The Feel Good Brigade

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Phil Robertson
Source:AP

Well, color me shocked.

A week and a half after A&E suspended “Duck Dynasty” patriarch Phil Robertson for comments about homosexuality, the cable channel has performed an about-face worthy of West Point and reinstated him.

I shouldn’t have been completely surprised, as earlier this week Cracker Barrel also abruptly changed course after public outrage in response to their decision to remove various Duck Dynasty merchandise following Robertson’s GQ interview. But I admit: I never anticipated A&E bowing a second time to external pressures, this time in the polar opposite direction. Knee-jerk response begets a public’s rendition of Mt. Vesuvius, which begets aftershock knee-jerking. Or just the simple realization that money speaks louder than outrage. Somewhere, an A&E executive is spinning the Wheel of Public Relations, saying “To whom shall we capitulate this week? Let’s see what happens.” It’s a welcome victory for two-cents givers at large.

minor victory, at that. Yes, while I cede that both companies reinstating Robertson is the ultimately defensible decision, my shiny new member’s card from the American Association of Cynics arrived and is currently burning a hole in my wallet. My beef isn’t with them rendering a second decision. Flip-flop or not, they reverted to the appropriate response in the first place: do nothing. It was their initial decision to suspend or dissociate from Robertson that demonstrates the unresolved quandary.

Their reversal doesn’t absolve them from willingly acting as the latest set of pawn hit-men for Team Alphabet Soup in the War Of Don’t Offend Me, Bro. As I mentioned earlier this week, the stakes for being seen to offend the sensibilities of the interest group du jour are mounting. It’s not enough in this particular culture war to be merely criticized, mocked or marginalized for unplugging from the Matrix of Sterilized Group Think and daring to call homosexual activity sin. Or just being a third-rate comedienne and apparently HIV-immune white chick like Justine Sacco. Anymore, groups like GLAAD, NAACP and PUSH are bound and determined, as NR columnist Mark Steyn states, to engineer a society “where lives are ruined over an aside because some identity-group don decides it must be so.”

It seems to this armchair cultural commentator that answering to Robertson’s assertions boils down to two tactics: dissent or offense. One is contemplative, the other reactionary. One belabors discourse, the other division. One favors rationality, the other courts emotion. In general, where emotion marches, the end of discussion soon follows in its wake. Which is why the repeated hitching of America’s wagon to the reactionary, divisive, touchy-feely proclivities of the “I’m just so offended” convoy is exhausting. Beating the war drums and publicly flogging offenders who don’t read off the prepared and sanitized Script of Forced Acceptance squelches all semblance of diversity of thought.

We do remember that word, right? Diversity. That almost legendary quality that the Left crashes down on our collective heads?  Or as Ron Burgundy states, “an old, old wooden ship that was used during the Civil War era.” That Diversity. Does it occur to no one to exercise it in debate and proclaim: “I disagree with you. Here’s why.” Are we afraid of engendering such disagreement? Is it really easier to hide behind a veil of half-baked indignation and report people to the PC Gestapo, rather than try to figure out where they’re coming from? I think so.

Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton famously voiced their disdain for each other’s opinions by doing twenty paces and firing. Not with their tongues, but bullets. 21st century America has gone to the other extreme. Guns are too icky, and debate actually means entertaining contrarian views–which are icky, too–so we settle on press releases and Twitter lynch mobs which ignore the point at hand entirely. Never mind the substance of your opinion. Instead, the Feel Good Brigade has dissolved otherwise useful debate down to how the other person’s opinion makes you feel. In other words, the most base, subjective, and therefore meaningless quality of conversation there is. I’m hardly calling for overt callousness or for incendiary verbiage, but can we honestly address major societal issues like gay marriage or runaway entitlement spending if the Left’s stance of ‘tolerance for mine belief, but none for thine’ would rather you be fired than court your views? That’s where we’re at.

If these incidents are instructive of anything, it’s that there is a hierarchy of acceptance in American public discourse. If one kowtows on the Leftist altar of gay marriage, feminism or abortion “rights”, you’re welcomed into the fold. Hold a Biblical view of marriage, gender roles or sanctity of life? Tut, Tut. Strap on your helmet and prepare for Armageddon, because it’s about to get ugly around here. It’s been said before, but it bears repeating: it was never about tolerance, but forcing all to genuflect to the Left’s policies. Dissent not permitted. And those of Phil Robertson’s ilk, who don’t toe the line straight towards Leftist collectivism, represent the last major barrier to full blown acceptance of whatever’s on the menu today. They risk being retired. Permanently.

For all that, however, we’ll take Robertson’ reinstatement. Such victories are increasingly few and far between. But it likely represents nothing more but the deep breath before the next plunge. Project Group Think is relentless, and one can’t count on groups like GLAAD leaving egg on their faces for long. Reinstatement or no, Robertson and those like him are still on notice. Stray again, and the engines of the culture war will roar once again. A war that isn’t over until non-conformity sleeps with the fishes.

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About Michael Haugen

Michael Haugen is a full-spectrum conservative and recent graduate from Eastern Washington University (BS Biology). His main interests in politics and public policy center around health care, education and tax reform. He'll be returning to EWU in 2014 to complete a Master's degree in Public Administration. Follow him on Twitter: @HaugenTRA

3 Responses to “The Feel Good Brigade”

  1. Always happy to run into another Michael. Sorry to have to point out a few things in reaction to your article. I worked in showbiz for 20 years before going into Medical Imaging. If you believed this “controversy” was about anything other than increasing the popularity of a show, you got played. I did too for a day or two, until I noticed that not only did A&E never suspend the SERIES, but they ran a marathon of old episodes, while the arguments were filtering through the news outlets.

    That’s when I recognized the tactic from my old Hollywood days. There’s no such thing as bad publicity. The PR stunt was planned conveniently to occur when cast and crew were on hiatus, so not a single day of shooting would be forfeit. A&E can act like they tried to please everyone, and people are talking about the show who never heard of it before. Mission accomplished. The channel gets to raise the ad rates, and the Robertsons sell more product.

    • I’ve heard a similar argument recently, and don’t deny that it’s a possibility the whole thing was a play for publicity. However, the show is already the second highest rated show on cable (just behind The Walking Dead), averages over 10 million viewers per episode, and is estimated to have netted A&E over $400 million in merchandising profits and $80 million in advertising this year alone. It’s not hurting for publicity, and is making money by sheer popularity alone. If this was just for show, it’s an awfully bald-faced money grab that isn’t really necessary anyway. It’s an interesting theory all the same. Thanks for your comment.

      • There’s no such thing as “enough audience” either. The show is cable-show popular, but it still gets about half the audience of any of the Network Top Ten shows, and “The Walking Dead” beats it handily on cable. What both A&E and the Robertsons want is those kind of numbers. I’m sticking to my theory, and thank you for your generous reply!

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