12/20/13 Duck Dynasty and the Media Surge

I have a banjo-playing attorney friend who said this:

Apparently some conservatives are howling “what about the First Amendment?!?” because this bearded guy from “Duck Dynasty” spoke his mind in GQ about gays, race, etc and got suspended indefinitely as a result. The First Amendment is about GOVERNMENT curtailing speech, not private TV networks. Free speech in the private sector has consequences. As it should.

Obviously the conservatives can demonstrate their displeasure by canceling A&E, boycotting its advertisers, etc. But there’s no First Amendment issue here. Same with Martin Bashir and Alec Baldwin. The rule is easy to understand – piss off your employer and you may lose your gig.

It’s true. The First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting free speech. There are serious limitations on your free speech in your place of employment.

Imagine, if you will, that a manager overhears a sales clerk in a famous shopping mall staple of women’s intimate apparel telling a shopper that, first, the shopper is perhaps a bit too fat to be shopping for lingerie, and that, second, the Indonesian and Bangladeshi sweatshops from which the company purchases their inferior products are exploiters of child labor. How long do you suppose that sales clerk would keep her job? Would it be wrong for them to terminate her?

Speech has consequences. Speech, though its usage may be a right of freedom, may indeed cost you something, rendering it unfree. Choosing when to bear the costs of free speech, and which things are worth bearing its cost, are simply a matter of prudence. Imprudent speech can and does have consequences.

Let me qualify myself here. I have never watched a single episode of Duck Dynasty…no, not one. That is not meant to be a commentary on Duck Dynasty, but you can take it as a comment on the state of television. The very reason we have reality shows is that they are so cheap to produce. No writers, a dozen or so in a film crew, and a producer, who let their dismally limited creative juices flow, contriving scenarios in such a manner as they appear to us to be unscripted. Well, perhaps there is no script as we know one, but there is a script just the same. The magic of a reality show comes in the editing and the dramatic, melodramatic voice-over.

On a 60 minute reality show, you have about 20 minutes of actual unique film footage. Then you have 20 minutes of the repetition of the scenes you just saw and the teasers of the scenes you will see next, and 20 minutes of commercials for free wheelchairs, magic mattresses that require second mortgages, treatments for erectile dysfunction which you should ask your doctor of its rightness for you, disability income assistance from New York Lawyers donning cowboy hats, and countless idiotic products all doubling their offer if you only order now. Every one needs a Snuggie, but wait, everyone needs two Snuggies, just pay separate shipping and handling. Please tell me you didn’t order the Snuggies. Please, oh, please, tell me that you and you entire family didn’t actually wear the purple ones to the ball game. Get a double Snuggie for two and a free sample of Cialis thrown in….take them both to the ball game. You wouldn’t look any sillier, nor get any more funny looks from others.

If you like Duck Dynasty, the chances of you no longer watching it are pretty small. If you’ve never seen Duck Dynasty, the chances of you tuning in now are much greater than they were, if for nothing other than to see what all the media hype is about. This is a remarkable feat of media savvy from those who know how to use the press to their advantage. You could be in the process of being led in the exact direction that you are being programmed to be led.

A&E announces that they have suspended Phil Roberston for an “indefinite period.” Have you wondered what that means? It most likely means nothing, particularly since A&E is running marathons of Duck Dynasty while simultaneously publicizing the suspension. A&E did not suspend the show. They just suspended Phil from some future filming. This has all the significance of old episodes of Gunsmoke where Matt Dillon fails to make any appearance at all, the show instead featuring Doc or Festus on some misadventure. If Robertson’s suspension were potato salad, it was like a big bowl left out in the sun at a July picnic; it’ll turn bad, fast. I suspect Phil’s suspension will last even less long than sun-baked, fly-swarmed, picnic-table potato salad.

What was dat,” Pierre asked Thibodeaux in the duck blind on frosty morning in Grand Chenier. “It went whizzing by so fast ah couldn’t see what it was, much less get mah gun up t’shoot. Wuzzat a Pin Tail or a Wood Duck?”

