We begin with a couple of disclaimers: first, I have never watched a single episode of "Duck Dynasty," and until a couple of days ago knew nothing about it other than the fact that it was some kind of A&E reality show featuring a bunch of Louisiana Bayou good-old-boys who looked like ZZ Top's poor relations. (Ironically, 12 hours after writing this introductory sentence, I learned that the show's theme song happens to be ZZ Top's "Sharp Dressed Man.")
A second disclaimer: I am not now nor have I ever been a duck hunter, and really don't know much about the creatures, save Cairina moschata -- the Muscovy Duck -- a particularly ill-favored member of the Anatidae family which waddles around every inland waterway here in South Florida.
And third, I have never read any of the Duck Dynasty's best-sellers, which, I've learned, include Happy, Happy Happy: My Life and Legacy as the Duck Commander; The Duck Commander Family: How Faith, Family, and Ducks Built a Dynasty; The Duck Commander Devotional and the latest, SI-COLOGY 101 Tales & Wisdom From Duck Dynasty's Favorite Uncle.
What has led me to delve into and learn as much as I have about Duck Dynasty, the Robertsons and their Bayou worldview is, of course, the various comments "Duck Commander" Phil Robertson recently unburdened himself of to GQ writer Drew Margary for an article entitled What is a Duck? When asked "What, in your mind is sinful?" Phil told writer Margary: "Begin with homosexual behavior and then just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and those men." Continuing this line of reasoning, Robertson added: "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 . . . But hey, sin: It's not logical, my man. It's just not logical."
Elsewhere in the interview, Phil Robertson said that growing up in pre-Civil Rights Louisiana he "never . . . saw the mistreatment of any black person" and that black people were happy (happier?) back then: "Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.
As soon as news of the GQ article began making the rounds, it raised -- for better or for worse-- a firestorm of controversy. Within less than 24 hours, A&E suspended Phil Robertson indefinitely, despite the program's estimated 14 million weekly viewers. Such conservative political stalwarts as Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and Former Alaska Governor Sara Palin roundly condemned A&E's action, claiming it to be a clear and unwarranted violation of Phil Robertson's constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of speech -- a violation they firmly believed was laced with the worst, most obvious strain of anti-Christian bias. Palin went so far as to post a photo of herself with the Robertsons and then tweet:
"Free speech is endangered species; those 'intolerants' hatin' & taking on Duck Dynasty patriarch for voicing personal opinion take on us all."
But Palin, the "Quitter from Wasilla," and the rest of her BBFs are firing blanks at targets well out of their range. A&E did not suspend the Duck Commander because they hate Christians or relish depriving him of his First Amendment rights. Rather, A&E -- a profit-making media company -- acted in the manner it did because Robertson's off-the-wall comments were about to imperil its relationship with advertisers.
And whether you agree or disagree with what A&E has done, it is nothing new. . .
Back in 1950, advertisers began blacklisting actors and actresses whose names were listed in Red Channels, the so-called "Bible of Madison Ave." Their fear was that employing thespians who had a reputation for being "left," or "pink" might hinder sales of their products. Actress Jean Muir (1911-1996) was likely the first such sacrificial lamb.
Muir had been chosen to play a continuing role on The Aldrich Family, a popular television program of the time. When NBC received a number of telephone calls -- "more than 20 but less than 30," according to a network executive -- objecting to Muir's employment, General Foods, the show's sponsor pulled the plug. They simply didn't want to offend even as few as two dozen possible consumers. (It should be noted that Muir, who had been working steadily on both stage and in film since the early 1930s, was limited to but 3 minor roles between her blacklisting and her death 46 years later.) As reprehensible and cowardly as General Foods' decision may have been, it was their choice to make. As a result, there was a nation-wide consumer boycott of their products that lasted for many years . . . at least in my Southern California neighborhood where many, many blacklistees made their homes. One big difference between the Hollywood Blacklist and the situation with Phil Robertson is that in the former, people were condemned and made virtually unemployable not for what they (may) have said, but for the petitions they once signed and the groups they may or may not have belonged to in the past. In the latter, Phil Robertson is on what will likely be temporary hiatus because of his words -- words which many find boorish and objectionable, and others find both admirable and inspirational.
What Palin et al seem to have trouble grasping is that there is a difference between public censorship and private enterprise. With very few exceptions, there is no legal or constitutional right to free speech on private property. One can be fired for calling their boss a schmuck, just as one can be terminated -- or put on hiatus -- by a profit-making media company for endangering its bottom line. As folks who are hopelessly devoted to the rights, perquisites and profits of corporate America, one might think that Palin and her buddies would understand -- and support -- A&E's decision. For after all, A&E is a subsidiary of A&E Networks, which in turn is a joint venture between the Hearst Corporation and the Disney-ABC Television Group. If this isn't a prime example of corporate America, then I don't know what is. And, as both Mitt Romney and the United States Supreme Court have made abundantly clear, corporations are people and money is speech. Everything should be just ducky.
So why all the fuss?
©2013 Kurt F. Stone