As an artist and writer, I’m sensitive to the implications of censorship and the importance of having freedom to express oneself. But I’m also a realist and understand nothing is done in a void, that there are consequences to everything I do. I’m accountable for any impact I have and I’m okay with that. I wish everyone was.
So, even though I really wanted to let the outrage at Phil Robertson’s suspension from “Duck Dynasty” fade away on its own, you might guess I have a hard time letting waves of ignorance go by unchallenged.
If you’ve been living under a rock for the last 48 hours, Phil Robertson, the patriarch of the family at the center of one of TV’s most popular non-fiction series and ubiquitous merchandising blitzkriegs, was suspended by the A&E network in response to complaints they received. The complaints came in response to a recently published GQ magazine interview where Mr. Robertson made a number of controversial remarks — specifically, remarks he made concerning gays — remarks few of us would find all that surprising coming from a conservative Christian. Yep, he thinks gays are sinners and going to hell. Surprise, surprise.
But people were surprised at his suspension by A&E. People were outraged. If you are one of those outraged or surprised people, or if you’re just interested in where I’m going with this, please read on. I have a few questions for you.
A conservative Christian said he believes gays are sinners and going to hell. What part of that surprises you? Powerful organizations supporting gay rights felt his comments could negatively impact their cause and complained to his employer (A&E). What part of that surprises you? His employer, a for-profit corporation that relies in part on Mr. Robertson’s popularity to maintain advertising revenue and merchandising profits, suspended him when his comments had the potential of putting those revenues and profits at risk. What part of that surprises you?
Now, I understand how fun it is to be outraged. I understand how magnetic it can be to join the outraged masses and be a part of something bigger than yourself. In fact, I understand how outrage can be a tool of change and is the spark of true activism when it is legitimate.
But the outrage at Phil Robertson’s suspension by A&E is not legitimate. Its a groundless farce. And I’ll tell you why.
The outraged bandwagon-riders (perhaps even you) are blowing the horn of free speech, saying that A&E and the liberal special interests are infringing on Mr. Robertson’s constitutional right of freedom to express his faith. And they’re saying it like this is some new, weird thing. Guess what folks, the Constitution only protects us from governmental infringements, and even then they aren’t absolute. Under the right conditions, the government can infringe on any of your rights it wants, constitutional or not. And as far as private corporations are concerned, if you think any corporation is going to protect your freedom of expression over its bottom line, you are well within the definition of “fool”. How do you suppose McDonald’s Corporation would handle one of its cashiers who keeps telling its customers to “go check out the Whopper at Burger King. It’s awesome!”. Or more in tune with our situation, how long do you think that cashier would last if they ended each transaction with “Jesus loves you” or “Allahu Akbar”? Believe it or not, there are people working at McDonald’s as enthusiastic and vocal about their religious beliefs as Phil Robertson is about his. But the McDonald’s employees seem to be a little more adept at understanding the power of the corporation they work for to manipulate what they say.
And let us not forget that no one is telling Phil Robertson what he can or cannot say. A&E is just telling him he can’t say what he wants to say and continue to be a blindly adored celebrity on their channel. I’m sure there are other networks with different advertising clients that would be happy to employ him. Just don’t change your mind on the gays, Phil. Then those other folks will fire you as well. And we’ll all have to be outraged again.
The thing all of us should really be outraged by is that we live in a society where Phil Robertson’s views even matter; a society where a man with views as socially stunted and common as his, hold more weight over others simply by virtue of his celebrity. That, my friends, is where the true outrage exists.
I chose this picture because even though my post has little to do with painting (unless you count the “freedom of expression” angle) it’s the only painting I’ve done that even comes close to looking like a duck. Duck…Duck Dynasty…get it?