When a story hangs on like the one about Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson’s views on gays, it’s because the straight and narrow of the story is bigger than the people involved or the eye of ensuing storm . This story in particular has pulled back the curtain on the chasm between two segments of the American public: the Ducks and the Other Guys.
On one side are the mighty Ducks. They’re down home people, basic, salt of the earth, grounded, physical, real people in a real world. They’re not necessarily right or left, red or blue. What distinguishes them from others is that they never forget that life must be survived before it can be lived. They know that survival has to do with procreation of the species, food, shelter, clothing and the effort it takes to accomplish all of it. They defend those items or persons or God, Himself, who are deemed integral to their survival and they have a healthy respect, expressed in caution, laced with suspicion, for the “other,” whether the other be a swamp gator, a cottonmouth, a Yankee from Harvard, the Federal Government, or movies about Liberace.
The Ducks might appear exotic to some, but they’re not. They might appear retro, but they’re not that either. The Ducks have clung to the basics for so long that, as regards themselves, words like retro or exotic are irrelevant. The Ducks start and end with survival, and survival is about function. If there’s time or energy left over, then the Ducks might consider the more frivolous concerns about living life; but they’ll never embrace the surface things to the degree that fashion and its timeliness demands.
The Ducks might be cautious, even suspicious about the “other,” but they are militant when the other’s cosmopolitan, big-city ways bump up against their taboos. The Ducks have taboos and these taboos are in the nature of forbidden conduct – conduct which in some way threatens the functions necessary for survival. One of the Ducks’ taboos is the matter of being gay, of gay relationships, gay marriage, and gay sex.
They approach these issues as they would approach any taboo, from a great distance, cautious, suspicious, with preconceptions, some innate revulsion, fear and a loathing that manifests in what they believe to be a righteous stand against decadence. Because that’s what taboos augur: decadence.
Taboos represent the line in the sand that cannot be crossed without calling down destruction and damnation on the whole society. Crossing the line in the sand only proves that the members of the society have grown so decadent, so corrupt, so defiled in their failed lives that the society in which they move and breathe need be destroyed. The story’s as old and as relevant as Sodom and Gomorrah.
There’s conflict and disagreement in this society as to what is and what is not a taboo. The furor caused by Phil Robertson’s comments reveals that at a deep level, the society is split, even broken. The break is not formal or procedural or cosmetic. The break is essential, substantive and real.
Two gay men love one another and marry and go on their honeymoon. The Ducks view this as a slap in the face of the natural order, a taunt to the higher power that rules all. At some level the Ducks believe that engaging in what they consider forbidden conduct will bring down hell-fire on all (unless, of course they’re spared the pain as they’re swept away in the great escape they call the rapture).
Two gay men love one another and marry and go on a honeymoon. They don’t think, feel, or believe that they’ve engaged in anything forbidden, abnormal or to be cursed. Nonetheless, being themselves, being who they are as they were born to be, invites indictment from the self-described “normal” middle, that vague group reminiscent of what Nixon used to call the silent majority.
When the Ducks throw two guys on a honeymoon to the outer darkness, they feel justified in doing so because as far as the Ducks are concerned the difference between the parties is substantive and essential. It’s not formal or cosmetic. From the Ducks’ point of view, engaging in forbidden conduct (not unlike Adam and Eve and their taste for a certain fruit) is to relinquish one’s very nature and to become something else entirely. Where Adam and Eve once were like unto God, they ate the fruit, crossed the line and became depressingly human.
In the extreme the Ducks’ believe that the two guys on a honeymoon bear the same relationship to humanity as do animals, an essentially different species. And here one might note Phil Robertson’s mention of bestiality in the same sentence where he disparages the notion of gay sex.
The Ducks hope and even believe that this most recent media storm over homosexuality will have the momentum to thwart the onrush of history, to tip the tipping point and show the country and the world that America must turn away from the decadence underlying its 70 year slide down a path littered with too many failures. In short they make the same ridiculous assertion as two especially arrogant Ducks, Pat Robertson (no relation to Phil) and the late Jerry Falwell made on the day after 9/11. On that day of mourning and confusion, both expressly blamed 9/11 on the gay people of New York who engage in gay sex. Falwell later apologized for his intemperate remarks. As for Pat Robertson … well, he’s another story altogether.
As to how there can be some cause and effect relationship between two men on a honeymoon and tragedies like 9/11, or the breakdown of the American family, or communists in the state department, or the rise of socialism and the redistribution of wealth, is never spelled out in detail, probably because no such relationship exists.
However, when it comes to doing what they believe is God’s will, the Ducks won’t let facts get in the way of a good story. The implication of causality is left to the more mystical, vague, imprecise and inaccurate notion that a virus in one pocket of the organism ultimately defeats the entire organism. For the Ducks, the virus is the taboo, the taboo is the forbidden conduct, and the conduct is gay sex.
Such thinking, even by a man as charming as Phil Robertson, is more dangerous than might be supposed. Germany in the 30’s also believed that it was plagued by a virus, which had caused their defeat in World War I (the stab in the back) and would forever plague the Reich until the virus was identified, excised, and disposed of. Any talk of virus in the organism ultimately employs a metaphor that leads the way to detention, camps, gas, ovens, ashes, and the death of millions.
