Phil Robertson’s return to Duck Dynasty this week brought A&E a heavy dose of reality — a 21 percent decrease in ratings for its most popular show.
The decrease can be chalked up to the controversy surrounding Robertson’s recent homophobic comments in an interview with GQ, or perhaps to viewers’ disapproval of how A&E handled the situation.
The outcry of criticism surrounding the incident has slowly dimmed to a dull roar in the wake of the season premiere. Some may say that my choice to revisit his remarks is an unnecessary attempt to stir the pot on a controversy that has, for the most part, died down.
But Robertson’s comments, and the events that followed, offer an opportunity for a conversation — a necessary one — that can never come too late.
During his interview with GQ, Robertson equated gay people to bestiality and promiscuity and grouped them with drunks and terrorists. Following the release of the interview, A&E chose to suspend Robertson from the show.
That decision sparked uproar among many viewers, who took to social media to defend Robertson against what they believed was an apparent violation of his freedom of speech and religion. Some even said we should not be surprised by Robertson’s comments because of his background as a southern, rural-living Christian.
Those who argue so are providing an opt-out option for tolerance. A lack of education and cultural differences are no excuse for the extent of Robertson’s homophobic rant, and A&E’s initial decision to suspend Robertson from the show aligned with this idea.
It is important to note that in suspending Robertson, A&E did not violate his freedoms of speech nor of religion.
When A&E temporarily decided to suspend Robertson for the things he said, it was because they felt he acted outside the guidelines set in his contract and decided to take disciplinary action. The government didn’t come knock on Robertson’s door and demand his silence.
Robertson denounced a marginalized group of people and used his religion as a justification for his ignorance. He was not prosecuted, jailed or killed for openly practicing his religion. He was suspended from his private employer for representing the company in an unflattering way.
In America, we take for granted our freedoms when we are unaware of exactly what it is they entail. Freedom of speech protects us from unjust government intervention and censorship. It does not grant the right to speak about anything without societal backlash or consequence.
Plenty of other stars have received criticism and even termination of employment following their homophobic comments. This includes Alec Baldwin, whose show “Up Late with Alec Baldwin” on MSNBC was cancelled after the actor went on a homophobic tirade against a photographer. What MSNBC did differently was they didn’t back down to opposition against its decision.
When A&E chose to succumb to pressure from the Duck Dynasty fan base, it was really choosing financial gain over tolerance. It said the revenue Duck Dynasty pulls in is far greater than standing up for what is right. And by reversing its decision so easily and with nothing more than a slap on the wrist for Robertson, A&E is passing up an opportunity to teach the Robertson family that being homophobic is not acceptable, period.