Lacking better things to do, we are now consumed with what should be a trivial matter–what some reality show celebrity said about gay people. But the hullabaloo over Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson is not trivial in one sense. The avalanche of deep concern with his remarks on homosexuality brings to light a disturbing trend in American culture–silencing that with which we disagree.
Let’s set a couple of things straight before we get started. First, I don’t watch Duck Dynasty. It is right behind building an model of the Eiffel Tower with toothpicks on my list of things to do. I do think it is brilliant from one perspective. Take a family whose males can grow nifty beards, produce a low-budget “reality” show, and make millions on merchandise. I LOVE capitalism, even when I think the customers are a bit daft.
Second, I have no idea what the man said and I do not intend to find out. The content of his interview is neither here nor there for me. In my view, people who get worked up about someone else’s sexual orientation need more hobbies. For the life of me, I cannot fathom why that is a matter of concern for anyone other than the person in question. Thus his remarks garner no more attention from me than any other of his opinions.
Third, A&E can do any damn thing it pleases with any of its shows for any reason. As a friend of mine (Virginia Murr) posted this morning on Facebook, theirs is simply a calculation of which crowd is bigger, the ones who like quacking ducks or the ones who want to get their hands around their necks. I think they are kind of silly for suspending him, but I support their right to do so.
I also think that people who get worked up every time someone expresses a private opinion against homosexuality need to reevaluate their knee-jerk responses. Just as gay people are free to express their opinions, so are people who object to homosexuality. Bad ideas peppered with criticism and satire in the full light of day eventually dry up and blow away–as they should. Silencing those voices does nothing to cure the root problem, which is usually ignorance and hatefulness.
There are two ways to silence speech that annoys us. The first, which is often foolish but always acceptable, is to refuse to support the institutions that promote that speech. A&E “boycotters” are doing just that, and they are perfectly within their rights to do so. The second is to silence them by force. The most common method is also the most revolting–to shout them down. In the old days, that meant literally shouting them down in a public place. Now it can also mean a denial-of-service attack on computer servers. It reduces humans to animal status and is indefensible in a free society.
Another way to silence people by force is to pass laws prohibiting speech. It looks like we would have learned this lesson by now, but the First Amendment has a deep and profound purpose that we seem to have forgotten. When ideas are not allowed to be expressed, the force that prompted them is repressed. Pressure builds and the result is inevitably less constructive than hashing out the ideas freely. Often, it is violent.
Living in a free society virtually guarantees that each of us will hear things daily that we’d rather not hear. Some of those things may…wait for it…hurt our feelings. To wit, a blogger known as “Fit Mom” was temporarily suspended from Facebook* because at least one reader complained that her post constituted “hate speech.” I am frankly near-speechless that a blogger’s suggesting that obesity should not be normalized is considered by anyone to be hateful. And even if I did, it would not occur to me to try to silence the blogger. I might write a response or cover the subject in my own blog, but ask Facebook to take it down? Please.
It appears to me sometimes that we have raised a generation of people whose initial reaction to any offense is to silence the source by any means necessary. Jennifer Lawrence, whom I adored in Silver Linings Playbook, wants to outlaw calling people fat on TV. For the record, I do agree that being mean to people is wrong and that 98 lbs. is too skinny for anyone over three feet tall. But illegal? Really? Perhaps we can forgive Jennifer’s being 23 years old and not seeing the bigger picture, but not so for the people who have lived long enough to know better–like the ones who hate Fit Mom.
Get worked up about Phil Robertson or do the sensible thing and go back to what you were doing before. Don’t wring anybody’s neck, though. The next pair of hands may be around yours.
*Facebook said that the “offending” post was taken down by mistake, though it did suspend Fit Mom’s account temporarily and did not put the post back.