No. No Duck advocates for another holocaust, however one way of assessing another’s argument is to let it play out and see where it goes. The end point tells a great deal about the angle of the error made at the beginning.
Opposed to the Ducks on the near side of this national division are the “Other Guys.” They’re a little more difficult to describe because the only thing they have in common is that they are tolerant. The tolerance might be the outward manifestation of a warm heart or something deep and spiritual within. It might also be the result of peer pressure in a liberal or libertarian environment. Whatever the source, their tolerance impels them to wear lightly a world view that doesn’t feel the need to characterize gay people, gay relations, gay marriages or gay sex as the first steps down the slippery slope to unredeemable decadence and destruction. In like manner they feel no need to cast gay people to an outer darkness or a trash bin labelled the “other.” This is not to say the Other Guys don’t have their taboos. They do, and they have trash bins as well. It’s just that homosexuality isn’t one of their taboos at present.
No, these two groups, the Ducks and the Duck, Phil Robertson, and the Other Guys, won’t be getting together anytime soon. Short of an alien invasion or some other nationwide all leveling crisis (and who’s wishing for that?) there’s nothing on the horizon that argues for any accommodation or agreement. Whether it be the nature of issues or the nature of the opponents, nobody’s coming together over John Lennon, Jesus Christ, the Dalai Lama, Phil Robertson, President Obama, Pope Francis or anybody else.
As stated, when a story hangs on like the one about Duck Dynasty and gays, it’s because the straight and narrow of the story is bigger than the people involved or the eye of ensuing storm .
A person’s wired with two avenues to experience and respond to the world. The first way is the avenue of reason and the second way is the avenue of feelings.
One is not necessarily superior to the other, they both have their place and at their best they can complement one another. More often than not, however, one experiences the presence of both when one avenue is leading us to the edge of the cliff while the other avenue is screaming from a distance: Don’t go any farther, turn back now, you’re headed for disaster (N.B.: runaway brides or no-show grooms). When neither avenue is working particularly well it’s usually because a person has arrived at a point of unquestionable certitude, self-justified, frozen, white knuckle certitude. Neither reason nor feelings can penetrate that reinforced concrete of bunker mentality. Dictators, autocrats and otherwise good men who make the mistake of surrounding themselves only with “yes-men” tend to fall into this category.
Now, by what avenue did Phil Robertson arrive at his pronouncements concerning gays?
Did Phil Robertson, a Duck and a born again Christian and untainted neutral observer, devoid of any prejudice or bias, apply only his mind to scour the Bible and take to heart all the prohibitions listed in that regulatory manifesto otherwise known as Leviticus (a rule book for rabbis and a 3000 year old nomadic culture of hunter gatherers, always on the run, always under threat, ever seeking a homeland).
Did Phil Robertson, the Duck, after a thorough read of all the rules and regs about diets, fabrics, goats and issues related to bifurcated hooves, settle on the passage that refers to the homosexual act in much the same terms Gertrude Stein described it to Hemingway?
Did Phil Robertson then think that it was right and proper to disparage gays since disparagement is the only response that honors the prohibitions set forth in Leviticus?
If so one might garner some respect for the process, if not a whole lot of respect for the result.
More likely, though, Phil arrived at his conclusions and judgments the same way most people arrive at their sense of the world. People obtain their biases and prejudices early in life, the same way children pick up accents and language, over time with little if any conscious study.
People make huge judgments based on points of view and views that are just there, often times unknown to one’s self until one’s asked about them or required to articulate them. More often than not these biases and prejudices remain quiet, latent, invisible, unexamined for years, never losing their power, having been planted and nurtured more by accident of birth, family and culture than by the more arduous process of having to think and to feel for one’s self.
Was Phil born into a family, culture, world view that abhorred the gay alternative life style? Did he hang out with others who influenced him in these matters? Did a personal revulsion at the taboo itself override any sense of tolerance, or better stated, any sense of those limitations on personal jurisdiction usually sufficient to dissuade one from making another’s business his or her business?
Did Phil Robertson then feel the need to seek out the most authoritative source he could find to explain, defend and support a judgment he’d ingested and inhaled from the air and environment about him?
Do other Ducks who talk about gays in the same way Phil Robertson disparages gays also feel the need to seek out the Bible to explain, defend, support or rationalize their otherwise unexamined prejudice?
This is not to judge Phil Robertson or any of the Ducks who are like him. And, of course, this is not to judge those who are the object of Phil’s scorn. Live and let live is a fairly good directive to live by. This is merely to inquire as to how one arrives at one’s judgments and whether that process can withstand inquiry, scrutiny, examination, or just the simple questions seeking the why and wherefores of prejudice.
The Duck Dynasty family is popular because they are unique, charming, wealthy (never forget that), straight shooters who’ll look a person in the eye, and different, though not so different as to be an “other” that can’t be accommodated into the mainstream of popular culture.
With their fame and following one would hope that the very qualities that underwrite their audience appeal, an audience comprised of straight people and gay people, would also inform those divisive social issues, which have left more than half their audience scratching its head saying: “Aw geeze, and I liked that guy, and I want to like him, but how can I like him when we disagree on something so fundamental as this?”