Needer one,” said Thibodeaux. “Dat was da Duck Commander’s suspension.”

Well,” replied Pierre, “Iss in orbit by now. Pass me ‘da wine, Thibodeaux, iss cold diss morning.” He took a big swig of the Taylor Lake Country Red Swill, I mean Wine, the South Louisiana duck hunter’s favorite, and then continued blowing on his Phil Robertson Deluxe Signature Duck Commander duck call, made way up north in West Monroe. As, he blew, ducks came in from all parts of the world just begging to be pierced through with steel shot and turned into duck gumbo, hoping, perhaps, that a missed piece of the steel shot laying vengefully in wait in the gumbo would crack a molar or two, the duck having the last laugh.

Phil Robertson used the Bible as his inspiration. I can’t argue with that. I won’t argue with that. The Bible says what it says, even the uncomfortable parts of it. You’ll have to decide what you’ll do about what it says. I didn’t write it. I had no hand in it. Yet, it speaks across generations, and new generations come to grips with the message it contains, which is not always easy.

Here’s something I know about it though. You might find this interesting. You might not.

The Sadducees were the large, dominant, one might say liberal Jewish religious sect during Jesus’ time in Jerusalem. They controlled the Temple grounds, the priesthood, the sacrifices, and the money. They were a rather worldly group, not even particularly believing in life after death.

The Pharisees were an uber-religious group, always keeping the dietary law, the purification laws, wearing all the right clothes, keeping all the religious holidays and feasts, wearing their phylacteries and other religious garments that showed the world their practice of piety. They were also very skilled religious lawyers. Jesus called them a wicked generation of vipers. I guess all the folks who talk about Jesus never being judgmental missed that part in the Bible. They likely also missed the part where Jesus drove the moneychangers employed by the Sadducees from the Temple grounds, saying that they had turned his Father’s house into a den of thieves. I suppose that was another display of Jesus’ absolute non-judgmental-ism. I think lots of folks missed that one, too.

The really interesting thing is that when the Sadducees needed some dirty work done, they turned to the zealous Pharisees to see to it. Dangle the right bait before them and they were after whatever it was that the Sadducees wanted dealt with, not really intending on doing what the Sadducees wanted, but zealously doing what it was that they thought God wanted them to do, the twisted seed having been planted in their heads by the emissaries of the crafty Annas and Caiaphas, the chiefs of the Sadducees. When that failed, Annas and Caiaphas had the clout to get the Roman appointed Jewish King Herod to do their bidding. They were clever, that Annas and Caiaphas, but they had a religious empire to run. They were so clever about it that the Pharisees, being so passionate about what they believed, never for a single instant thought that they were simply being used by those far more crafty, worldly and savvy than themselves. In a sense, it was like the more modern alliance between the Bootleggers and the Baptists. The Baptists did not want drinking, period, so they kept it illegal. The bootleggers just wanted it kept illegal. On that single point, their interests intersected, thus they were great allies, though the Baptists detested them. The bootleggers? They didn’t care who detested them just as long as they sold their liquor.

Whether you believe the actual circumstances of the Bible as they were recorded, or not, the lesson should not be lost, for the lesson is invaluable. And whether you believe what is recorded in the Bible or not, remember that it was recorded, thus more likely to contain a greater degree of accuracy than our late speculations about it. Me? I believe what it says. You are free to make your own choice. Every one is. Everyone always was. God allows us to choose.

