Why the “Free Speech” Defense for Anti-Gay Remarks is a Lame Duck
Phil Robertson, outspoken patriarch of the internationally aired A&E show Duck Dynasty, is in hot water for his anti-gay views that came to mainstream attention in a recently released interview with GQ Magazine in which he compared being gay to bestiality.
“It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.”
And, paraphrasing Corinthians:
“Everything is blurred on what’s right and what’s wrong. Sin becomes fine. … 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. Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”
We could go on, because there is a lot of patronizing “saving the homosexuals with our judgment-free love” talk from Robertson, but you get the picture.
In case you’ve missed the record-breaking Duck Dynasty (or, like me, wish you had), it’s a “reality” TV series on A&E depicting the lives of the Robertson family, a family of religious conservatives who got rich from their family-operated business Duck Commander, which makes products for duck hunters.
The Robertson men, which includes brothers Phil and Si, and Phil’s sons Jase, Willie and Jep, all share a similar appearance with near-trademark beards and, not to be forgotten, a serious religious conviction of the evangelical variety. Beyond the series, they have become a merchandise-selling powerhouse, with several New York Times best-selling books, and a variety of other products that can be found in a variety of stores, like Cracker Barrel.
With this in mind you’ll understand why, when the gay rights groups started complaining, A&E and the Duck Dynasty sponsors were keen to put a football field of distance between themselves and Robertson’s remarks. A&E issued a statement saying:
We are extremely disappointed to have read Phil Robertson’s comments in GQ, which are based on his own personal beliefs and are not reflected in the series ‘Duck Dynasty.’ His personal views in no way reflect those of A&E Networks, who have always been strong supporters and champions of the L.G.B.T. community.
Robertson, A&E said, was henceforth suspended from the show. Then it turns out the whole family is on a break because they aren’t filming until the new year and that, at that point, Robertson might return — so not really a suspension, more a festive holiday.
Nevertheless, rather than acting contrite, Robertson has done exactly what anyone familiar with his TV persona would have thought he might: refused to back down or quiet down. He’s quoted as saying:
“I am just reading what was written over 2,000 years ago. Those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom. All I did was quote from the scriptures, but they just didn’t know it. Whether I said it, or they read it, what’s the difference? The sins are the same, humans haven’t changed. If you give them the bad news, they’ll start kicking and screaming. But you love them more than you fear them, so you tell them.”
Robertson has seen quite a number of people rush to his defense. Fox News, naturally, has carried several pieces in recent days claiming Robertson is the victim of the “minority rights” lobby and their so-called bullying tactics.
Sarah Palin and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal are both moaning about “the politically correct crowd,” or as Palin tweeted:
“Free speech is an endangered species: Those ‘intolerants’ hatin’ & taking on Duck Dynasty patriarch for voicing personal opinion take on us all.”
Ah, but there’s a small problem here.
Does the “free speech” defense apply when in the same interview Robertson claimed that African Americans were potentially happier pre-civil rights and where he implied that the dehumanization of African Americans through Jim Crow laws wasn’t as widespread a reality as verified historical records would have us believe?
For some reason, Fox News, Sarah Palin and all Robertson’s defenders haven’t rushed to defend those comments. In fact they’re behaving like they were never uttered at all. That silence speaks volumes.
Also, no one would deny that Robertson has the right to say whatever trickles through his brain, or parrot whatever beliefs he holds. A&E has in fact built a show around it — which makes their reacting to Robertson’s statements as though they came out of nowhere seem slightly suspect, but I digress.
Robertson doesn’t, however, have the privilege to say whatever he likes without having those statements judged, evaluated, questioned and, potentially, refuted and criticized. None of us do, and especially those of us who have knowingly engaged with the media spotlight.
Let’s be honest: the “free speech” defense is a lame duck that is quacked when people are taken aback about being challenged on their beliefs when they arrogantly assumed those beliefs were beyond criticism. It’s the perfect example of trying to play the victim.
There is one thing to come out of this though: A&E’s next series of Duck Dynasty, already filmed and with Robertson appearing in several episodes, is probably going to be another record breaker. Something to look forward to then.
Photo credit: Thinkstock.