December 22, 2013

Queer Issue: They Said *What*! A Guide on How To Exploit Minority Outrage For Profit

There has been a bit of an uproar, if you want to call it that, over certain comments Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson made in an interview with the publication GQ. That these remarks were both homophobic and racist goes without saying at this point, so I'm not going to belabor any points here.

The response has been varied and telling. People in my twitter feed appear to be rushing to condemn Robertson for being homophobic bigots (with less attention being paid to the racist comments about blacks being happier under Jim Crow, which is a problem in of itself). Meanwhile, the right is going to great lengths to defend Robertson. He's even getting compared to Rosa Parks because people who state that African Americans were happier under Jim Crow are oh so clearly in the same catagory of people who fought against systemic racism in America.

What nobody is talking about is the possibility that this entire incident was staged at the outset, possibly with the blessing of producers from Duck Dynasty. While the Duck Commander clan has all the appearance of typical "redneck hicks" what with their long beards and business based on hunting products, the success of their business and TV show implies at least some media/marketing savvy. Of course the term redneck is a classist term and from what I'm reading, liberal perceptions of the Duck Dynasty clan is based on a whole set of classist assumptions that I don't have time to deconstruct for one article.

In any case, here is what I expect will happen. At some point in the next week or so, Phil Robertson will issue a carefully worded apology to the LGBTQ community. Afterwards, he'll get to go on some kind of GLAAD sponsored apology/publicity tour and maybe even through a respectable amount of cash at a LGBTQ charity. Afterwards, Duck Dynasty will return in time for the January/February sweeps with a significant ratings boost while Duck Commander merchandise goes flying off the shelf.

I own no crystal ball, so I could be oh-so-very wrong about all of this. But it's not like it hasn't been done before. When I was a teenager, musical artists like Marilyn Manson and Eminim sold records primarily by being as outrageos as possible. Furthermore, The Westboro Baptist Church has gained attention through outrageous picketing tactics. Yet, one wonders if they really believe in what they're saying or are simply in it for the money. After all, as reported by the Southern Poverty Law Center:
the church makes money by winning or settling civil lawsuits involving the church. During the 1990s, the group sued Topeka multiple times for failing to provide sufficient protection during its protests. Although they lost most of their cases, WBC did win $43,000 in legal fees in 1993. According to Shirley Phelps-Roper, they also won more than $100,000 in 1995 in a lawsuit against Kansas' Funeral Picketing Act, which they claimed violated their First Amendment rights.

I can recall back when I took Philosophy of Religion, someone mentioned "it seems like only a matter of time until someone just end up driving a car into the Westboro Baptist Church picketers". Driving a car into them is not exactly what they want, but it's not all that far removed either. What they really want is someone to attack them, or try and prevent them from protesting altogether. Something to bear in mind when one might be considering directly confronting a Westboro Baptist Church groupies.

Following in the Westboro Baptist Church's footsteps, other groups have taken up the challenge of "who can be the most offensive to everyone". My senior year at SUNY Oneonta, we were visited by the Defarios, a father/daughter team that preached hatred of the homos the first time they came. The next year they showed up, it was all about teh ebils of abortion. Both of their visits, caused heavy counter protests from the student body. I don't recall it ever being brought up directly, but I recall hearing rumors that the Defarios also were interesting in exploiting the legal system then promoting any particular message.

The point is, The Westboro Baptist Church, are ultimately no different from Marilyn Manson in principle, the dividing line revolves solely around which political group or identity they are attempting to offend.

However, larger questions still remain. Namely, how do we respond to such spectacles of bigotry? I have nothing against calling out right wing lies and bigotry when it occurs, but there is a certain tendency for reporters to just go "Oh look at what outrageous thing (so and so) said this time!" and then leave it at that. There are times when I cannot help but wonder if groups like Right Wing Watch function as little more than subliminal publicists for whichever members of the right wing that they decide to draw attention to.

Of course not only do anti-gay bigots pull this trick. As some of you might recall, the story of the waitress who claimed she was stiffed out of a tip by a bigot turned out to be completely false.

One cannot help but wonder, is this sort of thing even avoidable? Is there a way to create a better structure for both getting the word out on the discrimination we face, while responding to the lies told about us, without turning everything into the mere mechanics of an outrage bigot fund generating machine? Or perhaps human nature is against us here. Who knows. As annoying as clickbait culture is, it works because it just so happens to be really effective at selling superficial crap. Yet there is this lingering sense I have that all this outrage does nothing more than feed the hand that slaps us.

Now if you'll excuse me, I just came across a facebook link on my feed that says "You won't *BELIEVE* what this well known conservative said about teh gays THIS time [video]!" that I plan on checking out.

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