We are sometimes used by others for the proliferation of their purposes at our own expense and we spend our resources doing exactly what we think is right but unaware of having been manipulated. It is similar to watching an entertaining news show and forgetting that its primary purpose is to entertain. Anyone can read the news right off the wire services, but that is not what we want. We want entertainment, and in news that comes as opinion and commentary, which may be related to the news but are not the news. The Pharisees wanted the truth, but they wanted the truth to line up with what they already were persuaded was true. The Sadducees . . . they just wanted to stay in power and grow fatter with the least amount of friction and trouble: appeasing the Romans, appeasing King Herod by bribing him enough so that he cheerfully did their bidding, appeasing the Pharisees by stroking their egos and setting them on righteous religious missions that ultimately served their self-righteous interests, and eliminating upstart young preachers who threatened their security by amassing thousands of followers telling them that it is not what goes into a man’s mouth that defiles him but what comes out of it; for what is in a man’s heart proceeds out of his mouth.

Men have faced death from the procession of words from heart to mouth. Men have faced the ruination of careers from the procession of words from heart to mouth. Men have faced cancellation of and suspension from their non-scripted, contrived, non-real reality shows from the procession of words from heart to mouth. No matter the scenario, the story remains the same. Words have consequences. We must face them when we use them imprudently, or worse, when we do.

The media savvy producers of Duck Dynasty and the huge media conglomerate that is the parent of A&E, much like the Sadducees of old, have coaxed modern day Pharisees into providing them millions and millions of dollars of free publicity. They have used the sensitivity of the easily offended to furnish for them what no amount of money could buy, which is to have their names, their product, and their lip-service to political correctness all being featured in every media outlet. Like Don Imus, Paula Deen, Mark Sanford, Elliott Spitzer, and Anthony Weiner, Phil Robertson will survive. He will have far more respect, and revulsion, if he unflinchingly refuses to recant a single word of what he said, and refuse he should if the words proceeded from his heart to his mouth. This may cost him something, but speech too free and loose always has the risk of costing us something with our employer. A&E is just one employer of Phil Robertson. He has several. He had a successful life prior to Duck Dynasty. He will likely continue a successful life after Duck Dynasty, since, no TV show lasts forever, nor careers. We all come to the same end in the end.

I would not have chosen the words that Phil Robertson chose to make his case for his beliefs, but he didn’t ask my advice before he chose them. Had I offered it, it likely would not have been received well. This is the nature of unsought advice. This is the nature of humans who are inclined to think that our own judgment is the the right one. This is me. This is you, too.

Before anyone gets too wound up about Phil Robertson’s right to free speech, remember that he freely said what he said. He has an employer that has displayed the appearance of not liking it, but that is likely a charade for our benefit and theirs. But he has a government that has not said a word about it, or made one move to retaliate against it. This is as it should be. Piers Morgan has utterly condemned it, but, honestly, who on earth cares what the completely predictable and contemptible Piers Morgan thinks? We already know. The GLAAD advocacy group has robustly condemned it, but why would anyone expect them not to? Their membership will swell with this new advocacy cause-celeb since advocacy groups thrive on controversies surrounding the causes they advocate. Why are we angered by it? Are Christians feeling threatened because the book they revere as holy is held in contempt by so many? Why? Is this a new development? Did not Jesus say His followers would undergo persecutions for His sake? Where is the newness of this? Media and advocacy group lambastings are not persecutions. Look to Syria, Iran, Egypt and Nigeria if you want to be concerned about Christian persecution. I fear we have mistaken an ancient amoral pop culture for a modern persecution. Persecutions are much darker and evil than the condemnation of a fickle public.

While the circumstances around the Duck Dynasty controversy may be an un-reality of contrivance, let me tell you something about the show that is not. My friend, Tony Pasko, who lives and works here in Meridian, Mississippi, and with whom I have shared the stage at The Sucarnochee Revue composes and performs the music for the show. Tony is a real musician. He really composes the music. He really performs it. It is real music. Good luck, Tony. I hope that through all this controversy, none of which is your doing, you continue to make good music and very large bank deposits, while letting your guitar speak for you.

Our guitars seldom get us into trouble unless they are too loud, too poorly played, or worse, out of time and out of tune! On the other hand, my BANJO . . . Well, let us just say that there are many Pharisee types who would hasten to disavow any First Amendment protections to the banjo, no matter how excellently played.

 

This, friends, I simply do not understand.

 

 

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