Millions of hearts—though probably literally saved—broke when the Food Network let Paula Deen go for all those hateful words she spewed back in the day. It made sense. For over a decade, Deen had been synonymous with all things comfort, from her lipid-laden meals to her personal warmth. It was indeed a shame that her racism broke the illusion of her as our domestic surrogate. Still, the Food Network’s response seemed appropriate. A sad loss, sure, but Paula provided a perfect sacrifice to the progression of acceptance and intolerance. If Paula Deen could go, any racist could.
As a wildly apolitical individual, either from laziness or an immense awareness of my lack of immensity, I tend to rely on decisions such as those made by the Food Network to actualize the social justice I like to think I imbue merely by being in a minority. I may, then, subscribe to something like what another Vanguard journalist, writing on the same subject, calls the “nothing’s wrong with America” complex. I’m not saying I’m deluded into ignoring hateful things like institutionalized racism, but I, like many, certainly rely on the sociopolitical system in place to regulate itself without my help.
Bearing that in mind, let’s move to the current “it” issue with regard to celebrity-spewed hate: Phil Robertson’s recent GQ article. You know, the one where he groups together homosexuals, terrorists and zoophiles. I mean, listen, I’m not super comfortable with someone like Phil Robertson questioning my sexual logic. However, when this happened, it occurred to me that it might not be the network’s active duty to condemn him in any way, shape or form. It could be more interesting and democratic if it didn’t.
This seems especially true considering the fact that A&E even airs his show, Duck Dynasty, which is full of other offensive statements from Robertson. One recent episode finds the self-alleged logical patriarch opining at his impressionable grandson that it’s not necessary to have a beautiful wife, merely one that cooks well. The network’s response to isolated statements made by Robertson read a little inauthentic and face-saving to me. They appeared much more interested in being considered “nice” in the press than standing up for anything real. They eventually listened to the public though, which I’ll get to in a second.
For now, suffice it to say that I think Robertson’s statements should hold a mirror in front of the American public that activates viewers’ agency as thinkers and activists. Robertson’s interview could pull the viewer out of the daze derived from the idea of the self-regulating system to contemplate what’s supposed to be very important to the U.S.: freedom of both speech and dissent.
Unendurable as he certainly is, Phil Robertson has every right to think the things he does. Obligatorily shoving him off the air after a scandal merely silences him, or even scarier, pushes him to pretend at a new way of thinking. For all his ridiculousness, he never attempts to do this to anybody else. Now, as the aforementioned Vanguard article notes, he does make outrageous claims and blinds himself and others to historical evils.
This is where the beautiful alternate side of the free speech thing comes into play. Just like Robertson has the right to say what he thinks, the offended reader has the right to call bull or decide for A&E that he should be off the air.
I like that he’s back on Duck Dynasty, and I sort of wish the same had happened with Paula Deen, because the way real change will be made is not through posturing half-measures by the powers that be, but through a multitude of small voices that say they will not condone this behavior. The people inevitably had the final say in Robertson’s case, but they were the people who champion him. I have a sneaking suspicion that those who oppose Robertson relied on the obvious benevolence of their opinion to win out, with or without their help.
So I hope Robertson’s comments can stick the wild hair up the anti-discriminatory asses and get them on the street, talking to people like him about how they think and why it’s hateful. An actual attempt should be made to create a shift in thought, not merely to silence the haters. Boycotting or challenging the show can lower its lucrativeness. Anti-hate individuals can start their own Facebook petitions, or write their own angry tweets, or (and I know this is hard) stand up to their own ignorant friends and relatives instead of letting it slide for the sake of social flow. Really, those offended by Robertson can do the work required of free speech instead of forgetting about it because their party will take care of it, or they’re too busy, or something.