In the stare down between A&E and Duck Dynasty fans, the network television station has blinked. Or so it appears, with Phil Robertson’s suspension suddenly suspended. Has A&E simply given in under the pressure, or was the suspension merely a publicity ploy by the network?
Going back, the original controversy was sparked when the patriarch of the Robertson clan gave an interview with GQ which was published last week. Wealthy with money from their duck-calling business Duck Commander, which is based in Louisiana, the family was picked up by A&E for a reality TV show they called Duck Dynasty. While discussing the show in the interview, Robertson also made a number of anti-gay comments in the printed issue, saying that they were his religious beliefs.
Outrage from gay rights groups was quick to flood the airwaves, and in an effort to quell the outpouring of rage against the show and its network, A&E decided to issue Robertson a suspension from the show on December 18. But another backlash hit the network in the form of upset fans who couldn’t imagine the show without Robertson. Fans organized 250,000 petitions and attempted to organize a boycott of the network. They also showed their support by buying up Duck Dynasty gear, which only ended up earning additional money for the network. Which leads viewers to the question of if the Duck Dynasty suspension by A&E was simply a mistake or actually a publicity ploy.
The network has certainly been bettered by the suspension. The monetary earning alone would be reason enough to suspend Robertson, though there’s not much that can predict what fans will do. However, with social media these days, all it takes is one well-planted tweet to spark the idea in millions of fans.
In addition, the suspension of Robertson has cost the network nothing but time issuing statements and retractions. Robertson remained in the episodes filmed before December 18 despite the suspension as A&E elected not to edit him out. The future of the show hung dramatically in the balance as Robertson’s family announced that they wouldn’t go on filming the show without their fearless leader. News outlets sparked from typing moment to moment updates on the suspension, creating a trend that grew so large that even people who had never heard of the show were becoming embroiled in the details. For A&E, the fan support of the show is a media dream, telling others about the show and how much they love it despite the originally negative news story prompting it.
And now, Robertson is free to return to filming Duck Dynasty without having missed a single filming day, making his suspension completely ineffective in terms of a punishment. While Robertson hasn’t really apologized for his comments, sticking with the fact that they are his beliefs, apparently his comment about regretting the coarseness of the language used to express such views was enough for the network.
With the difficulty in predicting public reaction, many can quite easily say that it’s likely that Robertson’s Duck Dynasty suspension was an honest attempt by A&E to placate the gay and lesbian protests surrounding Robertson. But even if the suspension isn’t a publicity ploy, it’s certainly a joke to those who hoped Robertson would regret his words, and for fans, something that got them riled up for nothing.
By Marisa Corley