Last week, the star of A&E’s hit television show Duck Dynasty got into some trouble after remarks he made during an interview for GQ magazine became public. Phil Robertson, patriarch of said dynasty, made both racist and homophobic comments during the interview:
“Everything is blurred on what’s right and what’s wrong. Sin becomes fine. Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men. Don’t be deceived. 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.”
“I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field…. They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!… Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”
As has become protocol, Robertson was suspended by A&E, but will more than likely return by mid-January.
Now, perhaps because “marriage equality” is the cause of the day, the homophobic comments have gained the most attention. There have, however, been a few mentions about the second set, most of which focus on Robertson’s revisionist history and just how much Jim Crow sucked for black people. None of the commentary notes Robertson’s–or folks’ in general– inability to interpret how black people manage to still be human and do “human things” despite their dehumanizing conditions. This blog is not a corrective to that line of thinking. Rather, I’d like to say a thing or two about the ridiculous “outcry” after these comments became public.
I may be underestimating the power of the conservative, white southerner, but I think there’s no way Paula Deen, Duck Dynasty, and Dog the Bounty Hunter become as popular as they have been without interest from those who do not fit the aforementioned demographic. This was an interview in GQ; the Robertson family was Barbra Walters’ most fascinating celebrity or whatever for 2013. I have seen these folks on the covers of grocery store checkout line magazines. As such, they must be popular above the Mason-Dixon, and among those who consider themselves liberal, not racist, and supportive of LGBTQ rights.
I’d like to suggest that the Deens, the Robertsons have become so famous not simply because they are entertaining, but because their images are conducive to larger ideas of white southernness. They are not simply entertaining; they assuage fetishistic desires. More importantly, it’s the racism, the homophobia, the conservative views bubbling just below the surface that provide a certain kind of tension. In other words, these folks are popular precisely because they will inevitably say these kinds of things. It’s what viewers wait for. And when it happens, folks pretend to be surprised, mount their high horses, and chastise accordingly. It’s crap.
These surprised responses, the public outcry are nothing but vacuous performances that distract from the racist impulse that made these people popular in the first place. The Civil War and Jim Crow made the American South the nation’s Id, allowing the North–and those who believe themselves to hold a kind of “northern” mindset–to create a myth of themselves that does not include racism, because that could be projected on to the South. These shows allow for a weekly projection of one’s own racism from the comfort of one’s home.
We can consult our anti-oppression dictionaries and fill blog entries with all the proper buzzwords to convey our surprise. But really, folks need to take this moment to check themselves, and understand why and how the televisual representation of the ignorant, cousin-kissing southerner has become a necessary part of expressing good politics, of liberal American culture. I’m not here to defend these folks and their antebellum fantasies, but at least they’re honest. Instead of standing aghast at such racist and homophobic reveries, folks should take a moment to understand how those fantasies quell and obscure their own racism and homophobia. If they missed this opportunity, there will be a next time. Cable TV’s next favorite southerner is waiting to rise.