Everyone knows by now that Phil Robertson of A & E’s Duck Dynasty said some interesting things about gays in an article published in GQ yesterday.
Most of the media attention has focused upon what he said about homosexuality, which I will admit, is pretty vile:
It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.
I agree with that, but I’m not gay! And who said that sexual orientation was something “logical” anyway?
And he also made some kind of moral equivalence between terrorists and homosexuals, which is probably why he got “suspended indefinitely” from the show.
But there are some other things that Phil said in that interview that are pretty bad.
Here’s what he said about life in the segregated South:
I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field…. They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!… Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.
They wuz jes happy negroes singin’ da cotton patch!
This is the old happy South myth, just twisted into a different era. It is normally used to defend the happy times of slavery, but this is the first time I’ve seen it twisted in this way, although I see traces of it in this interview with Shelby Foote. Notice that Phil doesn’t mention any of those black people owning any of the farms. That’s a pretty important thing to understand. These black workers were sharecroppers. They didn’t own the land. They were technically peons–having political rights in theory but no economic rights at all.
I actually find that comment more egregious than the statements about gays.
The Civil Rights Movement was not about sticking to the white man. It was about justice. To twist that around the way Phil Robertson and many other Southerners have is really pretty dangerous.
But most places with nasty pasts cannot deal with the nastiness properly, so they cognitively switch it around to make it more palatable. Indeed, the only country I know of that doesn’t do this– which actually makes such mental twists of recent historical horrors illegal– is Germany.
Now, I do have to say that I have been a fan of this show for a long time. I also admire Phil Robertson’s skills as a naturalist and hunter. I admire some of what he says about the modern world, and his distinct disdain for the “yuppie” world– which he defines as the world of manicured lawns and homeowner’s associations. This is the world where no one knows anything about the realities of the natural world, and it is pretty obvious to anyone who has watched this show that Phil Robertson knows the natural world quite well.
He knows about the ducks and the fish and the frogs and the deer. In some ways, he’s the romantic hunter-naturalist that I wish were on television more– the one we used to celebrate in our literature and popular culture. The Davy Crockett. The Daniel Boone. The Teddy Roosevelt.
But Phil understands the natural world only as it is before him. It is clear from anyone who has watched the show that he is a devout Christian, but the sad thing is that he has allowed his Christianity to distort a real accounting of the world he most deeply admire.
Robertson is a creationist:
The Almighty gave us this. Genesis 9 is where the animals went wild, and God gave them wildness. After the flood, that’s when he made animals wild. Up until that time, everybody was vegetarian. After the flood, he said, “I’m giving you everything now. Animals are wild.”
I find creationism every bit as vile as trying to wax poetic about the happy days of Jim Crow. I find it really disheartening when people who actually do know quite a bit about the natural world give their minds over to ancient mythology as their guide for scientific understanding. Phil Robertson spent years as a commercial fisherman and duck hunter on the Ouachita River. He came to know the ducks and fish as well as any trained field biologist. He made his fortune off the duck call he patented.
But he can never understand that the very birds on which his success are actually very modified theropod dinosaurs.
He can never understand that he’s actually a dinosaur hunter and that his family actually feast on dinosaur meat.
That is just sad.
I must admit that I was not shocked about what Phil Robertson said. Over a year ago, I happened upon this sermon he gave in Pennsylvania in which he calls for Christian dominionism in the US government and the banning of abortion. He also engages in the revisionist pseudohistory that turns George Washington into a raging fundamentalist and Thomas Jefferson into a “bible-believin’ man.”
I knew about this for a long time, and there was a hope in me that no one would find out.
That’s because I really liked a show about people who spend time in the woods and on the rivers and who have made a good living at it.
I admired some of Phil’s ideas, but I knew they were coming from an entirely different place than mine.
But I still admire a man who comes to know the wild, who still reaches out and touches nature, and who still shuns the worst of our society.
But I don’t admire anyone who holds onto the old ways solely because they are the old ways.
And in this I am deeply conflicted.
I am not a believer. I am not a conservative. I’m not really a Southerner either.
I know that Phil Robertson went through a very dark time. He was cruel to his wife and kids. He abused alcohol and ran wild.
The only way he redeemed himself was through becoming a Christian. It saved him.
But in some ways it did not.
So I am not with Phil Robertson, but in some ways, I am.
This is the conflict.
He has the right to say and believe what he wants, but I am not with him on religion.
I love the natural world, and the natural world has saved me.
I am okay with my life being all there is. I have accepted it.
And when it’s gone, my ashes will nourish an aspen grove.
That’s the only eternal life I need– pay it forward into the carbon cycle.