by Leanna Baumer
December 19, 2013
What’s real about a reality television show that won’t permit portrayal of the actual beliefs of the main character? That’s the question most Americans are left asking after last night’s announcement that A&E would suspend Duck Dynasty’s patriarch Phil Robertson from the wildly popular cable television show. The kerfuffle comes in response to statements Mr. Robertson made in an interview with GQ magazine regarding his beliefs about marriage and Biblical teaching on living a life pleasing to God. While characteristically blunt in his take on homosexuality, Mr. Robertson’s statements were bracketed by the admonition the Bible gives to love God and love others.
That qualifying language has been lost in the uproar over Phil’s declaration of Biblical views of sexual ethics. Yet, the fact that Mr. Robertson verbalized support for the Biblical and historical understanding of marriage as a union between one man and one woman should come as no surprise to the 14 million Americans who have eagerly tracked the show. After all, one of the best episodes from this year’s fourth season featured a moving ceremony in which Phil and Kay restated their marriage vows to one another. Part of their personal story as a couple is the importance their marriage has played in keeping them grounded in faith and service to one another. That’s why it’s so odd that A&E would explain their decision to suspend Mr. Robertson from the show as prompted by the expression of “his own personal beliefs” that “are not reflected in the series Duck Dynasty.” One’s left to wonder what beliefs have been on display for the last four seasons if not Phil’s convictions about family, tradition, and individual responsibility?
Yet, a deeper irony lies in the A&E executives’ quick move to distance themselves from a character deemed too extreme by the cultural elite — despite Mr. Robertson’s position being that shared by the majority of Americans who affirm natural marriage and its importance for child welfare. In contrast, a truly extreme position — the promotion and glamorization of the oppressive and harmful practice of polygamy — receives adulation and acclaim on a reality show a few networks over on TLC’s Sister Wives.
Just a week ago, the main characters of that show (who have been violating Utah’s law on polygamy for years) received a partial victory in court as a Utah judge struck down part of Utah’s law. The same media elites who have been quick to condemn Phil’s belief in the stabilizing institution of natural marriage have been silent in commenting on how polygamy leads to actual physical, emotional, and economic harms to women and children, the degradation of women’s rights, and community instability and violence.
At the end of the day, a private cable company can choose to pour its finances and clout into the programs it likes. However, it’s hypocritical for the entertainment industry to blacklist Mr. Robinson under the guise of “tolerance” while also offering their tacit endorsement of a practice that leads to the subjugation of women. Marginalizing Phil Robertson for expressing the historic belief in marriage shared by most Americans is harmful to public discourse and contrary to the very values A&E purports to defend.