Much Internet raving has been done over the past 48 hours in regards to comments made by reality show star, Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty. The comments were, at worst, homophobic and racist; at best, a perfect example of what the privileged don’t get about being privileged. As a social worker and advocate who tries to practice in an anti-racist, anti-oppressive way, I was of course bothered by yet another example of hateful rhetoric in the media. But should activists and social workers really be giving time to reality television stars? Does engagement in this realm cheapen our work? I decided to hang back.
But then this morning I came across this piece on “The Matt Walsh Blog,” and that familiar feeling came over me: that fire, that shattered feeling that led me to social work and advocacy. And I realized that while engaging the comments of a reality television star may seem like a waste of energy, the conversation is happening, and I’m not allowing misinformation to reign.
Walsh’s blog post is a letter to the network A&E, which has suspended Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson after questionable comments he made in an interview with GQ. In regards to homosexuality, Robertson likened it to bestiality and had the following, uh, not-so-delicate insights to share: “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.”
He went on to say, “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.”
Now, I’m curious about the seeming exemption, by default here, of female prostitutes, but I won’t read into what that may mean about Robertson. He has also angered readers by saying that in all of his years living in the south, he has never witnessed a person of color being treated unfairly, detailing his experience of farming alongside them, and how “they’re singing and happy.” It’s all just a charming mix of “But I can’t be racist because I have a Black friend,”.
So Walsh’s letter to A&E, which airs Duck Dynasty, begins with a paragraph that includes the sentence, “You punished the Christian guy for being a Christian because you got some angry emails from a bunch of whiny gay activists who lack the spine and maturity to deal with the fact that there are still people out there who have the guts to articulate opinions that they find disagreeable.” As if coming out against anti-gay rhetoric doesn’t take “guts,” given the climate in which this whole fiasco can still happen. Walsh goes on to claim that Duck Dynasty is the only programming on A&E keeping the network going, and that by distancing itself from Roberston, has also alienated a majority of its viewers. Walsh clearly takes the stance that the Christians are the victim here, being silenced for sharing their beliefs.
What is unfortunate is how Walsh conflates Christianity with anti-gay rhetoric. As we know, not all Christians are anti-gay. He reminds A&E of the Chik-Fil-A brouhaha, calling the boycott by LGBT supporters of the chain “officially, the least effective boycott in the history of mankind.” First of all, Mr. Walsh obviously hasn’t done much organizing! If only so many of our efforts got as much media attention as that one! And whether the company was hit financially by the boycott or not, many of us still refuse to patronize Chik-Fil-A. They are now known to those of us who care to be an organization who does not support human rights. And just as their CEO exercised his right to speak freely, so have the the executives of A&E. Perhaps they will lose viewers. Perhaps they will gain some in support of their anti-homophobic stance. And without painting A&E with rose-colored strokes here, maybe enough employees and executives in that company care enough about human rights to stomach the loss of a few viewers. Which, really, seems the more “Christ-like” thing to do. Yet Walsh goes on to claim that A&E is censoring Robertson’s Christian faith. Again, this conflates Christianity with ant-gay speech. A&E did not come out against Christianity–it came out against specific remarks made by someone who purports to be a Christian.
Walsh goes on to ask A&E what they found offensive: “…you guys hate the Bible and find it to be offensive, right? Or is it just parts of the Bible? Or is it just Christians? Or is it just Christians who have the audacity to believe in the entire Bible, rather than a select few segments that pass the modern PC litmus test?” I wonder if Walsh, and the Christians throwing their support behind Walsh, keep multiple wives, or slaves, or mix different kinds of fabric when they dress in the morning, or if they eat pork or shellfish. Sure, this argument is old, and, admittedly, over-used. Yet it still seems relevant, because it still seems to be a point of dissonance for folks who use the Bible to justify hate speech.
I do agree with Walsh on one point, however. He lambasts A&E for their other programming, such as Hoarders, which he feels exploits the mentally ill, I agree with him on that point. He also brings up Disney, who owns about 50% of A&E according to Walsh’s blog post, and cites the other networks in which Disney has it’s fingers, which produce “debauchery” (Walsh’s word) like The Bachelor or Desperate Housewives, and again, I’m with him. The Bachelor is a train wreck to a feminist like myself. Absolutely. But if we’re talking about decency and vulgarity in the media, then I find it interesting that we are defending Robertson’s comments that graphically detail his disdain of anal sex.
Walsh, and others supporting Roberston are crying “free speech”–what seems to be lost is that freedom of speech does not equal freedom from consequences. Robertson does have freedom of speech, and he exercised that right. Unfortunately, he used it to cast all Christians as sex-negative, homophobic, and unaware of racial prejudice. The executives at A&E are using their freedom to speak as allies of the LGBT community. Walsh’s blog post is not well researched and instead traffics in hyperbole (seriously, Mr. Walsh, if you want to talk about boycotts that may actually qualify as “officially the least effective boycott in the history of mankind,” I’ll send you a list! Rejection is a part of being an activist, and I have a long resume we can chat about!). It also does a great disservice to those Christians who believe that all people are equal and deserve protection from hate speech, regardless of who they find sexually attractive.
Lastly, LGBT kids are watching TV. They are reading the Internet. As a social worker, and a friend and family member of LGBT people, I know that growing up in a culture that consistently puts you down makes for serious problems later in life. When Chik-Fil-A supporters rallied and ate copious amounts of fried chicken in the name of anti-gay sentiment, a young gay boy saw that on TV. He saw a veritable festival of people rallying against him. That is terrifying, that is isolating, and that is damaging. That is why I decided that this debate matters. One can say whatever one wishes, all of us can, and I am choosing to be a voice of dissent against oppression.
Written by Mary-Margaret Sweeney
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