After an interview appeared in GQ in which he equated homosexuality to bestiality, used a quote from Corinthians which likened gays to “drunkards” and “prostitutes,” and questioned the “logic” of gay sexual practices, Phil Robertson has been suspended indefinitely from A&E’s hit show, “Duck Dynasty.”
“We are extremely disappointed to have read Phil Robertson’s comments in GQ, which are based on his own personal beliefs and are not reflected in the series Duck Dynasty,” A&E said in a statement. “His personal views in no way reflect those of A+E Networks, who have always been strong supporters and champions of the LGBT community. The network has placed Phil under hiatus from filming indefinitely.”
The semi-scripted reality show focuses on Phil and his family as they get involved in all sorts of misadventures such as plundering beehives and blowing up beaver dams. With 14 million weekly viewers, according to Nielsen—2 million more than the series finale of “Breaking Bad“—it has become a massive cable TV hit. Its mix of faith, humor and revealing honesty has clearly struck a nerve with fans, who not only tune in to the show but have made the Robertsons best-selling authors as well as the inspiration for a whole variety of products such as a bobblehead dolls, camo apparel, Cajun-spice seasoning, iPhone games and a bestselling Christmas album.
The show has wildly devoted fans and the Facebook page supporting Robertson since his suspension, asking people to boycott A&E until they bring him back to the show, reached 165,000 likes in less than four hours. Most of the posts there describe the issue as one of freedom of speech and freedom of religion, and many of the show’s fans see this suspension as one more blow against the Christian faithful. Freedom of religion is under attack, these posts say. “It’s just like Chik-Fil-A,” another says. Many commend Robertson for standing up for his faith and his beliefs.
The challenge is in explaining to these die-hard believers that what Robertson said is not simply an expression of his faith, but something that’s widely viewed as vile and hateful and out of step with today’s corporate reality. I wonder if these people realize that the very same biblical arguments made against same-sex marriage today were once made against interracial marriage in the ’50s and ’60s. Had Robertson made controversial remarks against blacks, or Hispanics, or other minorities, would they still resort to freedom of speech arguments? Perhaps many might, but in today’s media world, corporations like A&E have decided they can no longer sit back and allow the stars of their programs—even their highest rated show—to make comments that are widely perceived as outrageous and crossing a line.
Robertson did say a few things about African Americans in his GQ interview (the remarks haven’t drawn as much attention as his anti-gay statements), saying that when he was growing up in Louisiana, “I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field…. They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!… Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”
Robertson is certainly entitled to his beliefs, despite how backward they may seem in 2013. But groups like HRC and GLAAD are also entitled to not only call him out for the interview, but call on the network to take action. It makes no difference, as many believe, that gays aren’t really watching Duck Dynasty. In today’s corporate world and pop culture landscape, the new reality is that there’s only one place left for the homophobes—and that’s for them to remain in the closet.
By Eric Sasson