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Commentary

Duck Dynasty and the Secular Theocracy


     
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With A&E Network facing an avalanche of public protest and in just over one week of its decision to place family-patriarch Phil Robertson on “indefinite hiatus” from its megahit reality series Duck Dynasty, the network caved.

When the PC outrage industry went into high gear with an angry Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) demanding Robertson’s head regarding his comments on homosexuality in an article by Drew Magery in the January 2014 issue of GQ (the magazine commonly viewed as having branded the concept of “metrosexual”), A&E executives promptly suspended Robertson from the enormously popular, cable-TV program, and support for his suspension echoed throughout the conventional media with cries of his being “homophobic” and “antigay.”

In the article, when asked about his religious faith, Robertson noted that his own youthful debauchery was self-destructive and put his marriage on the rocks, and that these were reversed only by his conversion to Christianity. He added that he now considers sexual relations other than those between a man and woman in wedlock to be sinful. In so doing, Robertson did not support bans on homosexual advocacy or relations but instead paraphrased 1 Corinthians 6:9-10: “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.”

In subsequent comments, he included himself as a “sexual sinner”:

“I myself am a product of the 60s; I centered my life around sex, drugs and rock and roll until I hit rock bottom and accepted Jesus as my Savior. My mission today is to go forth and tell people about why I follow Christ and also what the Bible teaches, and part of that teaching is that women and men are meant to be together. However, I would never treat anyone with disrespect just because they are different from me. We are all created by the Almighty and like Him, I love all of humanity. We would all be better off if we loved God and loved each other.”

In contrast, Doug Ellin, creator of HBO’s Entourage, has actually tweeted a call for gays to shoot Robertson: “I think it would be a better show if gay people got to throw Phil Robertson [sic] up in the air and shoot at him then [sic] him shooting at cute ducks.” So much for tolerance and nonviolence, and will Ellin be booted by “progressives” for advocating a hate crime? Just imagine if the reverse had happened or if someone on a major network TV program had been suspended indefinitely for making pro-gay comments. The outrage would be deafening.

Some have speculated that all this was just a brilliant and perhaps unprecedented publicity stunt by A&E. Was it?

Even before the show premiered in spring 2012, A&E well knew of Robertson’s views and warned him not to expound them, and it was A&E who arranged and oversaw the GQ interview. While the Robertson family has publicly stated they regret the “unfiltered” and “coarse” language Phil used, they believe that they have been “hung out to dry” by A&E in order to rein him in. The Daily Mail reported on December 21, 2013, that

A source close to the family, who asked not to be named, told MailOnline: “You have to ask yourself, why this interview happened and why it ever became public. Someone from A&E was there and was aware of the kind of answers Phil was giving. But despite that, they didn’t ever try to stop it or control it. Instead, they let it hit the headlines and then released a statement condemning it. It is our belief that they knew what was going to happen and then used the situation to exercise control over Phil. It is our understanding that when the TV executives came up with the concept for the show they wanted it to be a case of people laughing at a bunch of backward rednecks. But when it didn’t turn out like that and people actually started identifying with the way the family behaved and were laughing with them, not at them, they became uncomfortable. It did not sit well with the New York TV types. We believe they were also uncomfortable with the family’s insistence that there would be a strong religious presence in the show. They knew Phil was the driving force behind this and we think they have used this situation to bring him in line so they could steer the show back down the path they originally intended for it. But they may have underestimated how united the family are and how committed they are to their beliefs. They also didn’t realize how much support Phil would get from the public, so things have backfired on them.”

A&E may well have believed that they could manipulate the family that was then under a new contract: season five had already been filmed for 2014 (with a premiere on January 15th), and Duck Dynasty merchandise sales were breaking new records during the Christmas season ($500 million since the show’s first launch). Even after the controversy arose, A&E continued its plans to air a Duck Dynasty marathon on Christmas Day, and there was never any hint that season five would be altered in any way.

As the Los Angeles Times noted on December 20, 2013, “A&E said it was ‘extremely disappointed’ to read the GQ interview. Note, however, that the statement did not say ‘extremely surprised.’ The network knew all along about Robertson’s views, because he’s not shy about sharing them.”

