Month: December 2013

MUCH ADO ABOUT CRACKERS

art-streiber_phil-robertson-closeup-fstoppers-10

So, according to the American wing of the internet, which we all know to to be the fattest part, the most important story of the last two days is Phil Robertson, the bearded, perpetually camo-wearing patriarch who heads up the similarly bearded, perpetually camo-wearing family featured in the wildly popular show, “Duck Dynasty.” For those of you whose fingers may not be firmly on the pulse of American pop culture, “Duck Dynasty” is a reality show featuring a clan (yes, that’s clan with a “c”) of Southerners who own a company  that makes duck calls in the proper sticks of Louisiana. Their main product, the “Duck Commander,” is said to be the MOST successful duck call in the world, and has made them quite rich. The show’s success has mirrored that of the Duck Commander; it has been a huge, breakout hit for the A & E network.

“Duck Dynasty” maintains a playful, fun tone, while emphasizing good ol’ fashioned family values. In each episode we see the men tromping through swamps, hunting frogs, shooting snakes, riding ATV’s, and blowing shit up. Each one of them looks like a roadie for ZZ Top. The women similarly fill their prescribed roles, performing bookkeeping and secretarial duties for the business, tending to the men, and most importantly, cooking up home-style meals in the kitchen, which the whole family sits down to at the end of each episode, thanking God for their bounty, while washing down the southern fried goodness with voluminous amounts of iced tea. “Duck Dynasty” taps into that deep well of family, God and guns, the bread and butter of Red State America. The whole affair is a giant flexing of conservative muscles. Behind the joking beards you can just smell the total contempt for modern American values, hijacked by gays, minorities, and “liberal elites.”

These people are rednecks and proud of it. They make no apologies, basking in their Dixieland glory. The producers are very careful to avoid and overt political or cultural touchstones, but anyone who’s not hallucinating on bath salts can read the subtext bubbling beneath the surface of “Duck Dynasty’s” gumbo: This is the real America, the heartland, full of earnest, honest, hard-working folks with real values. The coasts and cities are inhabited with vain, Godless perverts and charlatans who twice elected a black guy with a foreign sounding name President. The America portrayed in “Duck Dynasty” is precisely the America that the Tea Party refers to when they bellow their oft-repeated mantra: “Let’s take our country back!”

Enter Phil Robertson, who plays the part of the wise sage, dispensing folk wisdom to both the cameras and younger members of the clan. It’s all traditional, Christian-based stuff, and he knows how to deliver the message. Robertson is a good-looking dude, tall, with craggy, sharp features, shining eyes, and a clipped, articulate way of speaking that plays against the countrified accent. The guy’s no dopey Southern Bubba: He’s whip smart and the camera loves him accordingly. I’m sure he’s the most popular member of the cast, and that’s why he does interviews with such organs as GQ Magazine, which brings us to where we are today.

Phil Robertson–traditionalist, conservative, Born Again Christian–was asked for his views on sin, and singled out homosexuality as his primary target. I won’t quote him here (he’s been quoted enough), other than to say he expressed bewilderment with how a man could be into anal sex with another man, and went on to make the tired, ridiculous argument that homosexuality will lead to bestiality. This is all stuff we’ve heard before, straight out of the Evangelical playbook. And being a one-time football great, Robertson is well acquainted with playbooks.

Cue fake outrage: A & E pretended to be shocked and horrified by his utterances, spinning up a predictable statement “reaffirming” their support of the “LGTG community” and suspending the 67-year old coot from the show indefinitely. The internet responded accordingly, with a tsunami of supporters starting a Facebook page to reinstate him, while liberals and others at such sites as Salon and Huffpost condemned him as a “bigot,” “homophobe,” and “white trash.” As for Robertson, he didn’t quite apologize for his words, but released a statement letting us all know that he loves all humanity and is not some fire breathing gay hater, how he was once a hedonist child of the 60’s but now is really REALLY into Jesus Christ. Fine.

This thing has gone down like an episode of “Duck Dynasty” in that it all seems so scripted. Lines have been drawn: people step to either side, point fingers, spit vitriol, and foam at the mouth. Networks attempt to wash their hands. PR agencies go into overdrive, attempting both damage control and managed spin to milk this thing for every dollar it’s worth. Hell, I’m writing about it, so it must be working.

This is obviously just another front in our ongoing culture war: I chose my side long ago and will generally stick to it. I support gay rights and always have. The shift of winds in America over the last few years with regard to gay rights/acceptance has been an awesome thing to see, especially from abroad, and at times I have even been proud. I don’t agree with a word out of Phil Robertson’s mouth, but…

I just can’t buy that ANYONE is surprised over this. It was only a matter of time. Robertson may be a smart guy, but he is still a self-described redneck living in backwoods Louisiana. This makes him, and his whole family, a product of a very specific environment not known for producing folks with progressive views on anything. A & E has known all along that these guys hold views that much of America would find repugnant, but carefully avoided airing them. But now that the show has become a ratings behemoth (I saw DD merchandise EVERYWHERE when I went home–and this is in liberal Washington State), the cast members are stars in their own right, and the network can’t manage them anymore. The A & E network gladly printed stacks of cash by playing up the lovable antics of the Robertson clan, but now that one of them has opened his mouth and HONESTLY told us what he thinks about gays, they’re cutting him loose and running for the rafters. God forbid one of “The Beards” lets us know where he stands with regard to race relations. We might not like what we hear.

This reminds me of the whole Paul Dean kerfuffle from last summer. Unlike “Duck Dynasty,” I had no idea who she was at the time, but she was thrown to the wolves for saying some racist stuff DECADES ago. And people lined up to support her or throw dung in her face, with the poo-flingers prevailing in the end. It was again a case of fake outrage. I remember going into a large store in Oregon and coming across her cookware in the kitchen section. Blazing orange tags had been hastily stuck over the old ones, marking the pots and pans down by 75 percent. EVERYTHING MUST GO, it said. It did, and so did she.

Phil Robertson doesn’t approve of gays? STOP THE PRESSES. Who would’ve thunk it? I don’t think he gives a hoot about being on the show anymore anyhow. He’s got enough cash by now, and has repeatedly said that his only real passion at this point is “spreading the Gospel of Christ.” America, prepare thyself for your next big preacher.

Come to think of it, that would make a great reality show.