Americans seem to have appointed themselves a new sort of entitlement.
This one isn’t about other people paying for their health care, or other people paying for their college tuition. It seems vast swaths of the American public now think they have the right not to be offended.
The most recent example of this phenomena is socially conservative duck hunting mogul Phil Robertson of reality television’s Duck Dynasty fame. Robertson told GQ magazine recently that he didn’t understand how men could be attracted to other men’s anuses instead of women’s vaginas, and then suggested that homosexuality was a sin not unlike promiscuity and bestiality.
He then made some comments about how blacks, in his experience working alongside them as a poor white man, weren’t all that unhappy in the Jim Crow-era south.
Judging by the storm of media reactions, both condemning and defending Robertson’s comments, what some reality television personality had to say about homosexuality and race relations is currently the most important issue in America.
I’m guessing far more people know the details of Robertson’s comments and the fallout then the details of the recent budget deal.
Not surprisingly, the reactions to Robertson’s comments split along ideological lines. Those on the left condemned him and threatened boycotts of his show and sponsors. Those on the right tended to defend him, and condemn those on the left for “censorship.”
The irony is that just a little more than a decade ago these ideological roles were reversed in a similar situation involving celebrities with feet planted firmly in their mouths. The Dixie Chicks, until 2003 a popular country music act, told an audience in England that they were against the Iraq war and ashamed of then-President George W. Bush.
Of course, the claims of censorship are silly. Nobody in the government sought to retaliate against the Dixie Chicks for their comments against the war in Iraq and President Bush, just as nobody in the government is seeking retaliation against Phil Robertson and his family.
But we should be concerned about how our society has taken to reacting to these situations. Whether it’s country singers and controversial political statements, duck hunters and controversial social commentaries or wedding photographers refusing to work at gay marriages (only to see themselves conscripted into service anyway by state equality laws), it’s as though Americans can’t just live and let live.
We can’t just disagree. We must attack those with whom we disagree and wound them. Destroy their reputation. Destroy their careers. Those with moral objections to certain lifestyles are bigots. Those with dissenting political views are extremists.
You’re either with me or against me. That’s how a growing number of Americans seem to see the world.
It used to be, “I may not agree with what you say, but I’ll defend your right to say it.” Now it’s “I don’t agree with what you say, and I’ll set out to destroy your life and your career because you say it, but I will oppose the cops arresting you because I’m against censorship.”
As if that were much better.
And the capitalists, always on the lookout for how to make a buck, are already exploiting this trend in human behavior.
The controversy around Robertson’s comments seems a little contrived to this observer. Something akin to starlets like Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian leaking sex tapes to bolster their own careers.
Just days after announcing that Phil Robertson would be suspended from Duck Dynasty, A&E (which airs the obviously staged production) announced that he’d be appearing in new episodes of the show in January. Cracker Barrel, a sponsor of the show, announced that they’d be withdrawing from their relationship with the Robertsons only to reverse that decision just a couple of days later.
It seems the Robertson family will move into 2014 with a lot more people paying attention to their television show than there was in 2013. Not bad for people who are supposedly the victims of public backlash.
This “scandal” might be the best business innovation the Robertsons have executed yet.