I’ve been living outside of the US for five years. In those five years I’ve gone from keeping up with popular television shows (we ‘borrowed’ the last season of Lost from the internet—don’t worry, we gave it back….) to where I am now; the fringe edge of American popular culture. We watch American television, but we are forced to pick and chose what we watch. When you are paying iPrices for a series, you don’t watch just anything. Because of geographical distance, time zone limitations, prohibitive cost issues and sometimes just plain disinclination, I’m removed from a lot of current popular culture. This means I’m sometimes caught off guard.
Like this Duck Dynasty brouhaha.
(For others like me who don’t know a Duck Dynasty from a Carrington Dynasty, Duck Dynasty is a reality television program which focuses on a family who own a very successful company which produces duck hunting products; hence the title.)
Let me begin by saying I have never seen the show. In fact, the first time I even heard mention of the show was during the World Series when I began to see many of my Boston bound Facebook friends sporting fake ZZ top-esque beards. Even then I had to Google what the hell Duck Dynasty was to have a clue as to what was going on. Now suddenly my Facebook feed and blog reader are littered with blogs and bloggers who are ‘standing up for the first amendment, all because the private cable company which airs the reality show has decided to suspend one of the show’s stars for views he expressed in a magazine.
Don’t underestimate my stance. I am well aware that the underlying issue which is whipping up a duck frenzy is not the fact that a favorite character may or may not make an appearance on the next season of a reality television program. What is getting the uproar up and roaring is that some people feel it is wrong for A&E, the channel which airs the program, to make a decision based on the religious and personal views of an individual. The shouts from the rooftop seem to be that Phil Robertson’s suspension from a reality television show somehow infringes upon his First Amendment right as an American to ‘freedom of speech’. I don’t claim to be a constitutional law expert, nor have I ever played one on tv, but it seems to me the wrong end of the amendment stick is being waggled about here.
No one is censoring Phil Robertson’s speech. As far as I’ve read, GQ is planning on going ahead with his interview. Mr. Robertson is free to express his views anywhere he pleases, including in an assembly of his choice. He hasn’t been arrested for expressing his views. He is not rotting in jail or facing trial for expressing those views. No one is stopping Mr. Robertson from voicing his political or religious beliefs. He is free to sound off about whatever he pleases, be it duck hunting paraphernalia or gay marriage. Which he did. Perhaps because of those views, a private company, not a government-funded channel, which airs a reality show he appears on, has suspended his contract.
In my house, we call those natural consequences.
We go to great pains to teach our children that certain words are to be avoided or used with caution. Curse words, four letter words, words laden with racial and ethnic significance. We teach our children that words are heavy with meaning and history. We teach our children to respect differences. We teach them that if you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all. My husband and I aim to teach our children that words are not inherently ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Words are words. Most of us, however, have the intellectual capacity to understand the power behind words; we understand that speaking or writing them boost that power. If you are mature enough and aware enough to use certain words, to say certain things, you had better be mature enough to handle the consequences. If you call someone a disparaging name, it is going to sting. Call someone ugly, or fat, or stupid—anything that is offensive to their own views of themselves—and you need to be ready to deal with the consequences.
Some people believe that A&E has prohibited Mr. Robertson’s right to earn a living because of non politically correct views. As far as I can tell, Mr. Robertson has a very successful company which predated his appearance on a reality television show. Americans are not guaranteed the right to earn money on a reality show. Nowhere in the Bill of Rights does it outline the freedom to commercially prostitute your life on camera. Was A&E right to suspend him? I am sure it was within their rights to do so. I am guessing that before they made any decision, A&E consulted hundreds of their thousands of in-house counsel attorneys to make sure they wouldn’t/couldn’t/shouldn’t be sued. Whether or not I personally agree with their decision is moot. What I vehemently disagree with is the anti-free speech rhetoric that is being bandied about and the hypocrisy that surrounds it.
A few years ago, a popular country musician spoke out against the Bush administration. Something similar happened then, but with one big difference. The backlash was swift. Radio stations were deluged with calls from listeners who demanded the station stop playing music by the band because of their Anti-American sentiment. Somehow freedom of speech didn’t apply there–because it was anti-American. The very thing the First Amendment was written to protect–to voice a dissenting voice against the government without fear of reprisal–didn’t seem to be applicable. Irony, you fickle demon.
The constitution is not an all you can eat buffet. You don’t get to pick and chose your way around the Bill of Rights. You can’t stand by the ones you like and then call for the abolition of the ones you don’t. You can’t proclaim that one person is being denied their right to free speech and then call for the banning of books you find offensive with another. I am about as anti-gun, pro-regulation as you can get. I think the Second Amendment is often twisted and misconstrued, almost never taken in the spirit in which is was meant. And even I worry about fiddling with the Second Amendment too much, because once you start fiddling, it is a slippery slope. The First Amendment is in place to protect you against speaking out against an overreaching government. But it is not absolute, and it doesn’t come into play in this instance. It is there to protect against tyranny, not protect you from idiocy.
Mr. Robertson was likely suspended for views some found offensive. Was A&E pandering? Possibly, but that’s how change is wrought over time. That’s the thing, you get to say what you want, but you can’t act surprised when someone calls you out on it. His rights were not infringed upon. He is not being called out because he is a Christian. Or a duck hunter. Or because he is anti-gay or pro-beard. He is being called out because he said something that pissed someone else, or a bunch of someone elses off.
There have been blogs out there that have had millions of views and likes and shares because they believe that Mr. Robertson’s rights have violated. I am here to voice a discerning opinion. I don’t think I’m alone, but even if I am, I am okay with that. But I am here to ask this of you:
Don’t make Duck Dynasty or Phil Robertson a martyr to a cause. Don’t use a reality television program to highlight what is or isn’t wrong with America.
To do so is to sully and degrade what the Constitution really stands for.
After all, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it probably is a duck.