Over the past couple of decades, the face of broadcast television has changed radically. There has been a proliferation of specialty channels airing a variety of programming.
One of the biggest shifts in television over this time has been the growth of reality shows. There are now shows exploring many different groups within society.
Reality shows have become extremely popular. Many identify with the characters. Because it is purported to show “reality,” this means unpopular or controversial statements and topics sometimes become raised which can strike a strong reaction among the public. Such was the case last month involving one of the most popular reality shows on television today.
“Duck Dynasty” patriarch Phil Robertson ignited the controversy during an interview in December with GQ Magazine when he made statements comparing homosexuality to bestiality, and cited the Bible as the reason he thinks homosexuals are sinners and are going to hell.
This elicited strong reactions from many, including gay advocacy groups who were understandably upset. It led the channel that airs the show, A&E, to suspend Robertson from the show and to temporarily stop airing the show.
Subsequently, another lobby formed which supported Robertson and called for the broadcaster to reinstate him to the show because he was only stating his personal Christian beliefs. After a week or so, he was reinstated. This decision has drawn strong comments from both sides.
While I can state that I definitely do not agree with Robertson’s comments and find them personally distasteful and offensive, I am not at all surprised he made them. While I am not very familiar with “Duck Dynasty,” what I have seen makes it clear that the show celebrates “redneck” culture in southern America and it might be expected a conservative literal interpretation of Christian scripture is prevalent among many living in this milieu.
I would have been surprised if Robertson had said anything different. His views represent a fairly large percentage of his community. While I and others may not agree with it, they do have the right to be aired. In addition, A&E is a business which has the right to air programming which meets its guidelines and it, too, has the right to suspend any employee that does not meet its standards.
By suspending Robertson instead of firing him from the show — as some who found his comments offensive had called for — I feel A&E struck a good balance in reinforcing its standards while not going overboard in response.
It seems the issue of free speech strikes a strong reaction among Americans. This can be hard to balance against protecting minorities from persecution.
Reactions from both sides reveal political agendas are often at play when people respond publicly on these types of issues. Those offended by Robertson’s comments who called for him to be fired are, I believe, over-reacting. His comments were not made on the show and, while standing by his beliefs, he later stated that he could have worded his statements differently to not be as offensive.
From what I have seen and heard, the show does not air homophobic comments and to fire someone for a comment made outside the workplace is a bit hypocritical. Hypocrisy also rears its ugly head on the other side of the issue; conservative Sarah Palin was quick to criticize A&E for suspending Robertson based on protection of his freedom of speech. Yet she and her supporters forgot this principle months ago when a reporter on another news show made nasty comments about her and they called for his immediate dismissal. Apparently, the shoe is different when its on the other foot.
In a free society, it is to be expected that such issues should arise at times and in many ways this is a healthy thing. It allows people to debate these issues, air both sides of the topic and people can decide what they believe.
Rather than firing someone, those who are truly offended by Robertson’s comments can choose to not watch the show. We also need to be aware people can not be defined or characterized by one statement; I am sure that there is more to the man than is revealed by his statements to GQ.
After his remarks became public, several other Christian groups in the area posted statements stating their brand of Christianity does not share Robertson’s view. We need to remember that such shows as “Duck Dynasty” represent a snapshot on reality in a particular place and time; reality is often ugly, offensive or just plain rude, but I suspect that is what makes it so appealing to viewers.
We can disagree, express our displeasure and tune out, but we should never shut someone up just because we don’t like what they are saying.