However, disputes between the Robertson family and A&E over the Christian content of the show developed early on. Phil Robertson has pointed out that A&E editors “with no moral compass” initially tried to censor out the words Jesus and Christ from prayers on the show and even routinely manipulated the show’s footage to intensify the language and make the family appear more profane and unruly than they really are. “They inserted fake beeps like somebody had used profanity, but no one had used profanity. If you want that, you can get all of that you want. Just turn the station. There’s plenty of that! And if we’re not using profanity, why make it look like we’re using profanity? What is the point? Why don’t you just run it and say what we say?” Producers eventually gave in, he said, and “quit doing that.”

WND poked fun of A&E officials who were increasingly incensed by the Christian content of the show, even to the point of risking the financial rewards, with this spoof:

“We’re just sick of all this redneck Jesusy stuff,” A&E representative Moe Ronic told reporters. “And besides, making truckloads of money is really overrated,” he added, referencing the show’s No. 1 all-time ranking. “In fact,” he continued, “just the other day I was sharing an Appletini with Bob, our program director, and he was pining for the good ol’ days—back when we had ratings like MSNBC’s ‘Winter Solstice Generic Holiday Special.’ “You know, more money means more work—what, with the bookkeeping and all,” he pointed out. “Most of us at A&E are actually quite excited to get back to the utter irrelevance and obscurity from whence we came.”

As was the case with such earlier TV shows as Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, and Petticoat Junction, as well as NPR’s long-running Prairie Home Companion, A&E was seeking an entertainment show portraying Middle America as “hickville” in order to get people to disparage and laugh at those who do not subscribe to “progressive” culture (social liberalism achieved and policed through bullying and government mandates). What A&E was not expecting is that instead of the audience laughing at a self-described “bunch of rednecks from Louisiana,” the 7-14 million who view the program each week have been laughing with the Robertson’s at the hypocrisy, foolishness, and tyranny of “progressive” elites. As CNN’s Ruben Navarrette has duly commented, “The reason that ‘Duck Dynasty’ is on television is to make liberal studio executives at A&E, and parent company Disney, feel superior, while making big profits for the studio. The Robertson’s are on television so that people in New York and Los Angeles—the kind of folks who refer to anyplace in between as ‘flyover country’—can feel progressive and enlightened by comparing themselves to simple country folks in Louisiana who, according to the elites, are neither. (And can make lots of money doing so.)”

Phil Robertson himself is certainly no lightweight. The Los Angeles Times has called him “a man of legendary individuality, who once passed up an opportunity to sign with the NFL because it might interfere with his hunting.” One of seven children raised in a log cabin in northern Louisiana with no electricity, bathtub, or toilet, Robertson grew up in a poor family living off garden fruits and vegetables; deer, squirrels, fish, and other animals that they hunted and fished; and the pigs, chickens, and cattle that they raised. Nevertheless, in high school he became All-State in football, baseball, and track and received a football scholarship to Louisiana Tech University. At Tech, later football legend Terry Bradshaw was at the time benched as second-string to Robertson, who was star quarterback. And although Robertson chose to quit football in college for the freedom to hunt during duck season, he went on to receive a master’s degree in education, taught school, and became a commercial fisherman. In 1972, the young enterprising Robertson patented his first duck call and created the Duck Commander Company, which has been leveraged into today’s vast fortune and cultural phenomenon that includes Duck Dynasty. His autobiography Happy, Happy, Happy became a number one New York Times bestseller, and his new book for 2014, unPHILtered: The Way I See It, will share his philosophy of life, as he outlined in an interview before the release of his autobiography:

My message is to get human beings to love God, love their neighbor and for the life of me I just don’t see the downside of human beings not being so mean to one another and actually care for one another and not steal from one another and not murder each other for their tennis shoes. That’s the message I have. . . . America and the world, we have a love problem. I’m trying to get people aware of that. A loving person is not going to pick up a spear or a knife because when the Ten Commandments were written it was before guns, and God was saying, “Look, quit murdering each other.” Now I’m just trying to say, “Folks, let’s try to love one another no matter what the color of their skin.”

Indeed, Robertson and the family have repeatedly written, spoken, and preached against racism, and Phil’s adopted grandson Will is biracial.

While in the air force, I was stationed in northern Louisiana and took courses at Tech at the same time Robertson was there. Although a “damn Yankee,” I not only immersed myself in southern living, including good manners, faith-based communities, food, hunting and fishing, family, and friends, but ended up marrying as my first wife a young woman from Shreveport. I learned firsthand to understand and appreciate many core values that northern bigotry had blinded me to. As Magery’s GQ article notes, “The ecology here has been so perfectly manipulated that it feels as if two giant hands reached down from the sky and molded the land itself, an effect that I’m sure would please Phil. . . . [I]t’s hard not to gaze upon his cultivations and wonder if you’ve gotten life all wrong. This is life as summer camp. It’s gorgeous, in a way that alters you on an elemental level. I feel it when I breathe the air. I feel it when I survey the enormity of the space around me.”

