The news reports that Duck Dynasty star, Phil Robertson, has been suspended from his A&E program indefinitely for comments he made regarding homosexuality. Now I can remember when A&E was more arts than entertainment, and I only became aware of the program in question when I figured out that the pictures I was seeing in stores were not of ZZ Top.
But let’s consider this matter in detail. This is what Robertson said to GQ Magazine:
It seems like, to me, a vagina — as a man — would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.
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.
In other words, he takes a point of view held by many in this country. It’s a position that I disagree with, as I’ve said many times before. At the same time, I support his right to express his beliefs.
Some have said about this incident that Robertson still gets to say what he pleases. He just won’t be appearing on a corporation’s television show. This raises the question of how corporate image is affecting our understanding of free speech.
There’s a concept here that we need to understand. It comes from statements of the pope that are taken to be infallible. Those are called ex cathedra, or from the chair. (A cathedral is the seat of a bishop, by the way.) The idea here is that the pope is speaking as the pope, not as an ordinary human being. If Francis I, for example, looks at the sky and says that it’s going to rain, that’s not infallible. If he declares in an official statement that rain is the gift of God, that will be taken by Catholics as the way it is. (Sort of…)
The same notion should be applied to other famous people. In fact, it should apply to us all. As regular readers of this weblog know, I teach composition and literature at a college. I don’t name that institution here because I’m not speaking as its representative. My views expressed here are solely my own. What I say in these articles should be taken as my private expression, not something that I’m saying as a part of my job.
If Robertson had said what I quoted above on the A&E show, that network would have some claim to making an objection. Or perhaps there should be the standard disclaimer at the start, telling viewers that the opinions expressed here are not the network’s, so don’t sue us. But when he speaks to a separate magazine, he should be seen as speaking for himself.
I realize that this requires some sophistication of thought. Peter Jackson once told Charlie Rose in an interview that the reason he didn’t select someone like Tom Cruise to play Aragorn was that he didn’t want the audience to see Tom Cruise instead of the character. And that’s a problem with a lot of people. But the actor is not the character. That’s true of scripted fiction, and it’s true of “reality” T.V.
Besides, what was the network expecting? A duck hunter from New York City? (New York City?)