Sunday, December 29, 2013

Once more on Mr. Duck Dynasty

The controversy that Duck Dynasty "patriarch" Phil Robertson got himself into the middle of with his nasty comments about gays and his warm appreciation of the virtues of segregation reminds me more than a little of Vice President Dan Quayle's criticism of the fictional character Murphy Brown in the 1992 Presidential campaign.

Here's a short VH1 clip that gives the background of that particular Dan Quayle foot-in-mouth episode, i love the 90's murphy brown:

Here's a Candy Crowley retrospective from ten years later, 2002 - Dan Quayle '69 & 'Murphy Brown' 10 Years Later:

The two situations have obvious differences. Dan Quayle was better able to construct grammatical sentences than Sarah Palin, one of Pore Ole Phil's more famous defenders.

And Quayle was criticizing a fictional character, while Pore Ole Phil's supporters are defending a real person, although a real person most everyone knows about from the fictional character of himself that he plays on a TV "reality" show.

What strikes me as similar in both is that it was a moment where a popular culture issue incited partisan and ideological passions and caught a lot of attention. In both cases, the Republican/Christian Right critics claimed to be defending "family values." In the Murphy Brown case, they were defending the presence and necessity of fathers in the "traditional" heterosexual nuclear family, a perspective which Candy Crowley's report pretty much let's Dan Quayle define in her more-or-less lazy report. With Pore Ole Phil the Patriarch, they claim to be defending the traditional heterosexual family by criticizing homosexuality.

How they looks to those not inside the Republican/FOX/Christian Right bubble is different. Quayle was appealing to the "traditional" slut-shaming of women having babies outside of marriage blessed by clergy. Phil the Patriarch compared to gays to people who have sex with animals and praised racial segregation, which sounds like your basic homophobic and white racial bigotry to most people.

The Murphy Brown case was scarcely an historic matter, though it became a minor symbol of the Republicans' tone-deafness that year to the concerns of female voters. The Pore Ole Phil episode is likely to be remembered as one of the seemingly endless series of "culture war" complaints that the Christian Right continually produces.

Both are signs to me of an underlying ugliness in Christian fundamentalism, especially as it manifests itself in Christian Right politics. But it's harder to see the Pore Ole Phil flap in a benign light than the Murphy Brown one. While Quayle's criticism of a fictional character sounded like cheap slut-shaming, he could make a semi-plausible case that he was pointing to the importance of responsible fatherhood. And, despite, the impression one might get from Crowley's report, the Democratic Party and non-fundamentalists were not generally known in 1992 for opposing responsible fatherhood.

But, as I've noted in an earlier post, the fans of Pore Ole Phil were very pointed about defending his position as sound Christian doctrine. Neither the nasty comments about gays nor the praise of segregation seemed to raise any moral or Scriptural problems for them. He did say "vagina" and "anus" in the interview, though, and the former especially is a dirty word for Republicans these days. So he drew some criticism for the "coarse" language he used. Dan Quayle wasn't know for either political shrewdness or intellectual heft. But he didn't come off that nasty.

Gene Lyons has a sensible take on Pore Ole Phil in Duck Dynasty Bigots Will Fade Into Obscurity National Memo 12/11/2013: "Duck Dynasty may be this month’s right wing cause célèbre. Longer term, however, unapologetic bigots always fade into obscurity, basically because they embarrass people." A longtime Arkansas resident, Gene evaluates the show that made Pore Ole Phil a star this way:

Now that I’ve actually seen a few episodes, Duck Dynasty is relatively harmless entertainment. Whatever “reality TV” means, it’s definitely not that. It’s a semi-scripted sitcom, basically cornball self-parody. Think Hee Haw without the music. I find it utterly inane, but then I don’t watch TV with children.

The "tell" is the show’s women; cute Southern sorority girls turned mommies. In real life, no way would those women tolerate their "menfolk" running around looking like a truckload of ZZ Top impersonators. They're also not going on TV with hay in their hair like some Hollywood director’s idea of a country girl. Every comedy needs a straight man; on Duck Dynasty it’s the women.

But realism? Please. The beards, hair and overalls are costumes every bit as theatrical as the outfits the Rolling Stones wear onstage. In the rural Arkansas county where I live, you could hang around the feed store for a month without seeing anybody like Duck Dynasty "patriarch" (and head bigot) Phil Robertson. And if you did, his wife wouldn't have any teeth.
A&E reportedly edited out nasty "culture war" type comments in the filming of the TV show. A&E wanted the cornpone comic edge, not a we-hate-gay-and-blacks one.

