Wait, before the National Association of Rednecked Persons attacks me, let me be clear that I don’t mean “redneck” as an insult. Indeed, Redneck Pride has been on the rise ever since Jeff Foxworthy got rich informing people they “might be a redneck.”
(Some clues: if your school fight song was “Dueling Banjos”; if you’ve ever raked leaves in your kitchen; if your boat hasn’t left your driveway for 15 years; if birds are attracted to your beard, etc.)
Redneck reality shows have been all the rage: “Rocket City Rednecks,” “My Big Redneck Vacation,” “Hillbilly Handfishin’ ” and, of course, “Swamp People.”
But the gold standard is “Duck Dynasty,” which follows the Robertsons, a family that struck it rich selling duck calls. It’s like a real-life version of “The Beverly Hillbillies.” All of the men look like they stepped out of the Hatfield-McCoy conflict to smoke a corncob pipe.
What all of these — and countless other — reality shows have in common is their shock value. And guess what? Sometimes the shock is manufactured. If the cameras weren’t on, the silicone life forms on the various “Real Housewives” shows probably wouldn’t be throwing wine in each other’s faces as much as they do. TLC’s awful reality show “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” tries its hardest to turn an uncouth Southern white family with a children’s beauty pageant fixation into the sort of genetic and cultural horror show that sparked the progressives to advocate eugenics. And everyone everywhere mugs for the camera.
But here’s a twist. Phil Robertson (who — shhh! — has a master’s degree from Louisiana Tech) gave an interview to GQ in which he said that, as a Christian, he has problems with homosexuality. He got a bit too detailed with his anatomical analysis. But his real sin was calling homosexuality a sin comparable with bestiality.
In response, A&E has suspended him from the reality show about his own family. That right there should give you a sense of how real this reality show is. If it’s about the family, some producer in New York can’t decide who’s in or out of the family. If NBC News decided it simply didn’t like the Republican Party anymore (not altogether implausible), it could decide not to report on the GOP. But it would stop being a news organization in the process. Instead, it would be producing a kind of “reality show” for which it makes up its own version of reality (like “Top Chef” or MSNBC).
Sarah Palin jumped into the fray. “Free speech is an endangered species,” she warned on her Facebook page. “Those ‘intolerants’ hatin’ and taking on the ‘Duck Dynasty’ patriarch for voicing his personal opinion are taking on all of us.”
Well, yes and no. There are no constitutional free-speech rights involved when a private entertainment network decides to cut a character from a fake reality show. A&E has free-speech rights, too. Everyone has a right to an opinion, and everyone has a right to an opinion about that opinion.
But Palin’s not entirely wrong either. Liberals love free expression so long as you free-express things they agree with. Particularly when it comes to homosexuality, there’s zero tolerance for dissent of any kind.
Now, I don’t agree with Robertson’s take on homosexuality. Heck, I don’t even like duck hunting. But I also don’t care. What I object to is the insinuation that I have to.
And what I find absolutely ridiculous is the feigned shock that an avatar of the redneck renaissance might actually have politically incorrect or just plain religiously orthodox views on homosexuality. Seriously, who called for the fainting couch when they read his interview in GQ?
“Duck Dynasty” has been a huge ratings success, receiving fawning coverage from the elite media. Much of the coverage has also been incredibly condescending, like aristocrats in Victorian London having a grand time inviting a Zulu tribesman to dinner. Everyone says, “Look at the funny rednecks,” until Robertson says something that you would absolutely expect to hear from a guy who plays a redneck on TV. Then suddenly everyone is scandalized? Please. Isn’t the whole point of these shows to demonstrate that there are lots of different kinds of people out there? Isn’t that a good thing? Lord knows there’s no lack of reality shows about gays.
Maybe the best way to avoid such problems in the future is to demand that all reality-show casts be made up of professional actors. That way, reality will never disappoint us.
Jonah Goldberg is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and editor-at-large of National Review Online.