published Sunday, December 22nd, 2013

Cook: If it talks like a duck

Phil Robertson shouldn't lose his job.

Or be suspended. Or put on hiatus. Or whatever it is the jittery A&E network executives can think to do to dodge the real issue. (Hint: It's not what Robertson thinks about gay Americans).

If you don't know, Robertson is the patriarch of a Louisiana family made famous -- very famous -- by the A&E show "Duck Dynasty," which is everything good about bad TV: facial-hair goofiness, dinner-table lessons and, somewhere nearby, a side of dynamite.

Theirs is a God, guns and country family: lovable, often quite funny, stereotypically Southern, predictably conservative. So when a writer from GQ asked Robertson his thoughts on sin, he responded, well, as you might guess.

"Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there," Robertson said.

He says more unpleasant things than this (even reminiscing on a pre-civil-rights Louisiana as a quaint, Uncle Remus world where blacks are aw-shucks happy), but in this hair-trigger climate of political sensitivity, A&E quickly suspends Robertson. That leads to huge backlash -- online petitions, Facebook support -- from "Duck" fans.

"Free speech is endangered species," Sarah Palin tweeted.

It's also a selective double standard. Robertson is silenced, yet Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke aren't. To reach the GQ article with Robertson's apparently offensive quotes, how many sexualized advertisements do we have to thumb past?

To find "Duck Dynasty" episodes on the A&E website, you'll have to click past women in Daisy Dukes and pink bikinis on horseback, an image the network's using to advertise its "Rodeo Girls" show.

To find Robertson's controversial quotes, you have to read the GQ writer's bonanza of expletives, which only further highlights the difference between the PG-ness of the Robertsons and the R-rated world around them.

We treat free speech like a baby bird; we handle it gingerly, as if we may injure it. Yes, Robertson said things that were hurtful. But it was not hate speech, and there are millions of Americans who probably think just like him. And many are good and decent and doing the hard work of trying to reconcile their Bible verses with the growing suspicion that maybe, just maybe, being gay is OK.

"We're Bible-thumpers who just happened to end up on television," Robertson told GQ. "You put in your article that the Robertson family really believes strongly that if the human race loved each other and they loved God, we would just be better off."

Behind such judgment calls -- Robertson censured, Cyrus not -- is the marketplace, which has decided that some things are acceptable and others aren't. By silencing Robertson, A&E proves it's concerned with advertisers, which means it's concerned about money.

And that's what this is about.

The network is quite willing to exploit Cajun and Ozark culture to make money, but as soon as one of its moneymakers speaks his full mind, the network execs cut and run.

It is the worst form of media, one that's willing to commodify the Robertsons, but not let them be their full selves. (And they call it reality TV.)

You can't walk down two aisles in Walmart without seeing some form of "Duck"-inspired item for sale. Any and every part of the Duck-Cajun culture has been co-opted into an item to be sold, but not so with the ideas, opinions and theology of the Robertsons. There, you're only served what's nonthreatening and marketable.

What a contradiction: no limits on the amount of junk you can buy with their faces on it, but plenty of limits on what the Robertsons can say.

(How soon before another reporter asks the Robertson sons their feelings about gay Americans and their interpretation of the Bible? Will they be honest, will they loyally defend their father, will they speak in false tongues just to keep the political dogs off their back? This mess is far from over).

I'm not suggesting the Robertsons -- willing partners in all this, richer than their wildest duck dreams -- are victims.

But we are.

The suspension of Robertson is one more reminder of the spectacle of television, which dictates the conditions of what we see and what we don't, of what is offensive and what isn't. A&E executives would have let Robertson burn his beard off to get ratings, but as soon as he disturbs their bottom line, they'll pluck him like a Christmas goose.

As the old saying goes, if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it's actually a chicken known as A&E Networks.

Contact David Cook at or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

Comments do not represent the opinions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, nor does it review every comment. Profanities, slurs and libelous remarks are prohibited. For more information you can view our Terms & Conditions and/or Ethics policy.
jesse said...

WOW David,first time you got it 100% right since the Paul Page dust up!!! KUDOS!!

Having never watched the show i had no idea how popular it was and i think A&E miscalculated badly! They pandered to an audience they didn't have and it's biting them on the butt!!

December 22, 2013 at 6:15 a.m.
schizka said...

When anyone defends Phil Robertson this is what they're defending:

(1.) Phil old boy thinks blacks were treated just fine during Jim Crow.