It is this authenticity in upholding enduring core values that has deeply resonated with Americans and that A&E and “progressive” elites cannot simply put on “hiatus.” Probably to A&E’s surprise, the massive public outrage over Robertson’s suspension was immediate and widespread, and has ranged from conservative to liberal:

Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin:

“Free speech is an endangered species. Those ‘intolerants’ hatin’ and taking on the Duck Dynasty patriarch for voicing his personal opinion are taking on all of us.”

Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal:

“The politically correct crowd is tolerant of all viewpoints, except those they disagree with. . . . It is a messed up situation when Miley Cyrus gets a laugh, and Phil Robertson gets suspended.”

Liberal, gay journalist Andrew Sullivan:

“Robertson is a character in a reality show. He’s not a spokesman for A&E any more than some soul-sucking social x-ray from the Real Housewives series is a spokeswoman for Bravo. Is he being fired for being out of character? Nah. He’s being fired for staying in character—a character A&E has nurtured and promoted and benefited from. Turning around and demanding a Duck Dynasty star suddenly become the equivalent of a Rachel Maddow guest is preposterous and unfair. What Phil Robertson has given A&E is a dose of redneck reality. Why on earth would they fire him for giving some more?”

Lesbian, feminist author Camille Paglia:

“In a democratic country, people have the right to be homophobic as well as they have the right to support homosexuality—as I one hundred percent do. If people are basing their views against gays on the Bible, again they have a right of religious freedom there. . . . To express yourself in a magazine in an interview—this is the level of punitive PC, utterly fascist, utterly Stalinist, okay, that my liberal colleagues in the Democratic Party and on college campuses have supported and promoted over the last several decades. I think that this intolerance by gay activists toward the full spectrum of human beliefs is a sign of immaturity, juvenility. . . . There is a dialogue going on human civilization, for heaven sakes. It’s not just this monologue coming from fanatics who have displaced the religious beliefs of their parents into a political movement. And that is what happened to feminism, and that is what happened to gay activism, a fanaticism.”

KISS front man Paul Stanley:

“Yank people off TV if we don’t agree with their views in a mag. interview? You want your views heard—allow others same right. . . . Don’t want to be penalized for your views you can’t penalize someone for theirs. That’s more offensive than their words. . . . Being ‘allowed to speak’ isn’t supposed to be followed by punishment for speaking.”

Pulitzer Prize–winning columnist Clarence Page:

“I like Duck Dynasty. I have been a fan for a number of months. I was hooked by the humor and the personality of the folks in the family. . . . What does A&E do? They suspended him. I think that was an over-reaction. . . . I think instead of trying to punish people, like Phil Robertson, we should talk about the issues he raised. Have a dialogue. This is the way you encourage more tolerance.”

Singer and hunter Ted Nugent:

“Though they claim to be the party of tolerance, what the left wants is to intimidate and silence, and even hurt, those with whom they disagree. The left’s tolerance only extends to those who espouse their agenda and nostrums. Phil Robertson didn’t say anything hurtful or shameful. He didn’t say that homosexuals should be beaten, maligned, persecuted, denied human dignity or rights, or have their birthdays taken away. . . . My suspicion is that as this plays out it will be more beneficial to the ‘Duck Dynasty’ guys than the disconnected suits at A&E who made a business decision to bow at the altar of political correctness. This isn’t about Phil Robertson’s First Amendment rights. He can say whatever he wants. This is about left-wing hit squads pouncing upon anyone with whom they disagree to shut them up and intimidate others into being quiet.”

Gay CNN anchorman Don Lemon:

“He has a right to say exactly what he wants. This is America. . . . I always err on the side of free speech. The marketplace should decide. If people do not like Duck Dynasty, they should not watch Duck Dynasty. . . . I don’t think he should be fired. I think people should be allowed to say what they want and if they hang themselves they hang themselves.”

Columnist and author Patrick Buchanan:

“What GLAAD wants to do is to blacklist Robertson, to punish him by taking away his podium, ‘Duck Dynasty.’ . . . [H]e is being censored by elites who wish to deny him access to the medium they largely control—television. . . . To our modern moral and cultural elites, it is those who condemn the values of GLAAD who are the enemies of decency and progress who ought to be fired and blacklisted to prevent their poisonous views from being disseminated. In the Hollywood of the late 1940s, Communism was persona non grata. In the 21st century, biblical Christianity is persona non grata.”

