I probably should preface this column by stating that I have never watched "Duck Dynasty" and have no intention to start. To me, it only stands as a potent a reminder of how much in debt America is to Great Britain for "Downton Abbey."
I have been told by a number of people that "Duck Dynasty" is a virtual repository of core American traditions and values. I was assured that every episode concludes with a family-affirming message ("Goodnight, Duck-Boy"?).
But, there are always reruns of "Mama's Family" to enjoy whenever the urge to wallow in that sort of thing gets the best of me. Vikki Lawrence strikes me as more representative of conventional values than men who look like they got lost on their way to a Grateful Dead concert 30 years ago and never quite found their way back home.
Some of you may remember when television hadn't quite lived up to Newton Minnow's prophetic condemnation as a "vast wasteland." No one mistook the Stones on "The Donna Reed Show" or the Andersons on "Father Knows Best" as actually representative of real American families.
Donna Reed and Jane Wyatt did housework in dresses and high-heels, with never a lock of hair out of place. Carl Betz and Robert Young always arrived home after a hard day at the office full of good spirits and sound advice for whatever miniscule (by today's standards anyway) infractions the kids had racked up during the day. If the transgression occurred at school, it never involved carrying concealed weapons in their Davy Crockett lunchboxes, although it is interesting to imagine Paul Lynde playing a wacky representative from the NRA defending Beaver Cleaver's Second Amendment rights. If we never took these representations of typical families too seriously, that didn't diminish our recognition of the worthiness of the intent of family-oriented programs in that bygone era. They may have given the public an unrealistic -- and even impossible -- standard to attain, but no one really questioned sincerity that constantly bolstered the message. Who knows how many times a guy paused before opening his front door after a miserable day at work and remembered how Jim Anderson greeted his family every evening.
With a fond nod to memories of an extended stay on the unspoiled slopes of Walton's Mountain in the 1970s, I'd like to fast forward to the 21st century and the pollution of so-called "reality television." The Kardashians, the Robertsons, and a motley collection of shellacked, shrieking, trash-mouthed "housewives" from various -- mostly privileged -- locations have replaced the Cleavers, the Andersons, and the Stones in the consciousness of television audiences.
Phil Roberson is described as the patriarch of the "Duck Dynasty" clan in much the same way, I guess, as Jed was to the Clampetts. Mr. Robertson found himself at the center of a firestorm over some incendiary comments he made in GQ magazine. I was concerned when I first heard about the article because I was afraid that GQ was touting the return of foot-long beards and head bandanas as the in-look for 2014. You can imagine my relief when I realized that the Robertson piece was just blatant pandering for sales.
I'm not going to delve into the most obvious question that arises from this controversy -- why anyone would care, much less take seriously, what anyone on "Duck Dynasty" says about anything. I'm also not going to go into Robertson's mostly vile and divisive comments in any detail because the issue that really emerges is whether or not people have the right to say what they want to say in a free country.
They do. And it seems to me that people who are smart enough to know what God intended as far as acceptable behavior is concerned should also be smart enough to know that they are going to have to accept the consequences of those remarks -- especially when they make them in a public forum such as GQ magazine.
The A&E network took exception to one of its stellar attraction's opinion and immediately excluded Phil Robertson from appearances on upcoming episodes of "Duck Dynasty." Not having watched the show, I don't know if that will have the same impact as -- for example -- Jim Parsons being axed from "The Big Bang Theory," but a lot of rock solid conservatives are really ticked off over the suspension.
Sarah Palin was appalled by what she characterized -- in that endearingly ditsy way that has captured the hearts of thousands and bewildered the minds of millions -- as a flagrant assault by a powerful entity like A&E on an individual's right to express a sincerely held opinion. It is, said Ms. Palin and others of her politically opportunistic ilk, nothing short of an assault on free speech.
Conservatives are big on waving the Constitution whenever they perceive one of its core values is being trod upon, but they aren't anywhere near as receptive to the fact that actions sometimes evoke consequences. People also have a right to react adversely to careless, divisive, and ignorant remarks, even those cloaked up in a folksy, homespun guise and perfumed with sanction from the divine.
Palin later relented in her opinion of Robertson's comments in much the same way that she retracted a negative remark about Pope Francis after suspecting him of being a touch too Christian for his own Quackery good, to say nothing of the future of global conservatism. Maybe "relented" isn't exactly the right word. Palin admitted that she had never read the GQ article and had no idea of the extent of the offensiveness of Robertson's remarks. I guess that isn't all that important when she is fighting for everyone's right to free speech and it is hardly a newsflash that this particular proponent of conservative values -- once again -- has no idea what she is talking about.
Alden Graves is a Banner columnist.