Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Opinion

Ruth: When the quack hit the fan

In the end, what does the swirling controversy over the inane reality show Duck Dynasty tell us about ourselves? Perhaps it is either: a) although we are the world's foremost superpower we are also a nation of silly people, and/or b) we truly are way too easily amused and offended, too.

For the past week the Sturm und Drang over some (ahem) inartful comments made by Phil Robertson, one of the stars of cable network A&E's Duck Dynasty, regarding homosexuality, as well as a delusional interpretation of race relations, has resulted in a ginned-up debate over free speech, political correctness and intolerance.

In an interview with GQ magazine, Robertson decried homosexuality a sin and then opined that during the Jim Crow era blacks were happy as clams, whiling away the hours singing.

Just why a men's fashion magazine was interviewing Robertson, whose sartorial sense lingers somewhere between Li'l Abner and Meat Loaf, is a mystery. But in any event, Duck Dynasty's Archie Bunker of the bayou was soon suspended from the program by A&E. And that was when the quack hit the fan.

Boycotts against A&E were announced. Various Duck Dynasty products, but not including presumably bath soap, were pulled from merchants' shelves in response to angry elements of the gay community. And even the tea party's resident Madame Defarge, Sarah Palin, leapt to Roberston's First Amendment right to be a boor, which might suggest the former vice presidential candidate finally got around to reading a newspaper.

Here's a prediction. Before you can say "Beverly Hillbillies," A&E will suspend its suspension and Robertson will eventually rejoin his clan on the program for further adventures of schlepping around the Louisiana swamps for the dining and dancing pleasure of its gullible audience.

And A&E will take this bold stand because Duck Dynasty is a $400-million-a-year franchise. It is said we all have a price for our principles; the rest is merely a matter of negotiation. In this case, nobody is going to walk away from a nearly half-billion-dollar scam simply because the Project Runway fan club got its feelings hurt.

The Cracker Barrel restaurant chain, which pulled Duck Dynasty geegaws from its stores because it fretted offending paying customers, quickly reversed course and restored the show's trashy stuff after paying customers expressed offense at not being able to order a side of Funko Duck Dynasty Phil Wacky Wobbler Talking Bobble-Head with their cheese grits. Capitalism will always conquer good taste.

The bigger issue is, why would anyone bother to tune in to watch a bib-overall version of Keeping Up With the Kardashians starring the ZZ Top-lite of the Delta?

In 1961, then-Federal Communications Commission chairman Newton Minnow delivered his famous "vast wasteland" speech, in which he noted: "When television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite each of you to sit down in front of your own television set when your station goes on the air and stay there, for a day, without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you what you will observe is a vast wasteland."

Minnow made his observation before cable television's emergence, when there were only three television networks and a smattering of independent stations. If commercial television was a vast wasteland in 1961, by 2013 it has become a 300-channel-plus toxic landfill meets a nuclear winter.

The real dust-up isn't that Robertson expressed opinions of homosexuality some regard as narrow-minded, or that he harbors a revisionist, illiterate view of civil rights history. He is more than entitled to both.

What wreaks of disingenuous hypocrisy is that A&E certainly had to know it wasn't getting the Algonquin Roundtable when it decided to fork over airtime to a bizarre family not even William Faulkner could have imagined.

Don't you suspect there are plenty of outtakes revealing Phil Robertson to be the Foghorn Leghorn of Leviticus, and yet the network was more than happy, with some discreet editing, to continue to present a carefully air-shushed image of the family?

The only reality associated with Duck Dynasty is an audience wilfully being played for chumps.

If you are aggrieved over Phil Robertson's myopic world view, fine. Turn the channel to "The Real Housewives of Wauchula." Now that's entertainment!

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