The Duck Dynasty boys, Phil Robertson pictured center. Photo from GQ
I’ve tried my damnedest to steer clear of this internet conversation. I’m not a fan of Duck Dynasty, I’ve never even watched the show. I haven’t had cable in years and enjoy being able to pick and choose what I watch when I want to watch it through various online streaming sites. That means that I have been pretty much blissfully ignorant of the whole Duck Dynasty thing. I hear bits and pieces from friends, relatives and customers who watch the show. Usually comments about some of the marketing ploys developed by A&E and advertisers on the show. Chocolates? Wine? Jerky? Really!? Okay, the jerky makes sense….. Frankly, I am getting a little sick of all the camouflage I’ve had to deal with at my bills-paying-job, year round. But that has nothing to do with what I am going to address in this op-ed for Pagan Weekly News.
Phil Robertson is an educated man, as he claims in his exclusive interview with the Daily Mail. He graduated from Louisiana Tech with a bachelors in physical education and a master’s degree in education. Over 40 years ago. He’s business man, a hunter, and a(n) (in)famous reality TV star along with the rest of his hunting family. He and his family struck it rich with a line of duck hunting accessories (Duck Commander). Bully for him and for them! The American dream come true, or something like that.
I’m not going to bore you with the history of the family, nor detail anything about the TV show. You can read all about that on Wikipedia or A&E’s website. If you happen to be someone who watches the show, you probably already know much more than I do. What I am going to do is address the issue that came to the fore front of the American audience’s collective conscience Wednesday the 18th of December, 2013.
On the 18th the January 2014 issue of GQ magazine came out on news stands. In this issue Phil Robertson did an interview with Drew Magary. Of course the interview talks about Duck Commander, Duck Dynasty and some of Robertson’s life not revealed in the TV program. Along the way Robertson voiced his opinion on homosexuality:
Magary asked Robertson: “What, in your mind, is sinful?” Answering, Robertson said: 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.” He added, paraphrasing a Biblical passage from First Corinthians, “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.” Robertson also questioned the appeal of same-sex relationships, particularly amongst men; saying: “It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.” Robertson went on to say “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?”
Sign in West Monroe, Louisiana. Photo from Associated Press
The public cried out and A&E suspended Phil Robertson from the show for an indefinite period, with one episode for the current filming season left to go. And the public cried out again, this time not out of offense for the words and sentiments shared by Phil Robertson, apparently his family, and (unfortunately) millions of Americans. No, this time it was with calls of oppression on the part of A&E, accusations that they were violating Robertson’s First Amendment right to free speech by removing him from the show, even for a short period of time.
Claims of Robertson’s 1st Amendment rights being violated are bull. According to a summary of the 1st Amendment by Cornell Law, “The most basic component of freedom of expression is the right of freedom of speech. The right to freedom of speech allows individuals to express themselves without interference or constraint by the government.” A&E is not the government. They are a private corporation. They can and will decide when an employee (contract or otherwise) will be suspended, terminated from employment or otherwise disciplined for public comments made as a representative of the company.
Since I became a somewhat known public figure, I’ve made it a point to not specifically talk about my bills-paying-job, to not name the company that I work for. I’ve hinted by saying that I work for one the leading retail companies in the United Sates, but I do not name the company. I avoid doing so because I am well aware that my opinions, life choices, and political stances could interfere with my continued employment – I live in Nebraska, after all. A state in which it is perfectly legal to fire someone because they are gay. I host a local news and talk program for the LGBT community, I have to be careful in what I say regarding the radio station as well as what I say on the radio station. Not because I am afraid of reprisals from the station, but because my views and opinions may be offensive to listeners who cannot separate personal views and opinions from those of the board of directors of that station. I, and my cohost, stress when we are expressing our opinions that they are our opinions. We’ve even gone so far as to play a recorded disclaimer when we think that something we are going to say on the air is liable to ruffle some feathers.
Why did I just detail the above? To show that I am aware that as a public figure who works for a private company, as well as one who volunteers at a community radio station, that what I say as a perceived representative of those two entities can lead to my termination of employment or removal from the radio station. Phil Robertson is the patriarch of the Duck Dynasty family, he’s the central figure of the program on A&E. It is reasonably of the public to perceive him as a representative of both Duck Commander (the company he and his family owns) and of A&E whenever he is speaking in public or talking to the media.
Phil Robertson. Photo from A&E
That being said…..
Phil Robertson has every right as a private citizen to say what he said. I may not agree with him, but I can still support his right to freedom of expression. If he had said it as a private citizen. But he did not. He said what he did in an interview with GQ about Duck Dynasty. He was interviewed as a representative of the show, and thus as a representative of A&E. I support the network in suspending him from the show as discipline for giving them a black eye. Frankly, I think it is too little.
One comment to the GQ article I read hints that perhaps it is time for Duck Dynasty to come to an end, and this might just be the beginning of the end for the show. On the 18th, GQ released the article. On the 19th, A&E suspended Robertson. On the 20th, the rest of the Duck Dynasty family said that they would not participate in the filming of the show without their patriarch. However, A&E has said that Phil Robertson will be returning to the program in January and the show will go on … for now.
I welcome your thoughts.
RevKess is the host of Pagan Weekly News, co-host of the Pagan-Musings Podcast, minion on Murphy’s Magic Mess, co-host of Lavender Hill and content manager for PMPChannel. He blogs for Hail Columbia, Pagan Activist and Off the Beaten Path. He reviews books and music for RevKess’s Reviews. Follow him on Facebook.