Thursday, December 26, 2013

Phil Robertson vs A&E. Who erred and how?

Phil Robertson has somehow run afoul of the the A&E cable channel.

Actually, there is no "somehow" in this.  How it happened is pretty clear.  Robertson, the patriarch of the Robertson family that is part and parcel of the Duck Commander brand and erstwhile star of the Duck Dynasty "reality" TV series, gave an interview to GQ magazine, an interview in which he spoke openly about his views on civil rights-era blacks and gays in general.

How dare he.

There are certain finer points that we don't know.  We don't know whether Robertson's contract speaks to what kind of topics he may not comment upon when giving interviews.  We DO know that Robertson and his family laid out some unassailable rules on their side of the contract, as reported by GQ: "their faith" (exactly what about the faith is not disclosed in the interview), there would be no betrayal of family members, and duck season was off limits.  Other shows might go on hiatus in the summer, but Duck Dynasty takes a break when duck season opens.

You can read the entire interview here.  The language is often coarse and frankly far below the content threshold I had expected from GQ.  Apparently its standards have fallen quite far since I last opened it.  That's a subscription I won't be signing up for anytime soon.  But in the interview Robertson gives his views on such things as gays - the sex doesn't compute for him - and civil rights.  He cites his own recollection in a time before the civil rights movement, working in fields alongside the black workers who were "singing and happy."  He says he never saw the mistreatment of a black person, possibly because as far out in the sticks as they were in Louisiana at the time, everyone was already equal: dirt poor.  To mistreat anyone would be to mistreat someone in just as lousy a condition as yourself.

I might be projecting a little, there.

But Robertson cited some Bible verses to support his stance on gays, and that's good.  It means he's not coming from prejudice or hatred, but doctrine.  He's living as he's learned.  Good and well.  Unfortunately he probably doesn't read Greek or he could have read the original text and decided whether it had been translated correctly.  There's a good chance that verse was actually a disavowal of pederasts.

A&E generally edits out the Robertsons' use of the phrase "in Jesus' name" at the end of their mealtime prayers, ostensibly so they don't offend any Muslims watching the show.  I find it very funny that both I and Phil Robertson asked the exact same question: "How many Muslims are watching the show?"  If A&E actually has a metric for that, I will be surprised.  I will be even more surprised if it is more than 1,000.

1,000 out of an 11,000,000+ audience is a negligible loss.  And to my mind there are entirely too many people, Muslim and otherwise, who are entirely too willing to take offense at stuff.  Chill out, people.  If you're that upset about it, we'll mute all those guerilla fighters screaming "Allahu akhbar" at the tops of their lungs.  You know, equal time.  Or, um, equal silence.

I don't think the problem here is that Robertson has a negative opinion of gays or a narrow personal experience of the civil rights era.  I don't think the problem is that he spoke his mind.  These are rights that cannot be legally curtailed in this country, thank goodness.  No, what he did was worse.

He didn't ask permission first.  As a TV personality, Robertson has network executives who are constantly watching the bottom line, the metrics, the audience reaction.  Those things are the butter on their bread, and anything that might impact them negatively must be anticipated, spun, handled.  Except Robertson is already independently wealthy, not dependent upon the network at all, and as anyone who watches the show already knows, not one to hold back on speaking his mind.  So he just says what he thinks and A&E edits out that which offends them and those few Muslims and the world keeps spinning...unless Robertson's comments get major play in some other large venue, like a premium magazine.  Oops.  Didn't see that one coming.

For their own part, completely in character with their own stated rule of no betrayal of family members, the Robertsons have released their own statement about Phil's unfiltered comments.

I just discovered that A&E have had to take Phil behind the woodshed once or twice for stepping beyond the bounds of no-go topics as described in their contracts.  So I was right about that much, there are rules in place and he broke them.  This isn't the first time and as evidenced by an A&E executive responding to the "crisis," he wasn't surprised.  "Disappointed," but not surprised.

I also understand the LGBT groups and GLAAD are upset.  Get over it.  Some people hate gingers for no reason, at least here you have a lifetime of conservative dogma informing his current stance.  It isn't hatred, it's just disavowal.  Listen up people: IT ISN'T HATRED.  Read the quote carefully and see if you see any hate there.  It isn't.

So who erred here?  That's the meat of the meal, isn't it?  Who screwed up, who has to clean up the mess.

Who screwed up first: this is a chicken-and-the-egg question.  Did Robertson screw up with his off the cuff remarks, or did A&E screw up when they signed him on?  A&E brass already knew Robertson has a history of speaking his mind on these very topics, and exactly which way he leaned when he spoke.

I say Robertson screwed up.  He opened his big mouth, knowing it was big and knowing it had gotten him in trouble before.  But considering the relatively benign nature of the comments - go read them, they're not as inflammatory as you might think - he could have done a lot worse.

Then A&E screwed up by allowing things to blow the hell up.  And then they screwed up even farther by suspending Robertson from his own show.  I mean, guys, really.

So who has to clean up the mess?  A&E.  They have the most skin to lose in this game.  Robertson, meanwhile, is riding high on a wave of public support and A&E, GLAAD notwithstanding, look like the bad guys in the public eye.

Bummer.   Try to hold the guy to the terms of a contract he signed and you get smacked for it.  Damn, that bites.

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