Duck Commander CEO Phil Robertson, who is also the star of A&E’s wildly popular series Duck Dynasty, was suspended indefinitely Wed. Dec. 18, after comments he made during an interview were published in GQ Magazine.
"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." - Duck Commander CEO Phil Robertson, speaking to GQ Magazine.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, activist groups such as GLAAD, blasted Robertson’s remarks and hailed A&E's decision:
"Phil's decision to push vile and extreme stereotypes is a stain on A&E and his sponsors, who now need to re-examine their ties to someone with such public disdain for LGBT people and families...By taking quick action and removing Robertson from future filming, A&E has sent a strong message that discrimination is neither a Christian nor an American value." - GLAAD President Wilson Cruz, in response to A&E announcement regarding Robertson's suspension.
Fans of the show responded in kind, many blasting A&E for caving in to political correctness, while others hammered away at what they saw as a “gay and lesbian agenda” in Hollywood. However, there is one question nobody is asking regarding this whole situation:
Was A&E actually within its right to suspend Robertson?
The answer is likely the unpopular one: yes.
Most contracts in the entertainment industry, be it broadcasting, stage, or sports, now have clauses which protect the issuer in the event a contractor commits any act or speaks in a manner which could be construed as “damaging” to the image or interests of the issuer. This sort of clause has resulted in a variety of contract terminations and, while most of these incidents have involved questionable conduct by professional athletes, there have been several instances in which the contracts of entertainers have been terminated for similar offenses.
One of the most infamous recent cases of this sort of issue involved former Two and Half Men star Charlie Sheen, whose drug and alcohol issues, combined with a very public feud with director Chuck Lorre, eventually led to his dismissal from the series on the grounds of "moral turpitude." Sheen’s bizarre online video war against Lorre, including the now-famous “Winning” rant, went viral and was considered integral to Sheen’s comeback in the FX series Anger Management. Ashton Kutcher was eventually cast into the role of wealthy tech-hipster to replace Sheen, but the series took nearly a full season to recover from the shake-up.
Long story short: this sort of issue rarely ends well for either party.
While the end may be nigh for Robertson’s relationship with A&E, it is far from the finale of the Duck Dynasty franchise. The success of the series has launched books, a merchandise line directly tied to the show itself, and has turned the Duck Commander product line into a worldwide phenomenon. Add to this the fact that Robertson and his family were already independently wealthy on their own, and it’s highly unlikely that this issue will cause harm to the bearded Louisianans.
Robertson was within his right to speak his mind, and A&E was likely within its right to do what it did to protect its interest. But make no mistake; where there is a market, there will be a buyer. Chances are extremely high that, in the end, A&E and Robertson will come to some sort of agreement which either terminates the contract or allows Robertson a means to speak his mind while also allowing the network to save face (a pre-episode disclaimer comes to mind).
In the Battle of Free Speech versus Political Correctness, free speech will win out in this instance, and rightly so.
Today's political environment is now hyper-partisan and hyper-polarized, leaving many Americans with a feeling of being held hostage to the whim of a vocal minority on both sides. For this reason, political correctness has been on the defensive for the last few years. In the final analysis, some other network is sure to pick up Duck Dynasty should common sense not rule the day at A&E. Regardless of who carries the series, they will profit tremendously from not just the hardcore hunters and comedy lovers who enjoy the Duck Commander’s family antics, but also from traditionalists who tend to agree with Robertson’s opinions.
Though free speech comes with the responsibility to exercise that right wisely, it also comes with a duty to protect it as a basic principle of American life. Whoever is brave enough to step up and defend Robertson’s right to speak his mind, however politically incorrect his views, will benefit from the support his suspension has generated.