The backlash has been so enormous that Facebook pages were created within twenty-four hours to boycott A&E’s action, with the number of fans accessing these pages totaling 1.8 million, 1.5 million, and 1.4 million. Elite social media firms responded by trying to muzzle the reaction, with Facebook initially slapping the administrator of the Boycott A&E Until Phil Robertson Is Put Back on Duck Dynasty page with a twelve-hour ban because “it received nearly 4,500 likes in just one hour,” but after protests the ban was removed. Twitter similarly blocked tweets that included links to the pro-Robertson site IStandWithPhil.com but then reversed the ban and apologized after being deluged with protests.

And according to Nielsen, when the boycotts began, A&E’s ratings immediately dropped by 13 percent, with the percentage of adults ages twenty-five to fifty-four who watched the network dropping 22 percent and that of adults from eighteen to forty-nine falling 18 percent. So if A&E were indeed pursuing a publicity campaign, that strategy has seriously backfired.

When major Duck Dynasty sponsor Cracker Barrel also tried to follow A&E’s lead and announced that its stores would no longer carry Duck Dynasty merchandise, they also reversed their ban within forty-eight hours and issued an apology: “Dear Cracker Barrel Customer: When we made the decision to remove and evaluate certain Duck Dynasty items, we offended many of our loyal customers. Our intent was to avoid offending, but that’s just what we’ve done. You wrote, you called and you took to social media to express your thoughts and feelings. You flat out told us we were wrong. We listened. Today, we are putting all our Duck Dynasty products back in our stores.”

Meanwhile, days before Christmas, Walmart, the major retailer for Duck Dynasty, had completely sold out of show merchandise; five (and counting) Duck Dynasty books had become 2013 bestsellers (with at least three more scheduled for 2014 already heading up the sales charts in pre-release); the Duck Dynasty Christmas album Duck the Halls debuted at number one on the Billboard Chart; 250,000 fans had signed a petition to reinstate Robertson; and GLAAD began “reeling from [the] biggest backlash in years.”

According to a Radar Online source “with inside knowledge of the network’s machinations,” the New York Daily News has reported that “It’s an absolute disaster for A&E. . . . Now, it’s a standoff between the family and the network, who is going to blink first? There is no way Phil is going to apologize for his comments because he doesn’t think what he said is hateful or prejudice, it’s his religious beliefs. . . . A&E isn’t going to walk away from ‘Duck Dynasty,’ they can’t afford to do it. It’s just a matter of getting both sides to agree on how to move forward.”

And indeed this is exactly what has happened, even though GLAAD is not glad about A&E’s reversal, stating that “Phil Robertson should look African American and gay people in the eyes and hear about the hurtful impact of praising Jim Crow laws and comparing gay people to terrorists.” In response, Brietbart’s Warner Todd Huston has noted: “It is interesting that GLAAD put Robertson’s comments about African Americans first in its own statement about his comments on homosexuals. One might think that GLAAD feels it lost the battle on that issue and needed the cover of ‘racism’ to add heft to its complaints. Still, the statement takes Robertson’s comments out of context and mischaracterizes them. Robertson made no such claim that Jim Crow laws did not harm African Americans, nor did he ‘compare’ homosexuals to terrorists.”

Cultural “leftists” have been pursuing a campaign against Judeo-Christianity, traditional morality, gender identities, the nuclear family, limited constitutional government, free enterprise, the family, civility, individual liberty, personal responsibility, the rule of law, and much more. In the name of “tolerance” and “diversity,” this campaign has sought to impose a “secular theocracy” to smother bourgeois values and coercively impose “progressive” culture on an unwilling public, and gender issues have become a key rallying point (see, for example, articles in The Wall Street Journal, National Catholic Register, Hartford Courant, Reuters, and Washington Times).

