On Phil, A&E, Freedom, and Urban versus Rural America

Some of my left-leaning Facebook friends (yes, I do have a few) have been posting memes about the alleged hypocrisy of the “red state” folks regarding the recent controversies about Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame being fired by A&E and some people talking about it as a “freedom of speech” issue.

This is from the page “Being Liberal.” For lack of a better word, “Duh.” That’s not what we’re saying.

Here’s another from “The Beer Party”:

Again, I’d agree, insofar as what *some* people are saying, but most people I’ve read are acknowledging this.

In fact, I’d say there are some interesting parallels between the “Dixie Chicks” controversy and Phil Robertson. First, the difference, in part, is that the Dixie Chicks were not fired by their publisher; Phil Robertson was. Secondly, the Dixie Chicks are singers. I don’t generally like it when singers or actors take positions on “issues,” or force their audiences to support their “causes,” regardless if I agree with them. However, Robertson is in that strange amorphous zone known as “reality TV,” which is about as “real” as professional wrestling. He entertains people (I’ve never seen his show) with a certain persona, and it has become clear over the past few years that a) he’s a Christian, b) he’s a conservative, c) A&E doesn’t like that, and d) audiences do.

The Dixie Chicks took some flack for mocking the president, and in *that* respect it’s hypocritical of “Red Staters” in terms of criticism of Bush versus criticism of Obama. Their careers have gone on just fine. They never got fired. However, the situation is the same in that both cases involve the media not “getting” the “Red State”/”Flyover State” public. It’s an issue that goes back for decades, if not for all of history, in entertainment: “Town Mouse and Country Mouse,” as it were. “Country Come to Town” is a subgenre of American literature. In the 1960s, the TV industry produced lots of “rural comedies” like _The Andy Griffith Show_, _Green Acres_, _The Beverly Hillbillies_, etc., that were supposed to ridicule “country bumpkins,” but people *identified* with the characters.

Then there was the “rural purge” and the rise of liberal ideology-promoting “urban comedies”, mostly from Norman Lear. When _All in the Family_ came along, there was a Hollywood stereotype of an urban blue-collar conservative in Archie Bunker as exaggerated as the redneck stereotypes of the rural comedies, pitted against the liberal hero, son-in-law Michael Stivic (Rob Reiner), forever known to the public as “Meathead,” which symbolizes the public’s reaction to the show: they liked Archie and hated “Meathead,” the opposite of Lear’s intention.

Flannery O’Connor’s discussion of how professors interpret “A Good Man is Hard to Find” applies here:

I’ve talked to a number of teachers who use this story in class and who tell their students that the Grandmother is evil, that in fact, she’s a witch, even down to the cat. One of these teachers told me that his students and particularly his Southern students, resisted this interpretation with a certain bemused vigor, and he didn’t understand why. I had to tell him that they resisted it because they all had grandmothers or great-aunts just like her at home, and they knew, from personal experience, that the old lady lacked comprehension, but that she had a good heart. The Southerner is usually tolerant of those weaknesses that proceed from innocence, and he knows that a taste for self-preservation can be readily combined with the missionary spirit.

That sums up the conflict that has always existed between the “elites” in the “big cities” of the Northeast and the “Left Coast,” versus the “Red State” “rednecks” (a term which, interestingly enough, used to refer to Southern Democrats, farm workers who had “red necks” because of working in the sun).

That gets us back to this Phil Robertson fellow. His recent interview with GQ has been well discussed. In short, he talked about his sinful youth, as he has done before, and how he “found Jesus,” and how he believes (rightly) that we all need Jesus’ grace to be healed of our sin. Then he paraphrased the “controversial” passage of 1 Corinthians 6:9-11:

9
* Do you not know that the unjust will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers nor boy prostitutes* nor sodomitesc
10
nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God.
11
That is what some of you used to be; but now you have had yourselves washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

(emphasis added)
As my friend Kevin O’Brien has pointed out, homosexuality seems to have “Most Favored Sin” status in our culture. Or, as Jay Leno apparently put it, ” Gay people are upset with him. Then he went on to criticize adulterers, drunks and swindlers, and now Congress is mad at him. So the guy just can’t win.”

I’ve never watched _Duck Dynasty_ and I’ve never read _GQ_, but from the quotations of the interview that are all over http://www.amazon.com/Holocaust-Childlike-The-Progress-Spiritual/dp/1492895474/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1387218063&sr=8-1&keywords=holocaust+of+the+childlike Net, I don’t see the problem.
Yes, some of his phrasing was a bit crude, but that fits with his persona and intended audience (both on his show and _GQ_).  It was also arguably “The Emperor’s  New Clothes” principle: he’s in trouble for stating the obvious.  Again, he said it in the context of “sin is illogical.”  He probably could have made a better argument for “theology of the body,” but I don’t know enough about him to know if that was (as some say) his own lack of sophistication or his intentional persona.

People are saying he implies that homosexuals engage in “bestiality” because he presents a (very true) slippery slope argument about society’s tolerance of sin.

He is accused of “equating gays with terrorists” because he says he loves all people, regardless of who they are or what they do.  He is accused of “hate speech” by saying that he doesn’t judge anyone’s souls but wants everyone to know  Jesus.  Oh, and, while he was clearly fired for offending the GLBTQXYZ lobby  (which at most accounts for 18 million Americans, is most realistically 9 million and that includes statistics on anyone who has ever had a “same sex relationship”), some people have accused him of “racism” for saying that when he was a farm worker (again, a literal “red neck”) in the 60s, he didn’t see his African American co-workers being treated any worse than whites–at worst, an ignorant statement but hardly meant in hate.

But, again, even if it means cancelling what is supposedly the highest-rated show in the history of cable, TPTB are so literally hell-bent on pushing their agenda that they will sacrifice views and even advertisers rather than sacrifice their agenda.

So, no, this is not, strictly speaking, a First Amendment/Free Speech issue.  It’s a free market issue.  A&E had every right, theoretically, to fire Robertson, and the viewers and advertisers had the right to react according to their positions.  Robertson will do fine.  He’s a millionaire.  He has already garnered a national following and is circulating the “mega-churches.”  This publicity has increased his status.  He reportedly already has offers from Fox News and Glenn Beck’s “the Blaze” network.  He’s going to do fine, just as the Dixie Chicks have done fine.

What worries me, and many others, is the double standard the media apply to these situations.  Look at all the controversy about suppression of speech online (again, it’s “Facebook [or whichever entity] has the right to suppress users’ speech”).  Where does that end?

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One response to “On Phil, A&E, Freedom, and Urban versus Rural America

  1. Pingback: On Phil, A&E, Freedom, and Urban versus Rural America | ChristianBookBarn.com

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