Sean P. Means: Taking the politics out of watching bad TV

By Sean P. Means

The Salt Lake Tribune

Published: January 2, 2014 08:51AM
Updated: January 3, 2014 06:46PM
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This undated image released by A&E shows Phil Robertson from the popular series "Duck Dynasty." (AP Photo/A&E,)

Since when did watching mindless TV become a political minefield?

According to the gods of political correctness (or is it goddesses?), I’m not supposed to watch A&E’s “Duck Dynasty” because Phil Robertson, one of the reality show’s main figures, expressed ignorantly anti-gay and racially insensitive sentiments in a magazine interview.

And, according to the chieftains of the conservative right, who argue that a TV network’s corporate decision to suspend Mr. Robertson is as big an affront to the First Amendment to a book-burning, watching “Duck Dynasty” has now become our patriotic duty.

Whatever happened to the good old days, when I could choose not to watch “Duck Dynasty” because its commercials made the show look really stupid?

The recent “Duck Dynasty” dust-up follows perfectly the template for a time-wasting media kerfuffle.

Start with an outrageous action (in this case, Robertson’s homophobic reading of the Bible and his blinkered recollections of the South in the 1960s). Add a protest from interest group (here, it’s GLAAD, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation). Throw in a counterprotest declaring the original offender — and, by extension, anyone who agrees with him/her — the real victim (represented here by conservatives, like Sarah Palin, decrying the “attack” on Robertson’s “free-speech rights”).

Meanwhile, the corporate entity that makes money from the original offender (A&E, the network that airs “Duck Dynasty”) makes an initial nod toward the interest group (“suspending” Robertson, at a time the show wasn’t in production anyway) before caving to the counterprotest — while the publicity ensures the company makes more money than ever before.

Oh, and let’s not forget the collateral damage done to other corporate entities that try to react to the controversy. (Here, it’s the folks at the Cracker Barrel chain of restaurants, which pulled “Duck Dynasty” merchandise from its shelves — then, two days later, put the stuff back in stores because of howls from Robertson’s support base.)

I’d love to say this is a nonpartisan model, but try to think of an instance where an outrageous statement on the left side of the political spectrum led to the same outcome. No, when a liberal says something that offends the other side, the conservative chieftains scream bloody murder and demand the person’s head — and usually get it.

Past examples include Dan Rather, who was drummed out of CBS over suspect reporting in 2004 on George W. Bush’s National Guard service; Bill Maher, who lost his ABC show after agreeing with a conservative guest that the 9/11 terrorists weren’t cowards; and Martin Bashir, who resigned from MSNBC earlier this year after his offensive comments regarding Sarah Palin drew a stream of right-wing complaints.

For liberals, this double standard is liberating in one sense: They don’t have to feel obligated to watch Bashir or Maher or Rather if they don’t want to.

Meanwhile, conservatives find themselves fighting more vociferously over smaller and smaller stakes. While the rest of the world is progressing forward on real policy issues (when same-sex marriage is legal in Utah, the reddest of red states, that’s pretty much the ballgame, don’t you think?), conservatives are defending the beliefs of an old man on a reality show.

If one wanted to mess with these conservatives, it would be easy to drum up a media fight over another bad TV show. Decry the verbal abuse tossed around on Lifetime’s “Dance Moms,” and someone will say the show’s screaming dance instructor teaches self-reliance and other all-American values. Criticize the foolish consumption on E!’s “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” or Bravo’s “Real Housewives” franchise, and wait for the shows to be championed as symbols of free-market capitalism.

Of course, eventually even conservatives may wise up and go back to watching shows like “Duck Dynasty” for the same reason everyone else does: to laugh at people who allow themselves to be part of the reality-show circus.

Sean P. Means writes The Cricket in daily blog form at www.sltrib.com/blogs/moviecricket. Follow him on Twitter @moviecricket, or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/seanpmeans. Email him at spmeans@sltrib.com.