The Duck Dynasty setup
I've been saying since Friday that I thought someone at the A&E network was actively out to get the Robertson family and shut "Duck Dynasty" down. Maybe it's an internal power play at the network, a couple of executives enforcing their ideology on the rest, or maybe it's the entire executive clique at headquarters, perhaps after protracted nudging from liberal pressure groups. The whole Phil Robertson suspension happened way too fast to be a bolt from the blue, especially given the enormous size of the show's audience. Knee-jerk censorship as a snap decision is harder to swallow when you're talking about the network's top show, the biggest program of its type in cable TV history.
Well, well, well, what do you know... it turns out the network had a publicist in the room with Phil Robertson when he gave much of his fateful interview to GQ magazine. And yet, no attempt at damage control was made, either during or after the interview.
That's a bit curious, isn't it? The network didn't do diddly-squat to stand up for the star of its top show. His comments have been widely distorted and misquoted, but A&E hasn't lifted a finger to make it clear precisely what he said, and exactly why they find it an offense that merits suspension.
And of course, the Robertsons' beliefs are (a) not a surprise to anyone who watches the show, and (b) consistent with widely-held Christian positions on homosexuality that source themselves to Bible passages, and are therefore hardly a shocking new development. The general outline of any devout Christian's answer to questions about the morality of homosexuality is not difficult to anticipate. Robertson didn't use particularly aggressive language. He encouraged no hatred or animosity. On the contrary, in one of the suspiciously less well-known passages of the interview, he talks about the Christian duty to love the sinful:
“We’re Bible-thumpers who just happened to end up on television,” he tells me. “You put in your article that the Robertson family really believes strongly that if the human race loved each other and they loved God, we would just be better off. We ought to just be repentant, turn to God, and let’s get on with it, and everything will turn around.”
This largely-ignored quote, incidentally, appears just one paragraph and a couple of stray sentences before the line that brought gay-rights enforcement squads up to full speech-suppression alert: "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." Somehow the liars of GLAAD and allied Thought Police units turned that into "Phil Robertson said homosexual behavior is the same as bestiality!"
The point is that all of this is entirely predictable; it falls in line with what most devout Christians who takes the Biblical passages on homosexuality seriously would say. (Let's not even get started on what devout members of certain other, politically preferred religions think about homosexuality - a conundrum that's going to become very uncomfortable for the American Left soon, and is already causing ideological seizures for the European Left.) It's profoundly disingenuous to portray Phil Robertson as a wild-eyed loose cannon who needs to get run out of the public square on a rail because he said something unexpectedly controversial. The network's posture of stunned dismay rings phonier with each new development in the saga.
At dinner this evening, friends asked why A&E would deliberately maneuver to shut down their cash-cow program. It seems like a horrendously stupid move from a business standpoint, costing untold viewers while placating people who aren't going to have the numbers or interest to replace that lost audience. Part of the answer can be seen from A&E's darkly humorous decision to blanket the Christmas week airwaves with "Duck Dynasty" marathons, starring liberal culture's latest Emmanuel Goldstein, Phil Robertson. They've already got the bulk of another season in the can, and might have gambled the show would have started losing steam after that. They might not believe they're throwing away quite as much ad revenue as many observers seem to believe.
And they don't really have to worry about losing "viewers," since they're sold as part of bundled cable TV services; it's very difficult to stop paying for the network. They might have been more worried about GLAAD-organized boycotts, a fear that runs contrary to the threadbare results of boycott threats against companies like Chick-fil-A, but of course if the A&E executives already disliked "Duck Dynasty," they wouldn't pay much attention to such recent history.
The other factor that occurs to me is that A&E execs might have been worried about a backlash, or blacklist, from Hollywood, where the enthusiastic embrace of homosexuality and same-sex marriage is absolutely mandatory. Sooner or later, "Duck Dynasty" would begin to fade, but a lingering blacklist from Hollywood that hindered the network's other programs, or injured the other creative enterprises of the network's owners (i.e. Disney) would do a lot of damage over the long term. There are rational calculations that make the wrath of Hollywood more fearsome than the ire of 12 or 14 million viewers, many of whom would get over their anger and resume partaking of the network's entertainment products before too long, and very few of whom have any real way to stop putting money into A&E's coffers anyway.