The Redneck Minstrelry of Duck Dynasty

Phil Robertson said some ugly stuff. But A&E made this monster.

I don’t give a shit about Phil Robertson. I don’t watch his show, and I don’t like what he says about homosexuality or race — though, given his apparent cultural affinities and the fact that most U.S. states (including this one) have a ban on gay marriage, I’m not much shocked by his comments either.

But man, I’ve got a problem with A&E.

No, I don’t care that you pulled Robertson off your air. It’s your air. Do what you want with it.

There is, however, something deeply ugly about a media establishment that doesn’t really understand or try to understand the lives of millions of Americans who live outside the big cities on both coasts. I’m not pulling a Sarah Palin here — those folks aren’t the “real America” anymore than the average Philadelphian. They are, however, no less “real America” than us. Turn on the TV, though, and they’re almost always depicted exoctically, and in terms that can maybe be best described as “redneck minstrelry.” (Yes, Honey Boo Boo, I’m thinking of you too.) Of course that’s when they’re not raping rafters on the Mississippi.

Humor or horror. It’s not much of a nuanced worldview. So of course, Phil Robertson ends up both more complicated and more offensive than anything we saw on TV. And of course A&E couldn’t keep a lid on it, because he’s not a character—he’s a real (deeply flawed) human being who gets to say words that won’t be edited away in post-production.

When Phil Robertson was just a funny redneck, we got to feel a little bit superior. Now that he’s an angry redneck … we get to feel a little bit superior. A&E created this monster for our amusement. This whole incident says a little something about narrow-minded provincialism in America, sure. It’s just that Robertson isn’t the only narrow-minded provincial in this story.

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