‘Duck Dynasty’ shows pitfalls of unfiltered reality character

Posted Wednesday, Dec. 25, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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In the course of an excursion with GQ’s Drew Magary, Phil Robertson, patriarch of the “Duck Dynasty” reality TV series, made remarks that, among other things, compared homosexuality to bestiality.

The show’s host network, A&E, issued a statement saying that it was shocked, shocked — or rather, that “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 Networks having “always been strong supporters and champions” of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

For good measure, Robertson was placed on an “indefinite hiatus.”

And the backlash was instant. “StandwithPhil!” is hashtagging all over.

For the uninitiated, Phil heads a family that made a fortune selling duck calls and whose members have allowed cameras to record their shenanigans as they go hunting, share their faith and sport luxurious beards.

“Duck Dynasty” has been dutifully laying golden (duck) eggs for A&E for four seasons, spawning best-selling books and attracting 14 million viewers.

So, Help! Help! He’s being repressed! Stand with Phil! Christians Unite! Turn off the thought police!

What happened to free speech? What happened to freedom of religion?

Even Sarah Palin weighed in.

“Free speech is an endangered species. Those ‘intolerants’ hatin’ and taking on the Duck Dynasty patriarch for voicing his personal opinion are taking on all of us,” she posted on her Facebook page.

You are, of course, perfectly free to express your religious beliefs and opinions (however noxious they may seem to some) without necessarily being allowed on television with them.

Freedom of religion does not come with a pulpit included. But try telling someone on the Internet that.

As Linda Holmes of NPR wrote in 2010, “The First Amendment doesn’t guarantee that speaking your mind will have no economic consequences. … Because the ‘free’ in that concept means ‘free from government interference,’ not ‘free from consequences.’ 

Mel Brooks’ quip that “you’re always a little disappointing in person because you can’t be the edited essence of yourself” has never been truer than here.

The Phil Robertson that 14 million viewers have gotten to know is a Phil Robertson with air quotes.

It’s the character “Phil Robertson,” edited for content and formatted to fit this screen.

It’s A&E’s character based around the statements and life of Phil Robertson, in keeping with A&E’s mission.

A&E means to tell us it had no idea he was capable of saying this?

GQ’s Magary sits down with him for a few hours and Robertson says all of this readily and with no hesitation, and the network that has been taping his life for years had no idea?

What a run of luck A&E must have had that he wasn’t interviewed until now.

“Phil Robertson” doesn’t say that kind of thing out loud. Phil Robertson does. OUR Phil would never say a thing like that, A&E shouts. Of course not.

The trouble with reality stars is they are hard to turn off. Deny them one pulpit, where they’re edited, and other outlets spring up like hydra heads.

There’s plenty of free speech to go around — and a big platform to go with it.

You can take away an actor’s job. But once someone’s a star, you can’t tell people to stop paying attention to him because he said something awful.

He can only half-lose a job in which he plays himself.

Alexandra Petri writes The ComPost blog for The Washington Post. pundit7@aol.com

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