__(a.) NOT! without sanctuary org.

(2.) Robertson thinks the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor because they didn't believe in Jesus.

_(a.) Does that mean America doesn't believe in Jesus either because they dropped Atomic Bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Used Napalm in Vietnam? Raped little girls in Iraq?

(3.) Robertson hates gay people. excerpt/ Robertson 2010: "Women with women, men with men, they committed indecent acts with one another, and they received themselves in due penalty for their perversions. They're full of murder, envy, strife, hatred. They are insolent, arrogant, God-haters. They are heartless, faithless, they are senseless, they are ruthless. They invent ways of doing evil."

(a.) What does the above make those upstanding citizens who murder gay people for being gay? good Christians?/Just performing their godly duties? Remember Mathew Wayne Shepard, the gay University of Wyoming student brutally beaten and left to die hanging from a fence way out in nowhwere land?

Do limits and responsibilities come with free speech? I mean, would any of you tolerate someone walking up to your wife, girlfriend, daughter and calling them a "bth? Whre? Sknk?"

Americans tend to support free speech only as long as it's the other guy, the "raghead"___"nger, "f/g" etc. etc. on the receiving end of the insulting, dehumanizing, base and ugly free speech. Freedom of speech doesn't give anyone a blank check to just go about and around saying anything they want. My grandmother has this plaque hanging on her kitchen wall that says: Make sure your brains are loaded before shooting off at that mouth. Robertson's brains were apparently empty when he's spoken on more than one occasion.

December 22, 2013 at 11:12 a.m.
sagoyewatha said...

Thank you, David, for an excellent opinion about a real American man who worked hard for everything he has, follows his faith, and is not afraid to use his free speech

December 22, 2013 at 11:25 a.m.
LibDem said...

I've never seen this show but am guessing from what I read that it appeals to a baser side of the American psyche. sagoyewatha says it's about a real American man and maybe we have to hope that's not true.

December 22, 2013 at 12:02 p.m.
jesse said...

Schikiza ya let the point of David's article blow right over your head!Go back and reread it,maybe 3 or 4 times and MAYBE you will comprehend what he is saying! But i doubt it!!!

But don't feel bad,it went right by sogoyawatha too!!

December 22, 2013 at 12:08 p.m.
soakya said...

when anyone defends phil they are defending his right to have an opinion and express it. you don't like what he says turn the station or put your fingers in your ears.

December 22, 2013 at 1:06 p.m.
schizka said...

jesse, Oh, I must disagree. I get it alright. Freedom of speech has boundaries. Just walk into crowded theater and scream fire!

Since you all believe in Phil Robertson's freedom of speech, you should also believe in the right of A&E, who has a much wider viewing audience than some mouth-off from some Louisiana swamp, to express their freedom to cut him loose if they so choose. Like LibDiem, I've never watched the show either.

December 22, 2013 at 1:55 p.m.
jesse said...

I DO!! schizka BUT i think the article was more about WHY A&E cut him loose! Not freedom of speech but about money!A&E could give a ratzarz about Phil's opinion or freedom of speech!! They were trying to protect their brand and nothing else and that may have backfired onum!!

December 22, 2013 at 2:13 p.m.
Rickaroo said...

I have never been a fan of reality TV. It always seems to gravitate to the lowest common denominator. For all the time "Duck Dynasty" has been on I had never watched a single episode. I finally tuned in a few weeks ago to see what all the people were raving about and, just as I expected, I saw a bunch of quintessential rednecks acting like the redneck morons they are. I couldn't believe they had amassed such a cult following. But then, I don't know why I was so surprised - this is what America has become after all, a nation of clowns and idiots mindlessly entertained by buffoons and their buffoonery. I suppose the fact that the Robertson clan is a bunch of RICH redneck buffoons makes them special somehow?

But this is supposed to be "reality TV," is it not? The REALITY is that the Robertson's think exactly like 99.99% of Bible-thumping conservative Southern rednecks think - they hate Obama, they love their guns, their Bibles, and their Confederate flags, and they think gays are an abomination and are going to hell. The fact that that part about their attitude towards gays has taken this long to be exposed to the public actually comes as a surprise to me.