And what about Robertson’s views of a clear and innate differentiation between men and women? In a recent Wall Street Journal interview of Camille Paglia, “A Feminist Defense of Masculine Virtues,” she similarly decries “opinion makers [who] deny the biological differences between men and women” and considers “the idea that all gay people are born gay” to be “the biggest canard.” Also and as reported in The Guardian, in recent studies of the human brain,

[S]cientists have drawn on nearly 1,000 brain scans to confirm what many had surely concluded long ago: that stark differences exist in the wiring of male and female brains. Maps of neural circuitry showed that on average women’s brains were highly connected across the left and right hemispheres, in contrast to men’s brains, where the connections were typically stronger between the front and back regions. Ragini Verma, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, said the greatest surprise was how much the findings supported old stereotypes, with men’s brains apparently wired more for perception and coordinated actions, and women’s for social skills and memory, making them better equipped for multitasking.

So, and contrary to postmodern wishes, is gender no more a choice than is the law of gravity or one’s birthday, DNA, or species? Vive la différence!

In his essay “America’s Ruling Class—and the Perils of Revolution,” author and scholar Angelo Codevilla superbly examines the culture war here as a conflict between two political classes in contemporary America. As Independent Institute Senior Fellow Robert Higgs points out regarding this article:

Codevilla cuts immediately to the core: the United States today is divided into (a) a ruling class, which dominates the government at every level, the schools and universities, the mainstream media, Hollywood, and a great deal else, and (b) all of the rest of us, a heterogeneous agglomeration that Codevilla dubs the country class. The ruling class holds the lion’s share of the institutional power, but the country class encompasses perhaps two-thirds of the people.

Members of the two classes do not like one another. In particular, the ruling class views the rest of the population as composed of ignoramuses who are vicious, violent, racist, fanatically religious, intolerant, irrational, unscientific, backward, generally ill behaved, and incapable of living well without constant, detailed direction by their betters; and it views itself as perfectly qualified and entitled to pound the rest into better shape by the generous application of laws, taxes, subsidies, regulations, speech controls, and unceasing declarations of its dedication to bringing the country—and indeed the entire world—out of its present darkness and into the light of the Brave New World it is busily engineering.

This class divide has little to do with rich versus poor or Democrat versus Republican. At its core, it has to do with the division between, on the one hand, those whose attitudes are attuned to the views endorsed by the ruling class (especially “political correctness”) and whose fortunes are linked directly or indirectly with government programs and, on the other hand, those whose outlooks and interests derive from and focus on private affairs, especially the traditional family, religion, and genuine private enterprise. Above all, as Codevilla makes plain, “for our ruling class, identity always trumps.” As true believers, these people “know” they are superior in every way, and they are not shy about letting everyone else know that they are. “Arrogance” might as well be their middle name.

As I have also discussed elsewhere, this “progressive” (i.e., authoritarian) campaign first began in earnest during the “Renaissance” of the sixteenth century, and by the “Enlightenment” of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries this view took on a ferocity in leading the “modern” Zeitgeist dominated by a secular civic religion of utilitarianism, moral relativism, narcissism, collectivism, and the worship of government power. In short, postmodern, cultural elites disdain almost everything upon which civilization has rested and work toward silencing all contrary views. Litmus tests that trigger such campaigns have included (but are not limited to) global warming, Obamacare, gender and race identity, Judeo-Christian beliefs, and birth- and gun-control.

In response, Duck Dynasty has remarkably broken through this Nanny-State malaise, connecting with many millions of people fed up with the absurdities and bullying of “liberal” elites. And whether viewers consider homosexuality a sin or not, the show has further raised a crucial tenet of the natural law, the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” C. S. Lewis showed in his brilliant book The Abolition of Man and other writings that the natural law is central to individual liberty, personal responsibility, civic virtue, and the rule of law, and has been universal to all civilizations and essential for their very existence, even as rulers have repeatedly and hypocritically exempted themselves from it.

The Golden Rule is the basis for tolerance in the freedoms of speech and religion, including whether individuals are allowed to freely express their views when asked, without being smeared, bullied, and silenced. One may in fact love the sinner but hate the sin. Jesus said it best:

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you. (Matthew 5:43–44, NIV)

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:3–5, NIV)

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:12, NIV)

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:21–22, NIV)

So the lesson here is that treating all people, white or black, gay or straight, male or female, young or old, drunk or sober, rich or poor, etc., with love and respect is paramount. In a new, thirty-minute film about the Robertsons, “I Am Second,” Phil and his family discuss their own dark and ugly journey through drunkenness, violence, drug abuse, sexual promiscuity, and far more, and how accepting Jesus taught them to love God and all people, turned their lives around, saved their family, and formed the basis for what has become the immense success of Duck Dynasty.


David J. Theroux is the Founder, President and Chief Executive Officer of The Independent Institute.






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