The honchos at A&E, professing shock that an old Southern redneck from their reality TV hit "Duck Dynasty" made the sort of homophobic remarks one would expect from an old Southern redneck, yanked Phil Robertson off the show. A culture war skirmish ensued.
Gay rights groups condemned Robertson, who shared his raw opinions in a GQ Magazine interview. Religious conservatives, meanwhile, accused A&E of censoring the Louisiana duck hunter. What Robertson said, they noted, is right there in scripture, in Corinthians I.
Naturally, the politicians jumped in. "I remember when TV networks believed in the First Amendment," said Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. "It is a messed-up situation when Miley Cyrus gets a laugh, and Phil Robertson gets suspended."
For the record, governor, Cyrus (who gained fame for shaking her raised rear end on TV) got not a laugh from me, but a retch. And I did find it odd that A&E would suspend a rural Bible Belt dweller from a "reality" show for saying what many like him really think — as gross as was his way of putting it.
And as inconsequential. Almost no one cares about homosexuality anymore, including most young conservatives. Outside some swampy precincts, the right to gay marriage is rapidly becoming the law of the land. Last week, same-sex couples lined up to tie the knot in, of all places, Salt Lake City.
Also, for the record, Robertson's reading of Corinthians accurately included "adulterers" among those to be denied entry into heaven. Such concerns evidently did not deter the hunter's fellow Louisianans from re-electing Republican David Vitter, a confessed adulterer, to the U.S. Senate in 2010. (In 1999, Vitter succeeded Bob Livingston in the House, after the representative resigned for having been caught cheating on his wife.)
Adultery may ban one from heaven, but it seems a lesser barrier to holding elective office in Washington. In his tweet defending the "Duck Dynasty" patriarch, Vitter emphasized the free speech part, not the Corinthians passage. That was wise.
Until this controversy flared, I had never seen "Duck Dynasty," using the freed-up TV time to watch old "Frasiers." Thus, I've been pondering how the hyperelitist Crane brothers would have responded to the "Duck Dynasty" to do. I envisioned Frasier making a clueless reference to a Royal Pan-Seared Duck Breast recipe using his signature pomegranate sauce.
The down-home Southern duck hunting culture would have seemed as exotic to the Seattleites as the caviar-binging Crane brothers would probably be to the bayou Robertsons. (Keeping categories straight, "Frasier" is sort-of fiction, and "Duck Dynasty" sort-of reality.) The brilliance of both shows is the characters' comic capacities for self-mockery.
As for freedom of speech, A&E hasn't taken anyone's away. Its executives have every right to suspend Robertson from its programming for violating its code of conduct — or for overdoing the camouflage prints. This is business, you know, and if A&E wants to demand that its crotchety old Louisiana duck stalker be politically correct and a macrobiotic vegan besides, it may do so.
The question is why the network went this far. Why can't it respond to what it considers offensive views by simply announcing that A&E finds them offensive? It's hard to see the point of punishing this redneck, who seems as much no-school as old-school.
The "Frasier" brothers protected their snooty sensibilities by steering clear of shopping malls and Olive Gardens. Those jarred by Southern crackers speaking their minds might likewise try avoidance. (Was I just politically incorrect using the word "cracker"?)
Or they should make peace with the obvious risk that if you watch reality TV, reality is (sometimes) what you get.
(A member of the Providence Journal editorial board, Froma Harrop writes a nationally syndicated column from that city. She has written for such diverse publications as The New York Times, Harper's Bazaar and Institutional Investor.)