A&E doesn't give a damn about principle here, it just cares about their bottom line and of course that is money and ratings. They chose to market these idiot rednecks to the public as entertainment in the form of reality TV, and if it's indeed reality TV, then people ought to know that the reality is that rednecks like the Robertson's are your typical homo-hating bigots. It seems to me that A&E could have avoided all this mess without trampling on anyone's right to free speech by showing a disclaimer at the beginning of every show, stating that the views and opinions of the characters are not necessarily those of the network and its affiliates. Of course, it would still be a moronic show geared to the moronic masses, but at least A&E would be giving the redneck fools their right to spout off their bigotry and nonsense and their idiot fans the right to go on lapping it up.

December 22, 2013 at 2:22 p.m.
jesse said...


Exactly!!Me agreein w/you roo is gittin to be a habit!! GOTTA do somethin about that!!!!!

December 22, 2013 at 2:42 p.m.
Rickaroo said...

Lol....don't worry, jesse...I'm sure that one or the other of us will have our feathers ruffled by something the other says on some other topic. But it's all good.

Actually, even though we disagree on certain things, I still respect your stance as a true independent, unlike someone else on this forum (ahem...PT) who calls himself a "moderate independent" but ALWAYS clings to a right-wing ideology and bashes liberals on every turn. You have been known to take a liberal stance from time to time, conservative at other times, and no stance or a middle stance sometimes, which is how I think a true independent would be. I respect anyone who at least knows where they're coming from and makes their stance clear. I have no respect for someone who either doesn't have the good sense to know what his ideology really is or he is just hypocritical about it.

December 22, 2013 at 3:19 p.m.
sagoyewatha said...

Phil, that "redneck fool," is a self made multi-millionaire, with a master's degree, who was a star quarterback at LSU. When did he lose his right to free speech, and if you all are so smart, why aren't you rich?

December 22, 2013 at 6:36 p.m.
jesse said...

I never said he was stupid !ignorant?FOR SURE!! But this is ALL about A&E and their motive for cutting him out!A&E made a bigger ass out of themselves than Phil did!!

December 22, 2013 at 7:01 p.m.
schizka said...

So now, just because someone has money vile behavior is acceptable? Does that mean pedophiles like Sandusky aren't really pedophiles because they're rich? Gosh! If that be the case, this nation really has sunken to the level of a back upped doo-doo filled toilet bowl. Lots of people are self-made millionaires and even billionaires, but they still maintain character, integrity and respect for others. And they certainly don't go around insulting entire groups and races of people.

December 22, 2013 at 7:33 p.m.
Plato said...

Rickaroo I think you nailed it by pointing out the network's hypocrisy. Like my grandma use to say, if you play with fire, don't cry if you get burned.

December 22, 2013 at 9:04 p.m.
jesse said...

UH schizka ,first chance ya get check out Westboro Baptist Church!

Then reread your above post!

December 22, 2013 at 9:12 p.m.
Rickaroo said...

Regarding sagoyewatha's post: I knew that Phil Robertson was a self-made millionaire but I didn't know that he had a master's degree and was a star quarterback at LSU. Thanks for enlightening me. That only makes him more of a contemptible idiot than I thought. It's one thing to be a redneck bigot due to ignorance from an illiterate upbringing but to CHOOSE to be one even after leaving the confines of his bigoted, racist redneck heritage is even worse. I have even less respect for him now than I did before, if that's possible. I think he had the right to say what he had to say without being censored for it, especially given the fact that he was on a REALITY TV SHOW about rednecks and their redneck ways, but still.....he and the whole clan are typical redneck idiots. The fact that they are multi-millionaires makes them more intelligent or special? In your eyes maybe, sagoyewatha.

But then, you are like every other idolizer of the uber-wealthy today - you think that because a person is wealthy it automatically confers a level of intelligence on them that is a cut above the rest. But that is the problem with our capitalist system - the fact is that only a small percentage of people world-wide have that special knack for running a business or even making money. The vast percentage of people throughout the world are destined to be average people just wanting to live their lives in relative comfort. Even if the majority of people were driven to be entrepreneurs and to make money, the world can only support so many entrepreneurs. Our capitalist system demands that there be more consumers of goods and services than creators of those goods and services. It is wrong to punish the average people just because they do not possess that gene that makes them want to be entrepreneurs. And our crony capitalist system does just that - it punishes and belittles those who do not have the special knack for making money, making them appear worthless or stupid or lazy for being "average" or not being richer than they are.

Capitalism as we know it is on its last legs. If we are going to survive on this planet we will have to get away from a money-oriented system that is depleting our finite natural resources and evolve to one that is not centered around profit and raping the environment.

December 23, 2013 at 1:43 p.m.
hotdiggity said...

