Editor’s Note: Ruben Navarrette is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter @rubennavarrette.
Ruben Navarrette: Phil Robertson's role in future "Duck Dynasty" shows unclear
He says the network that airs the show is continuing to profit from it
New episodes are to be aired in January, and there's a holiday marathon
Navarrette: Network gains from the Robertson persona, which it helped create
This Christmas, enjoy the turkey and roast beef. But do yourself a favor, and skip the duck.
This whole controversy over A&E’s hit show “Duck Dynasty” is whacked. Better make that “quacked.”
First, the network puts Phil Robertson, the family patriarch, on indefinite suspension for making insensitive remarks in a magazine interview. Then, the rest of the family rallies around their leader and suggests that the hit show will not go on without him.
As you probably know unless you’ve spent the last couple of weeks crouching in a duck blind, Robertson – in paraphrasing a Bible verse – appeared to liken homosexuality to bestiality and used crude language to describe his own sexual preference. In speaking to GQ magazine, he also seemed to minimize the discrimination that African-Americans suffered in the South before the civil rights movement.
Criticism of Robertson poured in, but so did support for one’s right to express oneself.
The patriarch responded: “I would never treat anyone with disrespect just because they are different than me.”
In fact, Robertson claims he and his family are the ones who have been treated disrespectfully – by the producers of the show, and the entertainment industry in general.
In an interview two months ago with the Christian Post, Robertson said that television editors in Los Angeles “with no moral compass” have routinely manipulated the show’s footage to intensify the language and make the family appear more profane and unruly than they really are.
“They inserted fake beeps like somebody had used profanity, but no one had used profanity. If you want that, you can get all of that you want,” Robertson continued. “Just turn the station. There’s plenty of that! And if we’re not using profanity, why make it look like we’re using profanity? What is the point? Why don’t you just run it and say what we say?”
Eventually, he said, producers gave in and “quit doing that.” According to Robertson, the editors also took out the phrase “in Jesus’ name” when the family prayed.
It makes you wonder exactly how much reality is behind some of these reality shows.
And now, it looks like the whole spectacle of Robertson being taken to the woodshed by the network could be part of the show. According to Entertainment Weekly, A&E will – starting January 15 – air new episodes of the show that will include scenes featuring Robertson.
These new episodes were already in the can. Still, if A&E is sincere in its outrage over what Robertson said, then it should stop trying to profit from the show he helped make successful.
Michael Feeney, senior vice president of corporate communications for A&E, told me that since filming isn’t set to resume until the spring, the network has not yet had to make a decision on Robertson’s role. He said he couldn’t comment on the Christian Post interview.
Despite the fact that an average of 14.6 million Americans tune in each week to track the adventures of the Robertson family when you count DVR recordings, I’ve never understood the appeal. For me, the question isn’t why Phil Robertson was suspended. The real mystery is why he and his family – who run a successful business making supplies for duck hunters – have a television show in the first place.
I have a theory. Here is what you need to keep in mind as you waddle through this controversy: The reason that “Duck Dynasty” is on television is to make liberal studio executives at A&E, and parent company Disney feel superior, while making big profits for the studio.
The Robertsons are on television so that people in New York and Los Angeles – the kind of folks who refer to anyplace in between as “flyover country” – can feel progressive and enlightened by comparing themselves to simple country folks in Louisiana who, according to the elites, are neither. (And can make lots of money doing so.)
“Duck Dynasty’ is this era’s ode to “Amos ‘n’ Andy.” In that show – which aired on radio and television from the 1920s through the 1960s and which was created, written and produced by white people – Americans were given the opportunity to laugh at African-Americans, adding insult to the injury that this group of citizens was already sustaining before the civil rights movement.
Now, Americans have a new group to laugh at – a self-described “bunch of rednecks from Louisiana.”
Here’s the irony. This show is successful at least in part because the characters say things that many Americans consider colorful and crude. It makes them interesting. That’s the schtick of the Robertson clan.
Now Phil Robertson is in hot water for staying in character and saying something colorful and crude. That is, Robertson was suspended for doing in print what he has, for the last four years, been paid to do on television.
That’s awfully hypocritical of A&E. The network is embarrassed and would surely like to distance itself from the Robertson family. However, it seems, it would like to stay acquainted with the millions of dollars the show generates each year.
The network should be embarrassed. Not by what Robertson said; it couldn’t control that. It should be embarrassed about what it could control: the way it responded and the mess it made of this situation.
In discussing this story, commentators have been talking a lot about rights. Robertson had the right to express his opinion. The network that has chosen to co-mingle its brand with the Robertson brand had the right to suspend him. Viewers who support the family have the right to boycott the network.
But with rights come responsibilities, and – as far as A&E executives are concerned – they include the responsibility to avoid the hypocrisy of continuing to profit from a persona they created that they now claim to find offensive.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I think the “Duck Dynasty” holiday marathon is well under way.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette.