Thursday, December 19, 2013

Of Ducks and Dynasties and Dollars

I've only seen Duck Dynasty once. Actually, I only saw about 10 minutes of it, enough to conclude that it was inane and contrived--essentially a cartoon without the expense or craft of cartoonists. Thus, I was mystified when I noticed that Papa Smurf, the elder of the Duck Dynastars, appears to have been elevated to guru status among Evangelical Christians. He may eclipse Kirk Cameron in the panoply.

I'm reminded of a film from the late 90's entitled EdTV, in which an "ordinary guy" agrees to have his every waking moment broadcast on television. The film was a prescient commentary on the then nascent trend of reality TV. The film's core message is delivered when the protagonist, having learned an important lesson, says, "It used to be that someone became famous because they were special. Now people are considered special just for being famous. Fame, itself, is its own virtue."

In the last day or two my newsfeeds have lit up with opinions regarding the headline news that the patriarch of the Duck Dynasty was been removed from the program due to "anti-gay" statements he made in an interview for that bastion of Christian morality, GQ magazine. His statements (yes, I admit I took the time to read them) were not unlike what one might expect to hear in a Sunday morning sermon at Mark Driscoll's church. Pretty boilerplate conservative Evangelical stuff that could have perhaps been delivered more artfully.

But the A&E Network, which owns Duck Dynasty, suspended him. Sarah Palin is predictably outraged, calling it "an attack on free speech" perpetrated by "intolerants." In actuality, 'twas capitalism that killed the beast. A&E, and its programs and celebrities, are in the business of selling advertising. If one of its stars makes public statements that alienate or offend a segment of the viewership, thus potentially impacting the bottom-line for the advertisers and/or the price for which the network can sell advertising minutes, the network and the star must express the appropriate amount of calculated contrition. As Ned Beatty, portraying an uber-capitalist television executive, says in his brilliant soliloquy in the film Network, "You have meddled with the primal forces of nature, and you will atone!"

The patriarch of the Duck Dynasty isn't a free-speech martyr. Rather, he is being reprimanded by the corporation for breaching terms of his contract and damaging the profitability of the brand.


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