A Real Philemma


One of these days, a celebrity I actually like is going to say something stupid. When that day comes, I hope I don’t find myself thinking of ways to excuse his or her behavior.

As soon as I heard about the firestorm that grew up around Duck Dynasty patriarch and ZZ Top Fan Club President Phil Robertson, I knew I’d be writing about it. It’s not that I care about Duck Dynasty – nothing could be further from the truth – but this has all the makings of a Paula Deen style scandal. In fact, it’s bigger than the Deen scandal: Deen’s reprehensible behavior could only be hand-waved away by saying that she was a product of another era, but Robertson’s old-fashioned bigotry supposedly has the backing of the Big Man himself. Of course, that all depends on your reading of the Bible (Shh, don’t tell conservatives that there are different opinions on religious matters – it just upsets them), but the religious right is perfectly happy to conclude that anybody who finds Robertson’s recent comments in GQ disgusting must be violently anti-Christian, and therefore worthy of scorn.

What did Robertson say that was so appalling? Man, what didn’t he say? Robertson’s GQ interview is a veritable grab bag of ignorance and bigotry. Said Robertson:

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.

Dear God. I simply don’t know where to start. Robertson is with the blacks, because his family is white trash? So does Robertson actually conflate black people in general with “white trash”? That’s not a flattering comparison by anybody’s standards. And if Robertson failed to witness the suffering of blacks under Jim Crow, then it was only because he was blind to it. I cannot believe that Robertson spent his entire life huddled in an isolated bubble where all the local black people were just as happy as they could be about the hand they’d been dealt. Robertson must know that was not the situation everywhere.

But racial insensitivity aside, what does Phil Robertson think about gay people?

Everything is blurred on what’s right and what’s wrong… Sin becomes fine. Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men. Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right. 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

You know how sometimes you realize you’ve said way too much but for some reason your mouth just won’t stop running? I think Robertson experienced that about the time he started discussing vaginas and anuses. I’m so sorry, gentle reader, to have exposed you to that. Nobody should have to think about the places Phil Robertson does or doesn’t want to stick his wang.

The first thing that’s blatantly obvious is that Phil Robertson doesn’t understand anything about homosexuality; or to be fair, he understands about as much as he thinks he needs to, which is nothing. He manages to work bestiality into his discussion about homosexuality, as if they are two sides of the same coin. Of course that isn’t true: a gay man or woman is no more likely to have sex with an animal than a straight man or woman is, but that distinction is not important to somebody who wants to make homosexuality sound as icky as possible.

Also, Robertson seems to think that human sexuality is driven solely by our attraction to various orifices. Unfortunately for him, this idea doesn’t hold up under close scrutiny. A gay man is not gay simply because he wants to…you know. He’s gay because he is attracted to men, not their body parts. How does Robertson not understand this? Oh right, because he doesn’t want to.

Now let’s be honest: you don’t have to interview Phil Robertson to guess how he feels about certain social, religious, and political issues. I’m sure the bigwigs at A&E knew from the start that the Robertson clan would have fairly staunch Christian conservative values, including an open disdain for homosexuality. They took a chance on the Robertsons because they thought the show could be successful, and it has been. Robertson was just speaking his mind: no matter how abhorrent his beliefs are, he is still entitled to them. But just as with the Paula Deen kerfuffle earlier this year, people need to understand that A&E is a business, first and foremost. They are not bound by the Constitution to respect free speech, which means they can make their own decisions about which of their stars’ comments they will support. Robertson was either gutsy or foolish – depending on your point of view – for admitting to feelings that a reasonable person would know were controversial; now come the fireworks. Nobody should be surprised.


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