The Duck Dynasty Scandal: What's All the Controversy?
The GQ Interview
Duck Dynasty is one of the most-watched television shows in the United States and pulls in more viewers weekly than the final episode of "Breaking Bad". It involves the adventures of a family of duck-call creators (a business that made them wealthy even before their involvement with A&E) who sport long beards and camouflage clothing and freely espouse conservative Christian values.
In a recent GQ Interview, Phil Robertson in particular has come under attack for some of his language around his observation of life during the pre-civil rights era (particularly his observation that he never saw an unhappy or mistreated African American person) and his discussion of homosexuality as a sin equivalent to drunkenness and terrorism.
Life During the Jim Crow Era
Phil Robertson has come under from some for the following interview comments about race in Louisiana before the Civil Rights era:
“I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field.... They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!... Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”
To some, these comments on race imply that Robertson believes that African Americans were largely "happy" and more "godly" before the Civil Rights era and that they did not have much reason for demanding equal rights. He seems to imply that "entitlements" and "welfare" are a problem and that African Americans were not "singing the blues," though, on a literal level, the Blues as a form of music was created by African Americans during the pre-Civil Rights era, often as an expression of despair over economic issues. Jonathan Merritt, writer for the Atlantic Monthly, describes his reaction to these comments as such:
When we hear many stories—stories like these and the thousands more like them—we see just how shocking Robertson’s assumption based on his single story really is. He may envision a Jim Crow South where blacks were treated well and sang happy spirituals all the day long, but this is not the South many African-Americans knew in this era.
Others believe that Robertson's comments simply reflect his own experience and that he should not be expected to know about Southern history beyond his personal experiences.
Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty
Duck Dynasty Scandal
Do you think the Duck Dynasty Scandal is a "Freedom of Speech" Issue?
Comments about Homosexuality
Robertson also made several comments about homosexuals that have revealed a far more fundamentalist bent to his religion than some had expected:
“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,” he says. Then he paraphrases Corinthians: “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.”
“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.”
Some readers found these quotes to represent a particularly fundamentalist and literal reading of the Bible, one that borders on hate speech. Although many conservative Christians share these beliefs about homosexuality and have rallied behind Phil Robertson, other Christians, some of whom are homosexual themselves, find these beliefs to be a misrepresentation of biblical values.
Response of A&E
The network A&E responded to Phil's statements by putting him on an "indefinite suspension". They have not said more about the future of the show or about when he might be invited back.
The officially Duck Dynasty website has an official statement in response to the suspension that claims they are currently in talks with A&E and cannot see a way to move forward with the show without Phil's presence.
Does "Freedom of Speech" Apply to Phil Robertson's Suspension?
Some critics of A&E's decision have stated that Phil Robertson's "Freedom of Speech", as protected by the First Amendment, has been harmed by A&E's decision and that he is being targeted for his religion. It is unclear how Robertson's freedom of speech has been violated. The First Amendment mentions that no laws can be put in place to establish religion, infringe speech, infringe the freedom of the press, interfere with peaceable assembly, or prohibit government petition for grievances. Phil Robertson's words were not infringed upon; in fact, they were published in a very well-known publication and freely read by the public. At no point did the government have a say in his hiring or firing. Since A&E is a private company, it is free to fire Phil Robertson or cancel a show if language he uses is perceived as harmful to the network.
Although there have been no clear infringements upon Robertson's speech, many find his suspension to be "anti-Christian" and have protested the suspension. This issue is sure to be debated for weeks to come, so to better prepare yourself no matter what side you favor, here is a round-up of a few articles (some used in this article) that discuss the controversy and the varying sides: