aired Jan. 11, 2014 on Dave’s Gone By. Youtube clip: http://youtu.be/yqw7B8Z50Mo
Shalom Dammit! This is Rabbi Sol Solomon with a Rabbinical Reflection for the week of January 12th, 2014.
Where does free speech cross into hate speech? This is an issue I deal with all the time, or at least other people tell me I do. At what point does expressing an unpopular opinion become something you have to censor and censure?
The question has been bedeviling the whimsically named Arts & Entertainment Network owing to their smash-hit program, “Duck Dynasty.” It’s all about this Louisiana backwoods family that has spent the past 25 years hand-making products for duck hunters. They apparently created the world’s most effective bird call, the so-called “duck commander” – and from this, they got rich. But they didn’t let money go their heads; they still live like Swamp Thing. But thanks to the reality show, these hirsute hillbillies are squatting on an $80 million empire.
Everywhere you go, there’s “Duck Dynasty” t-shirts, Halloween masks, posters, body spray – and more power to them. If you can just be your crazy self and get the whole world to watch, that’s the secret to fame in the 21st Century. If you’re lucky and have huge tits, you’re Kim Kardashian; if you not so lucky and have a penis, you’re Jon Gosselin. If you have huge tits AND a penis, you’re Big Ang.
Essentially, the Robertson family is a hick version of “Jersey Shore.” Instead of Italian goombas who do Gym/Tan/Laundry, you got smelly Bayou bozos who do Guns/Tattoos/Lard. And all of this was adorable in a post-Civil War, “let’s-make-fun-of-the-South” kind of way, until the patriarch of the clan, Phil Robertson, turned his private prejudice into public pronouncements. In an interview with GQ Magazine – because, of course, the Robertson clan are everyone’s idea of GQ material – grampa Phil Robertson shared his religious thoughts on sin. Without much prompting, foolish Phil said, quote, “Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men,” etcetera.
Phil Robertson parroted the same drivel spouted by every religious homophobe with just enough literacy to read the King James Bible. Leviticus says, “It’s an abomination when two men shtup each other.” Oddly enough, the bible says nothing about two women shtupping each other. This proves God is merciful because it spares us from having to edit out the fourth scene in every good porno movie.
But I digress. Phil Robertson views queerness as a disgusting sin – something even more loathsome to him than bathing or shaving. In his defense, grumpy grampy says he doesn’t advocate hatred or hate crimes against gays. Just being repulsed by them is enough. As Jesus says, turn the other cheek, just don’t spread those cheeks for a hunky apostle.
Faced with these comments in GQ and mounting pressure from gay groups – and if you’ve ever felt mounting pressure from gays, you know how painful that can be – A&E, which broadcasts Douche Dinosaurs, had to make a decision: Cancel the show? Keep the show but jettison its most popular star? Do nothing and just hold out until the next Miley Cyrus controversy takes everyone’s mind off things?
In the end, Arts & Entertainment Network – which in recent years has become as artful and entertaining as a children’s party clown performing knee surgery – A&E did a little of everything. They suspended Robertson, then they immediately reinstated him. They apologized for grampa’s stupidity, but then said, “Hey, he’s family. What can you do?” You can be richer than Croesus and still be a cretin.
And A&E has a point. We’re talking about “Duck Dynasty” not “Malcolm Gladwell Presents.” Just like the Jersey Shore kids and the Honey Boo-Boo brood, we’re watching a clan who, combined, don’t have sufficient I.Q. to spell “I.Q.” We expect the Phil Robertsons of this world to say off-the-wall things, and we’d get bored if he didn’t. We expect his thoughts to be either dead wrong or right but expressed in a goofy way.
All these reality shows are sort of the opposite of Fox News. Fox is dangerous because the hosts express themselves beautifully and are thus able to spin partisan factoids into a credible semblance of reality. “Duck Dynasty” is about folks who could star in the sequel to “Deliverance.” That the Robertsons can form sentences at all marks astonishing progress up the evolutionary ladder.
The point is, you can’t make a silk purse out of a duck’s ass. If we put someone on TV for being a laughable putz, we shouldn’t be shocked when he goes medieval on our ears. And if we penalize grandpa Phil for expressing his honest feelings about fags, what do we do when Jay Leno makes an Asian joke about North Korea? What do we do when a celebrity who’s had lipo makes fat people feel bad? As with so many things, there’s a slippery slope. And a fat person on a slippery slope is quite hilarious to watch.
Double standard? Perhaps. Do we go easy on Phil Robertson because he merely picked on gays – as opposed to saying that Jews killed Jesus or Negroes were more fun when they were slaves? But even then…we’re talking about a man who spent his life figuring out how to make noises that sexually arouse ducks. Let’s all be clear about that. And let’s keep Phil Robertson on “Duck Dynasty” until we either get bored with him – which should should come in another two minutes out of his allotted 15 – or viewers simply realize, “Hey, television doesn’t always have to be this shitty.” In the meantime, all A&E has to do is put up a disclaimer: “The views expressed in the following program do not represent the opinions of this network, this station, or this century. If Phil Robertson uses the bible to say something offensive and ignorant, well, just look at him. What the duck did you expect?”
This has been a Rabbinical Reflection from Rabbi Sol Solomon, Temple Sons of Bitches in Great Neck, New York.
(c) 2013 TotalTheater. All rights reserved.