There is absolutely nothing “feel good” about today’s topic, though it has certainly been front and center on my Facebook newsfeed for a couple of days. I’m a little sick of seeing it, really, and it makes me wish I had a hide button for an entire topic. (Now that I think about it, that would frequently be a pretty good idea; somebody get Zuckerberg on the phone.)
So what’s so overwhelming and unwelcome these days? Well, it’s probably no surprise to anyone with a news feed, but it’s Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson and the entire firestorm surrounding his recent interview.
Obviously, he’s not the first celebrity to say something offensive and get social media buzzing, with people lining up to take sides, and anyone who thinks he’ll be the last is living in a fantasy land. And it’s not even the first “controversy” to annoy me as I scroll through my friends’ posts, though this one does seem to be bothering me more than most. I’m not sure why that is. I don’t watch Duck Dynasty, nor do I particularly care what its stars have to say about most any topic. I’m not gay, black, or an adulteress or addict of any sort, so most of the offensive comments in his interview weren’t directed at me, so I’ve got no real skin in the game. You know, except for the idea that I think any decent human would be offended by the careless way he denigrates people and assumes that everyone who doesn’t conform to his particular way of believing is in need of salvation. There’s no doubt that I’m easily annoyed by narrow-minded people, so I guess that part is no surprise.
And, not to be guilty of as much stereotyping as Phil, but I’ve been exposed to a lot of redneck types in my lifetime, so even though I don’t watch his show, I’ve heard enough about it to have formed a rough idea of the Robertson family values, and I’m not surprised by his viewpoint. And I’m also not surprised that a television network would take steps to distance themselves from that viewpoint in the wake of public outcry, though I notice A&E has not removed the show from its lineup. Call me cynical, but I’m guessing they’re not really surprised by Phil’s comments, either, and probably not really that bothered by them (at the corporate level, I mean; I won’t presume to know what the network execs think personally), since these sorts of controversies often lead to increased viewership.
And I suppose I really shouldn’t be surprised by the number of Robertson defenders flying the banner of FREE SPEECH, though I think it’s possible that’s the root of what’s really irritating me. Somehow, these people seem to have missed the entire point: his speech was not hindered, even though it was clearly offensive to any number of people. Phil hasn’t been arrested, whisked off to some government torture chamber, or put to death for his beliefs. I’m fairly certain that’s precisely the sort of protection the First Amendment guarantees. And I’m equally certain that the founding fathers never meant to imply that there would never be any sort of consequences as the result of practicing your free speech, only that you wouldn’t be persecuted by the full force of the government because of it.
It’s really a pretty simple process: Robertson has the right to say what he thinks, a magazine has the right to give him a platform to share those thoughts, people in general have a right to agree or disagree with what he thinks (and flood Facebook with those opinions), and his employer has a right to reconsider their working relationship as a result of those thoughts. You might not agree with A&E’s decision to suspend the man, but unless you’re working for yourself, I bet there are things you can’t do if you want to keep your job. And I bet a lot of those things have to do with offending whatever customer base you serve and potentially driving them away. Bosses don’t like that sort of thing. It isn’t a Constitutional issue; it’s business.
But, whatever people want to call it, I’m tired of seeing it debated on Facebook, and while I never thought I’d say this, I will be very relieved when my feed gets back to pictures of food, weather, and cute kittens.