry to us about an attack on free speech.
Freedom of speech means we can say anything we want but does not guarantee us protection from social ramifications, such as disagreement from our peers or ramifications from our employers in contractual situations.
Mr. Robertson faces no legal ramifications for what he said. That's freedom of speech.
This is NOT an attack on Robertson's right to believe how he wants. It's a consequence from an employer for him expressing an opinion which sheds A&E in a negative light.
When he signed his contract, it almost certainly includes a clause that says he's a representative of A&E and is expected to act accordingly.
** Updated 9-7-14
In regards to Phil’s ‘convert or die’ statements, if this is his version of Christianity then shouldn’t Christians be offended?
“While Robertson’s sentiment resonates with a lot of people, especially conservatives stirred to outrage by gruesome videos of alleged beheadings and alleged threats to “America,” we must step back for a moment and check our reaction.
On the surface of this quotation, Robertson’s response is little more than the doctrine of the very Islamic “thugs on steroids” he would confront. “Convert them or kill them,” is no different than the classic Islamic battle cry: “convert or die!” Is this really the response Christians should have? Is this what the Bible teaches? Is this even what the allegedly harsh and outdated Old Testament ethic for war would prescribe?
by Glenn Littrell
*Evidently Phil has been returned to the Duck Dynasty lineup… still won’t watch it.
*Another contributing factor to the demise of quality TV is the Jerry Springer, Maury Povich, and Cheaters brand of sensationalism shows. These shows specialize in taking so-called regular people and presenting them at their worst, encourage them to be loud, exaggerated, uninhibited, and violent. All in an attempt to obtain their 15 minutes of fame, or sense of celebrity, regardless of how ignorant or emotionally draining the experience may become. It is no accident that the people appearing on these shows do not reflect debate skills, intellectual arguments, thoughtful analysis, or any indication of education. They do however reflect a need to be on TV. This is not a condemnation of regular people, it is a condemnation of the shows selection process which obviously does not seek out Rhodes scholars. The show seeks out the most preposterous guest, the ones most likely to get loud and confrontational and the ones least likely to demonstrate conflict resolution skills. The shows are not about conflict resolution or problem solving, they are about presenting people at their worst to attract viewers who want to see others at their worst. There is no redeeming value here for either the guest or the viewer.