Paul R. Lehman, Comments of Phil Robertson of Duck Commander show social challenges

December 24, 2013 at 2:24 am | Posted in African American, Duck Commander, European American, freedom of speech, gays, Prejudice, socioeconomics, The U.S. Constitution | 1 Comment
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Much has been made recently about the interview conducted by GQ with Phil Robertson of the Duck Commander. Some people thought the comments on Gays and African Americans were disrespectful to those groups, but others thought that regardless of the content of his comments, the Constitution gives him the right to express himself without fear of retribution. Americans generally support the right of free speech even when it might be disagreeable. With respect to Robertson, the A & E organization’s action in suspending him from the show was not based on the people reacting to his comments; it was a business decision. Regardless of the reactions to Robertson’s comments, we learned a number of things from the experience.
When the Beverly Hillbillies show came on television, we all knew that the program was fiction and the characters were actors. With the Duck Commander, we know that these are real people, and as such are not restricted to delivering lines some writer has written for them. The show is called a reality show because the viewers are given an opportunity to see how these people live their lives in (supposedly) real time. One of the marketing ploys of most reality shows is to expose some of the show’s cast to the public, thereby creating more interest in and viewers to the show. These interviews generally focus on the show and the particular member’s contribution to it as well as how the show has impacted his or her life. When the viewer receives some inside information about the show often it sparks more interest. The comments generally do not go far beyond the show and the member’s personal life. That changed, however, with Robertson’s references to gays and African Americans.
One of the lessons we learned from Robertson’s comments is that many Americans support the right of the individual to speak his or her mind regardless of the content. Some Americans believe that the content should be reasonable and non-threatening. We know that when comments are made concerning politics, religion, or social identities by cast members that reflect a bias, public attention is usually created. The publicity created by the comments is generally good for the show which is one of the reasons for the comments in the first place. The entire phenomenon is usually just part of doing business in the entertainment world. What happened with Robertson’s comments about gays and African Americans was that they came as a surprise to the A&E organization. Robertson’s or any American citizen’s right to free speech does not extend to a business, only the individual. So, we might imagine that some of the Duck Commander’s sponsors questioned the mishap and demanded some action from A&E.
Chances are that Robertson never gave a second thought to his comments because they were his and not meant to cause any problems for anyone. Unfortunately, too often celebrities are placed in situations where their comments are expected to reflect a certain mindset and when they do not, unwanted attention is created. Most viewers of Duck Commander were probably not surprised to learn of Robertson’s views relative to gays and African Americans. When we take the time to assess the people in the reality show, the setting, background, and theme, our expectations should not rise above the reality that is presented. As the line in one of Elton John’s song states “you can’t drink whiskey from a bottle of wine.” So, based on the individuals and information presented in the show, we should have some idea of what to expect from what the show presents.
If we were to pass judgment on Robertson’s comments about gays and African Americans we would first need to look at three areas of society: educational, religious, entertainment. If we examine Robertson’s comments relative to African Americans, we have to first realize that his education did him a disservice when it left him with the misguided information about their experiences, state of mind and aspirations. One wonders if he is aware of whom the President of the United States is or what the Civil Rights Acts of the 1960’s are all about. His comments suggest he does not know about these things and that represents a failure of the educational system that informed his sense of history.
Robertson’s comments regarding the gay community reflect a religious perception of intolerance relative to the people he sees as unacceptable to God. Contrary to religion presenting a mindset of acceptance, love and understanding, Robertson’s comments shows a total rejection of gays and their lifestyle that he sees as based on the Bible and biblical teachings. Since the Constitution also grants the individual freedom of religion, Robertson is free to hold whatever views his religious beliefs promotes as acceptable.
The entertainment industry is without a doubt one of the most powerful and influential forces in America. We are shown or told what to eat, drink, wear, go, think, and see, like, dislike, how to act, and above all, what to believe. What we must remember is that individuals, more likely than not, reflect the standards and values of their community, not independent ideas and opinions that have been addressed individually for logic or rationale. Robertson’s comments to GQ simply reflect what he obtained from his community and justified through his observations and experiences. The likelihood of anyone changing Robertson’s perception of gays and African Americans are few and far between because he is thoroughly convinced that his way of seeing and interpreting these things is correct.
A&E suspended Robertson from his show because of his comments about gays and African Americans, but the negative reactions of the viewers of the show against A&E will probably have him back in no time at all; after all what we are talking about is money and business. Robertson’s family business is very successful on its own, so with or without the show he will continue his lifestyle as well as his beliefs. As far as the public is concerned, we would do well to heed the words of Gamal Hennessay: “Always consider the source of your advice. Advice cannot be neutral, the source of advice is just as important as actual words.” Enough said?


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  1. Phil came from a parish in Louisiana that claimed the highest lynching rate 16 years before his birth. He went to segregated schools. His parish built a confederate monument when he was 5. This is the context of his remarks.

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