AGORA: Gay Talk Beyond Duck Dynasty

From time to time an issue emerges and inspires various minds to converge, often at odds with one another, to discuss it. Hopefully, collective enlightenment will result from such conversations. The Ancient Greeks did that in the Agora, the original marketplace of ideas, and we, their modern-day descendants, aspire to continue that tradition.

We respect one another’s opinion very much, but often times we will disagree on particular issues. We would never fabricate a difference of opinion for the sake of writing an interesting column.

Rest assured, anything we write here are our sincere, heartfelt thoughts. We will share them with you every two weeks. We hope you enjoy them, and we look forward to your taking part in the discussion as well – by contributing letters to the editor in response, and/or commenting on our website: www.thenationalherald.com.

Filling in for columnist Dan Georgakas this week, taking on TNH Executive Editor Constantinos Scaros, is TNH Publisher-Editor Antonis H. Diamataris.

SCAROS: SIN OR SETUP?

Antoni, nice to exchange ideas with you here in Agora for this edition – it’s been a while. Though I am not beyond watching the occasional “trash TV” reality series – Amish Mafia and Mob Wives come to mind, the former because I currently live close to where it is filmed, the latter because I’ll give virtually any mob-related show a chance – I find virtually all of them to be ridiculously contrived, even as they purport to be spontaneous and genuine, and the vast majority of them, Duck Dynasty included, dreadfully dull and therefore utterly unwatchable.

Most of America disagrees with me, however. We have gone from a nation of ordinary people tuning in to watch extraordinary talent on TV – Sammy Davis, Jr., for example, who could sing, dance, and play the piano more effortlessly than most people can tie their shoes – to watching unrealistic “reality” shows comprised of quintessentially ordinary people who, by comparison, render the viewers the extraordinary subset of the equation.

Be that as it may (and pardon the long opening rant about reality shows), Duck Dynasty has emerged as a favorite throughout the country, but its star, Phil Robertson, found himself in a heap of trouble when in a Gentleman’s Quarterly (GQ) interview he responded to the question of “what is sinful?” by beginning with homosexuality, and following with bestiality and multiple sexual partners.

Robertson continued by wondering what the appeal is to a man to be attracted to another man, when a woman “has more to offer,” and using coarse (though not profane) language to describe male and female body parts.

Duck Dynasty’s network, the Arts & Entertainment channel (A&E), suspended Robertson from the show, stating that, “We are extremely disappointed to have read Phil Robertson’s comments in GQ, which are based on his own personal beliefs and are not reflected in the series Duck Dynasty. His personal views in no way reflect those of A&E Networks, who have always been strong supporters and champions of the LGBT [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender] community. The network has placed Phil under hiatus from filming indefinitely.”

Amid furious backlash against the network from conservative groups, including high-profile politicians-turned commentators Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin (former Governors of Arkansas and Alaska, respectively), A&E reversed Robertson’s suspension, prompting some critics to conclude that the network couldn’t risk losing a fortune (by sabotaging a wildly popular show) to stand on principle, while others thought it was a publicity stunt from the get-go.

And though, if I had a dime for every time I’ve torn apart a conspiracy theory, my bank account might rival Robertson’s, I tend to agree on this occasion, that it might have been a well-orchestrated gimmick to generate more interest in the show.

Nonetheless, the topic I think more worthy of our discussion is the substance of the comments rather than the specific commentator. First of all, as a privately-owned business, A&E has every right to set its own standards of propriety and suspend any employee for not measuring up accordingly. Advertisers and viewers, in turn, have every right to criticize, and boycott, any network’s policy decision.

That said, I agree that some of Robertson’s remarks, particularly the coarse language and the apoplexy about the object of another person’s sexual attraction are offensive, indeed. I have no problem about backlash against Robertson in that respect. If his long, straggly beard merely renders him a curiosity, his words make him ugly.

The point with which I take great issue, however, is the objection to a general statement that homosexuality is sinful. I am not necessarily taking the position that it is or is not. Rather, I am suggesting that Christianity, the religion practiced by the overwhelming majority of Americans, unequivocally states that it is.

Though the Bible is far from being crystal-clear in every instance, there is not much doubt about this one: Leviticus condemns homosexuality, and in Matthew, Jesus specifies that marriage is two people “male and female,” who God created, and that fornication (sex outside of wedlock) is forbidden.

According to the Bible, then, Jesus explicitly spoke against any sex outside of marriage which, by His definition of marriage, means that any homosexuality – even between a legally married gay couple – is a sin.

Leviticus, of course, goes much further, also declaring sinful activities such as wearing wool and cotton clothing, and touching the skin of a dead pig. The latter means playing football is a sin, too, if we are to be absolute Biblical literalists. To that end, Robertson responded to the criticism by stating that “Jesus will take sins away, if you’re a homosexual he’ll take it away, if you’re an adulterer, if you’re a liar, what’s the difference?” That clearly indicates that this is not about being gay.

Again, to illustrate, consider the example of the remarks circulating when then-President Bill Clinton had an affair with Monica Lewinsky: “as President, he can have any woman he wants. Why did he sleep with that fat pig?” The remark, of course, is offensive to all overweight people in general, women in particular.

If Robertson had made a remark like that while starring in a TV series, I’d have no problem with the network suspending him for that, either. But to use this uncouth TV star’s dumb choice of words as an excuse to proclaim that quoting from the Bible is now offensive is what I object to most vehemently.

In closing, I will add that I’m sure the politically correct crowd would have not known how to respond if, say a Muslim celebrity said that homosexuals should be executed (as they are some nations that follow Islamic laws). “Should we support the gay person, or the Muslim,” they would wonder. And by that, I am bashing neither homosexuality, nor Islam. Just political correctness.

DIAMATARIS: WHAT’S THE SCREAMING ABOUT?

Dino, I must confess to you that I had no idea who this person was until this “controversy” seemed to appear everywhere in the news.

I will go beyond your disdain of most reality shows, however, and say that I think most television programs are an utter waste of time. Now, I am not claiming to have a better taste for shows, but with very few exceptions – 60 Minutes comes to mind – I think my time – and everyone’s time, for that matter – can be far better spent doing other things than watching television.

Particularly programs like Duck Dynasty and others found on that network – and to think, they call themselves the Arts & Entertainment channel (A&E)!

Now I happen to know a thing or two about the role advertising plays for the media, but come on, this is outrageous. Worse yet, is this obsessiveness by the media and, to a wider extent, by society, to spend so much time discussing sex.

We consume tons upon tons of ink on homosexuality judging the other people’s business as if though we are all experts on the topic or possess some sort of superior level of morality and ethics. There are far more serious matters going on in the world that we as a society should be talking about – rather than feeding an irresistible impulse to comment about other people’s sex lives.

In fact, the more someone – usually politicians – rail against a particular topic, ranting and screaming about it endlessly, the more suspicious I become. Quite often, the overt screaming about the nature of topic masquerades the real screams – the hidden ones – which are screams of political opportunism.

Mr. Robinson can have his views on any subject he wants, including homosexuality. Even the Pope does not deserve so much media attention about the topic, much less the star of a show called Duck Dynasty.

PART 3: WHAT’S YOUR OPINION?