Friday, December 20, 2013

Duck Dynasty: Making Fun of Racists is Racist!

I was thinking this morning of writing a post about the whole Duck Dynasty controversy, for a couple of reasons.  And then I went through Facebook this morning, because its a slow day at work - next week is some kind of religious holiday, and so they give us a bunch of time off, because the dominant religion here in the US forces everyone to obey its wishes - and saw a ton of posts, some of them making genuinely stupid comments about how this poor Phil guy who was interviewed in GQ is being discriminated against for his Christian beliefs.  And that's from the the people who also believe the entire thing was cooked up by A&E to resuscitate declining ratings.

Not much left to say, I suppose, after that.

And then I saw this piece by Ben Collins, a new writer at Esquire who I'm quite impressed with, that walks a reasonably fine line for a blog post, and is my wont, because I'm a sucker, I read the comments.

White people were so much happier when they had their special rights.  Now that the culture has passed the bigots by they spend a lot of time complaining about how they're really the last safe people to make fun of, and demanding their inimitable culture of intimidation, condescension, brutality and ignorance be protected from criticism because, much like say African-American people or gay men had no choice to be black or gay, they had no choice but to live in a racist, homophobic bubble.

Is it laziness or stupidity?  There are people out there who think that because their local culture is bigoted, and they're bigoted, and their religious leaders are bigoted, that their bigoted beliefs are somehow equivalent to the color of your skin or your sexual preference.  They want to ascribe their completely accidental, irrational and unexamined thoughts the status of Religion.  They want to argue that if you can be outraged that someone could spend their entire lives believing that black people were happier when they couldn't vote, then you can be outraged that someone would not think that.  Its all relative after all.  If we shouldn't make fun of people because of the color of their skin or who they fall in love with, then we shouldn't make fun of people because they make fun of people because of the color of their skin.  If racist jokes are out, then you can't make jokes about racists, the theory goes.

I think the real victim in all this is A&E, and that's not saying a whole lot, actually.  I don't think there were many African-American or gay people or liberals or leftists in general who were surprised that Phil from Duck Dynasty has the opinions he has.  If anything I think we're all surprised these opinions were revealed in GQ, of all places, and not at the Republican National Convention or on The 700 Club.  But at A&E, imagine the horror they felt when they discovered that one of their flagship shows, a real ratings winner for them, was about a Christian dominionist family who's patriarch had antediluvian attitudes about gay men and women and thought African-American people were happier and better off under Jim Crow.  They certainly didn't complain as much!  I'm sure the death squads made sure of that.  So imagine you're in the market research group at A&E and you wake up to discover that this family doesn't just represent your media property, its attracted all the bigots, homophobes and Christian Dominionists to your station.  How are you going to explain that?  Was it intentional?  If it wasn't, then you have seriously fucked up.

There's a sociological point here as well.  Excuse the French continental theorizing for a moment, but these people, who consider themselves special because of their devout Christianity, also consider themselves normal because their dominant culture has traditionally excluded homosexual behavior.  So they're both special and not special, abnormal and normal.  They lay claim to the entire spectrum of normalcy and the whole axis of specialness.  That's the core of their privilege, of course: its what makes your average every day white person into White People.

There's probably nothing particularly day-to-day offensive about the guy, aside from the fake contrariness and gruffness you find in a certain kind of older white guy who considers himself the only serious one in the room, who feels everyone else is a fool until proven otherwise and presents for all the world-weary half-smile of the bemused by fate, convinced that at some point all of you people will come around to his way of thinking and ask the White People to take charge again.  And by "nothing particularly offensive" I mean that if we did a kind of Turing test, where Phil didn't know you were gay or black, he'd assume you were white, both "normal" and "special" like him and his family, and be open to agreement and/or persuasion.

Its taken a long time for conservative people in conservative jursidictions (like Alberta) where gay marriage is legal to come to realize that their opinions about their neighbors should be kept quiet.  You can be a racist, bigoted homophobe all you want; its certainly not against the law.  But if you start telling people that you think they're abnormal and there's something wrong with them, and worse if you make their kids feel bad, then you're just an asshole.  And it doesn't matter where you are: assholes have always been treated with contempt.

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