Jesse, why should it upset you if A&E is trying to "protect their brand"? Of course they are. It is not in their interest to offend a large segment of their followers by allowing homophobic and racist comments even if many of their audience agree with them.

If a popular show allowed an actor to denounce Christianity and portray the followers as ignorant, superstitious, and hypocritical, you can bet the sponsers would run from that show also. You would also hear an uproar from Christians and conservatives.

Granted Fox News is an exceptian. They spew invective and hate but they target a like minded audience, so the sponsers feel comfortable supporting their channel.

Sex sells? Actually hate sells.

December 23, 2013 at 3:01 p.m.
jesse said...

It's the hypocrisy hot dig! Did you read what David said about R rated stuff they have no prob.with!I totally disagree w/Phils opinions but i agree w/David on this! May be a first ever!

December 23, 2013 at 3:19 p.m.
sagoyewatha said...

Rickaroo, what is, in your mind, the problem with "rednecks?" I see that type person as salt of the earth individuals who are much more intelligent than old wind bags who have contributed nothing to society but hot air. Success breeds a lot of jealousy, and you show that every time you comment. People your age should have achieved ego integrity and be able to get along with "rednecks."

December 23, 2013 at 6:24 p.m.
fairmon said...

rickaroo said....

A&E doesn't give a damn about principle here, it just cares about their bottom line and of course that is money and ratings. They chose to market these idiot rednecks to the public as entertainment in the form of reality TV, and if it's indeed reality TV, then people ought to know that the reality is that rednecks like the Robertson's are your typical homo-hating bigots. It seems to me that A&E could have avoided all this mess without trampling on anyone's right to free speech by showing a disclaimer at the beginning of every show, stating that the views and opinions of the characters are not necessarily those of the network and its affiliates. Of course, it would still be a moronic show geared to the moronic masses, but at least A&E would be giving the redneck fools their right to spout off their bigotry and nonsense and their idiot fans the right to go on lapping it up.

You summed it up pretty good and could add those objecting to the content or other activity by the members of the clan could not watch or buy products of sponsors. I seriously doubt his opinion changed the opinion of anyone regarding the issue he opined about.

December 24, 2013 at 1:41 a.m.
Rickaroo said...

Sagoyewatha, there are indeed a few decent "salt of the earth" country folks but they are few and far between. Most of the people I refer to as rednecks are those who love their guns, God, Skoal, and the Confederate flag, and they hate government just because they are told that it's bad and they hate gays just because their redneck preachers preach about what god-awful sinners gays are. They keep their heads buried in Faux News and/or TBS and are too stupid to realize that they are being fed right-wing propaganda that makes them keep voting against their own best interests. I know many like that personally. If you want to think of every redneck as the salt of the earth that is your prerogative but most of the people you are calling salt-of-the-earth rednecks I call ignorant bigoted Bible-thumping hicks.

As for this comment from you: "Success breeds a lot of jealousy, and you show that every time you comment. People your age should have achieved ego integrity and be able to get along with 'rednecks.'" I have lived on both sides of the fence of riches and poverty. I live modestly now, not rich by any stretch, but I am comfortable. I have friends who are extremely rich and I have friends who are among the "salt of the earth" country folks (NOT your typical redneck). I am perfectly content with who I am and I have not once of jealousy for rich or famous people. I judge everyone based on their character traits alone and not on their wealth or their lack of it. Just like not every country person is a redneck, not every rich person is an arrogant a-hole. But sadly, it's hard for a lot of people to be rich without being an a-hole as well. If you see jealousy in my comments you are as dense as most of your posts make you out to be.

December 24, 2013 at 12:45 p.m.
sagoyewatha said...

Rickaroo,I can hear the same thing you have to say on any hand drying machine just by pressing the button. You are a geezer gas bag without a life. You spend a lot of time aggrandizing yourself, but no one is convinced, then you try to run down anyone who is rich,famous or successful. Your comments are listed, which makes you transparent and your pattern is simply that of an amateur trying to keep up with professionals in a world were you were never accepted, or even considered.I must now return to Naples, so Merry Christmas to All, and to All a Good Night!

December 24, 2013 at 3:42 p.m.
Rickaroo said...

What a pathetic little fool you are to make such sweeping accusations. You lash out in that way because you've got nothing of substance to support your arguments. That sound from a hand drying machine is not from me, it's just the white noise from all that empty space in your brain.

December 24, 2013 at 4:26 p.m.
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