The culture wars are back, and this time, the battle alarms sound like duck calls.
The most recent episode of A&E's blockbuster show, "Duck Dynasty," is a Christmas-themed show called "O Little Town of West Monroe." Its contrived plot revolves around the idea that members of the Robertson family, who have a duck call business and look like ZZ Top impersonators, will star in their church's Nativity play.
Over the course of the 30-minute show, the hairy, bandanna-wearing brothers fake-bicker about Christmas gifts for their hot blond wives. In one bit, moderately amusing at first then repeated until painful, the youngest brother Jep, 35, rehearses variations on his one and only line: "We have no room here."
As always, though, the weirdest and most interesting part of the episode is the subplot involving family patriarch Phil Robertson, 71, who was suspended from the show indefinitely by A&E Network on Thursday for inflammatory remarks about homosexuality in the January issue of GQ. Phil is a "born-again" Christian and self described "Bible thumper."
This year's Christmas episode was recorded long before the publication of those remarks, though. In it, a cantankerous and contemptuous Phil complains about Christmas preparations by the women in his life. "Every Christmas, it seems like my house is invaded by yuppies," he says as his wife, Miss Kay, and his daughter-in-law, Jessica, put up decor. "They come out of the subdivisions…All they do all day is decorate and talk."
Conveniently for Phil, who wants nothing more than to retire to a "yuppie-free zone – the woods," Miss Kay is planning to serve "smoked wild hog" for Christmas. A hunting trip is in order, but Phil is confounded when the women say they want to go with him. Fake hilarity ensues.
Phil's suspension has set off a paroxysm among (we can only assume) secretly delighted conservative Christians who have found a new peg on which to hang their phony outrage about a culture of political correctness run amok.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal summed up the umbrage in a prepared statement, "It is a messed up situation when Miley Cyrus gets a laugh, and Phil Robertson gets suspended."
That is the kind of disingenuous analysis that could only come from the mouth of a politician with presidential aspirations pandering to his evangelical base.
Cyrus danced suggestively on the Music Video awards. And here, for the record, is what Phil Robertson told GQ writer Drew Magary:
"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."
Then Magary asked, "What, in your mind, is sinful?"
You can debate whether A&E ought to have suspended Phil Robertson—and there is now a movement of outraged Christians demanding a boycott of the network--but you cannot debate that he is advancing the repulsive idea that being gay is sinful, and promulgating the creepy obsession people like him have with gay sex.
His notions about civil rights are almost more disturbing. Growing up in Arkansas, he told GQ,
"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."
Sarah Palin, who is currently on the war on Christmas circuit, has rushed to his defense. "Free speech is an endangered species," she said on her Facebook page. "Those 'intolerants' hatin' and taking on the Duck Dynasty patriarch for voicing his personal opinion are taking on all of us."
Certainly, Robertson is entitled to spew his idiotic views. But the idea that A&E is infringing on Robertson's 1st Amendment rights is silly, and wrong. A&E is his employer. Employers have the right to punish employees for doing things that make the company look bad.
"We are extremely disappointed to have read Phil Robertson's comments in GQ, which are based on his own personal beliefs and are not reflected in the series Duck Dynasty," A&E said Wednesday, announcing the suspension. "His personal views in no way reflect those of A&E Networks, who have always been strong supporters and champions of the LGBT community."
To suggest that the Robertson family of "Duck Dynasty" represent something that America's liberal elites scorn is preposterous. The sheer numbers—14 million viewers a week-- prove otherwise. Like Honey Boo Boo and her family, the Robertsons are objects of fascination, not repulsion. They are amiable and willing avatars of an iconic American subculture, except when they veer wildly off script, as Phil Robinson did in GQ.
The show exploits its redneck sensibility to the hilt, playing on America's curiosity about its "backwoods" characters, who in actuality live in brick mansions, take Hawaiian vacations and are rich by any American standard. (Otherwise, why would John Luke, teenage son of the oldest Robertson brother, Willie, have the gall to request a new truck for Christmas after crashing his old truck?)
I counted at least four episodes over the show's four seasons that use the word "redneck" in the title, including "High Tech Redneck," "Redneck Logic" and "Redneck Road Trip."
What the producers of "Duck Dynasty" have apparently been so good at concealing until the GQ interview is that while most of the Robertsons have been acting in a reality-based sitcom, Phil Robertson has been starring in his own covert Christian ministry.
In an interview with SportsSpectrumTV in April, Phil Robertson described his approach as "spiritual warfare."
"Pat Robertson show," he said, referring to the famous televangelist. "You just can't break out your Bibles. This format is not going to allow that, however it does create a big audience and the people who want to hear more from the spiritual side, trust me, are gathering up in massive numbers. This is Hollywood hitting the Kingdom of God head on."
Trouble is, his Kingdom of God is stuck somewhere in the 1950s, while the rest of the world, spiritual and otherwise, has moved on.