Why I’m Bothered by the “Duck Dynasty” Flap

Well, it seems that an uneducated older white man from Louisiana who grew up poor has said something anti-homosexual and a bit racist, and now we are all shocked. Aha. And predictably, people are jumping up-and-down on all sides to shout about how terrible and horrible this is, or how awful A&E is being because they aren’t respecting Phil Robertson’s first amendment rights.

Yeah, well, I don’t want to spend much time on that. Phil Robertson is a product of his upbringing and his environment. Are we really surprised that he has these views? I don’t know if he’s really a nice man who’s misguided, or if he’s hateful. He’s not a preacher. He’s not a politician. He makes duck calls, and GQ decided to ask him about these things. Pat Robertson says crap like this all the time, and he’s still on the air. And he is a preacher. And he is definitely hate-filled. And as for the first amendment, to be clear, it protects us from the government. it says we have the right to exercise free speech without the fear of arrest. It doesn’t mean that our employers can’t respond to our speech. It doesn’t mean that our speech has no repercussions. OK, that’s really all I want to say about that.

That’s all I want to say about that, because what Phil Robertson said, how A&E responded, that FOX and Sarah Palin are outraged at A&E? Yeah, I don’t really care about that. Phil Robertson just isn’t on my radar. He’s not making policy. I mean, if I were his pastor, then I’d know I’d need to work with him. But he’s just not important to me. Not any more than any other person in Louisiana. And THAT is the thing.

What’s bothering me is this disturbing trend in reality t.v. to take Other people and hold them up to us for ridicule. Rednecks who made a lot of money selling duck calls but they’re still living like rednecks – hey, they’re real-life Clampitts! Isn’t that funny? They can’t possibly be like us! They’re Other. Poor loud white people who put their little girl in beauty pageants and belch in each other’s faces. They’re Other. They can’t be like us. Romani people who have outrageous weddings with enormous dresses. They marry their girls off young and they get into cat fights. We wouldn’t do that! They’re Other.

The thing about the Clampitts on “The Beverly Hillbillies” is that they were fictional. Even when fictional characters are based on real-life people (for example, the character of Fagin in the book Oliver Twist was based on a real-life petty criminal Ikey Solomon) it’s still fiction. We’re laughing at fiction. We aren’t pointing our fingers at real people whom we might meet walking down the street and then sniggering behind their backs.

All humor makes fun of in some way, and it’s good if we can laugh at ourselves. I’m not saying we shouldn’t laugh at ourselves. But this current trend isn’t designed to make us laugh at ourselves. It’s designed to make us feel superior to Other People. That bothers me.

TLC – which used to stand for The Learning Channel, but now I think stands for Too Little Conscience, not only airs “Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo” but has now found a winning formula in taking young people who are disillusioned with their insular religious lives and putting them in The Big City. So we get “Breaking Amish” because, oh my, how entertaining to watch naive young Amish people in their funny Other clothes try to navigate New York City. Or Los Angeles. And whether it was real or staged, it doesn’t entirely matter, because we are still meant to believe that it’s real. We’re still meant to feel superior to those backward Amish people. Who, by the way, even though we see them wearing skimpy clothes during half the show, still wear their traditional Amish clothes for the interview segments. Because they’re Other, right?

Look, we as humans have a voyeuristic streak. I can accept that. But we have to set limits on ourselves. We know what happens when we stop to gawk at a wreck on the highway. The rubber-necking shuts everything down and we can’t function. I’m suggesting that we’re now doing that to our whole society. Our gawking is the problem. Think I’m driving this point home a bit too hard? It’s important.

As long as we’re comfortable othering people, we’re ok with taking their rights away. We can take food out of their mouths. We don’t have to feed the poor, because they’re not like us – they’re Other. Georgia Congressman Jack Kingston just suggested – seriously – that we make poor kids sweep the floors in schools before we give them lunch because “there’s no such thing as a free lunch.” Clearly, he doesn’t understand what that economic principle means, but more disturbing is his othering of poor children. Seriously, Mr. Kingston? In what world would that be ok?

Here’s the most human thing that’s happened in all of this duck flap. Phil Robertson’s family has stood by him. They’ve said that they can’t imagine going on without him. Good for them! Why do I say that? Because that’s what family does. They’ve put their patriarch above the profits. They’ve decided that they’d rather stick together as a family than sacrifice him on the altar of wealth.

Relationships, after all, are how we change and grow. Recognizing that there is no Other, except that we are all Other. We all are, or none are.

I’m not wasting my time on Phil Robertson. I don’t know him. I’ll deal with the people in my own life. Some of them have hurtful views on things, and I’m compelled to confront that. How are you confronting what’s hurtful in your own life? How are your relationships?

That’s my mite. It’s all I’ve got.

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