Cable network A&E suspended the star of its mega-hit reality show "Duck Dynasty" after the star, Phil Robertson, made some comments in GQ magazine.
Robertson blasted homosexuality, bestiality, adultery and other "sins." He also said that black people were perfectly happy under the old segregation laws and that he had never personally witnessed any racism.
For obvious reasons, these comments infuriated people.
Robertson and his Louisana-based family have become multi-millionaires as a result of the show. Their business -- custom-made duck calls -- is expected to generate $44,790,000 in sales this year. The 20-person cast also makes $200,000 each per A&E episode (there are seven episodes per season). The Robertsons are extremely savvy when it comes to building their brand: they've expanded into other lucrative areas such as Christmas albums, a duck-themed cruise vacation, air fresheners, keychains, mugs, plates, napkins, bandanas, fake beards, a cooking DVD, marinade and more!
A&E's decision to suspend Robertson from the show immediately triggered a second outcry. Robertson had merely been expressing his religious beliefs! The Bible says that homosexuality is a sin! By suspending Robertson, A&E had effectively insulted all Christians! Sarah Palin quickly capitalized on the opportunity to rally her base, as did other politicians. A Facebook page that advocated boycotting A&E immediately got more than 900,000 "likes."
Meanwhile, the Robertson family put out a statement saying that it has "spent much time in prayer since learning of A&E's decision" and that Robertson is a God-loving man who is now being punished for "expressing his faith." Although it is amusing to imagine that the newly enriched Robertson family might have been praying that A&E would not cancel the show, the implicit threat was clear: If A&E doesn't reconsider its decision, the family might take its celebrity and viewership elsewhere.
So, should A&E have suspended Robertson?
It's obvious why the network suspended him. (Because the comments presumably offended millions of more tolerant viewers, executives and advertisers and might cost the network money).
But is suspension really the best response?
Might it not be healthier and more helpful for all involved for the network to have branded Robertson a closed-minded troglodyte and condemned his remarks...but stood by its contention that "Duck Dynasty" is a "reality show" and let him air his views?
The reality, after all, is that lots of people in America — including many A&E viewers — agree completely with what Robertson said.
If Robertson is widely reviled and mocked for his remarks, including on the show, wouldn't this move mutual understanding along? Would it not make great reality TV for A&E to follow Robertson around on a media-apology tour in which he is forced to interact with gay people and explain to them why he feels they are "full of murder"? That would certainly make for interesting viewing!
In any event, the reality is that, unfortunately, Robertson is expressing views held by tens of millions of Americans. Firing him for expressing those views when he works for a "reality show" would seem to be a lost opportunity to move the national dialogue along.
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