Josh Barrow looks at the controversy in When You Defend Phil Robertson, Here's What You're Really Defending Business Insider 12/21/2103.

Here's another segment from The Young Turks on The DD Patriarch, Cracker Barrel Heeds Call To Bring Back Duck Dynasty Products 12/23/2013:

Kevin Sessums, an author who's one of the more famous graduates from my undergraduate alma mater Millsaps College, had this to say on Facebook around 12/28/2013:

You know what gripes my ass about all this Duck Dynasty brouhaha as someone who grew up in the south. It once again gives credence to the southern redneck bigoted stereotype - not only because of the racist and homophobic claptrap spouted by Phil Whatshisname, but also because so many southerners came to his defense. He proudly flaunted his ignorance and vitriol and they proudly backed him up. And then they all - as is their wont - played the victim for being called out on their bigotry because they self-righteously rationalize their earthly bigotry with religiosity, a curdled kind of Christianity. I felt as if I were in a 1960s time warp. And they wonder why the rest of the country has a preconceived notion about the southern redneck bigoted stereotype. Maybe because it has yet again been proven true. In some deep and abiding way it breaks my heart just as the region I call home always ends up doing.

Personally, as a born and bred Mississippian, I'll throw in my lot with another man of the south, a great one named Faulkner, who bemoaned "the rubbish and claptrap of a people who have not yet quite emerged from barbarism, who two thousand years hence will still be throwing triumphantly off the yoke of Latin culture and intelligence of which they were never in any great permanent danger to begin with."
Matt Taibi focuses on the comments by the White Princess on the DD Affair in Sarah Palin's Impressively Incoherent 'Duck Dynasty' Rolling Stone 12/19/2013:

Conservatives have always had trouble grasping the difference between public censorship and private enterprise. With a few exceptions, like whistleblower laws and National Labor Relations Board protections against being fired for off-site discussions about work conditions (exceptions that, in almost every case, conservatives bitterly opposed), there is no legal or constitutional right to free speech on private property.

You can be fired for calling your boss a dick, and you can just as easily be let go by a profit-seeking media company for imperiling its relationship with advertisers. And incidentally, this is the way true conservatives, and especially true hardcore speech advocates, have always wanted it. ...

Palin's inability to grasp the difference between a first-amendment violation and corporate calculation is amazing because she literally just published a book on the subject. Her newly-released War-on-Christmas diatribe, Good Tidings and Great Joy, is all about the efforts by evil Jesus-hating atheists to sue the Christmas out of our public lives. (It's one of the funniest things ever written, by the way. I would write a review but I don't think I could make it all the way to the end without a cardiac episode).

In writing this new book, Palin presumably spent the whole of the last year or so staring right at the issue of what may be said on private property versus what may be said on public property – the difference between putting up a nativity scene in front of a courthouse and putting one up on your lawn. Yet as this latest controversy shows, the underlying issue is still a total blur to her.
And our old pal Bro. Wade "Sword-of-Vengeance" Burleson manages to defend what Pore Ole Phil said while upholding the sacred right of private owners to do whatever the heck they like: Duck Dynasty and a New Television Network Istoria Ministries 12/19/2013.

The Internet and Twitter are on fire over Phil Robertson's removal from Duck Dynasty. The arguments are typical. We Christians are furious over A&E's removal of the 67-year-old star from the show for saying that homosexuality is "a sin." That the secular media and A&E called Phil Robertson's comment "explosive" says more about the truncated and short-sighted historical knowledge of the secular media than it does Phil Robertson. Until a few years ago, homosexual behavior was illegal in America. Just because the government decriminalizes homosexual behavior doesn't mean homosexuality isn't a sin anymore. The government is not God nor vice-versa.

Yet, on the other hand, I would argue that A&E has every right to remove Phil Robertson from its hit television show. We Americans believe in free speech and free markets. Don't forget the latter. A&E is a for profit television network and has the right to operate freely according to their views of market profitability. That means just as we fight to secure free speech in America, we ought to fight for the right for A&E to do anything they want with their own shows. They must make a profit. Let them do what they believe is best. [emphasis in original]
Bro. Sword-of-Vengeance obviously comes down hard on the let-business-run-wild side of the contradiction that Matt Taibbi identified, while the White Princess lands on the other.

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