So, some guy on a reality show said something homophobic in a magazine profile (and also made racist comments, which showed up on the online edition). GLAAD swiftly launched into action and he was promptly suspended, thus mollifying all ruffled feathers. (Meanwhile, anti-racist groups protested but were essentially ignored in the furor over the homophobia, illustrating the reach of gay activist groups when it comes to organizing.)
Meanwhile, the right is freaking out over how this constitutes a violation of the guy’s “free speech rights,” as evidently television networks are now governments, while the media are having a collective wordgasm all over the Internet over the situation. (Yes, hello, that’s me too.)
One might think that I would cover this case; it touches upon bigotry, pop culture, and people doing nasty things in public, but actually, I’m only covering it indirectly, because I’m less interested in the case itself than in the reactions surrounding it. You see, Phil Robertson is the star of “Duck Dynasty,” a show that bills and projects itself as a very rednecky, hickish sort of production, complete with “swampbillies” who stalk the lowlands in search of ducks to shoot.
The response to his homophobia was basically, “Well, I’m not surprised, this is just how rednecks are!” or “Is anybody shocked that people from rural communities are racist homophobes?” or “Well, what do you expect from the rural South?” or things generally along these lines. I mean, we’re all supposed to be grossed out by his comments, but apparently at the same time we’re not supposed to be all that startled by them, because, like, he’s not one of us.
Well, excuse the quack out of me, but I am from a rural area (although I live half time in the city these days), which DOES make him one of mine. I actually know a lot of people like him: blustering assholes who will happily spout racist, homophobic, misogynistic comments given half a second of my attention. And you know what? A lot of the worst live right within the confines of your precious cities where apparently everyone is a model of social progressivism and responsibility.
Do I go around saying that them thar city folks sure are bigots? Uh, no, I don’t. I go around saying bigots are bigots.
Because, look, here’s the thing. When you say that one racist, homophobic asshat speaks for all of rural America, you’re insulting rural America. Because he definitely doesn’t speak for us. Sure, he speaks for a specific segment of rural (AND URBAN) America: that of racist, homophobic asshats.
But to suggest that these traits are native (and confined to) rural areas is offensive, as is the suggestion that they’re specifically Southern in nature, because, believe me, Yankees have their share of racist homophobic asshats too. May I introduce you to one Ann Coulter, born in New York City and raised on the East Coast?
Rural communities are as diverse and complex as urban ones, albeit in different ways, and we are filled with all kinds of different people (for example, get over your belief that rural people are overwhelmingly white, as the Census don't lie: the only thing we overwhelmingly are is poor). The constant crap slung at rural communities: that their inhabitants are all backwards, uneducated, bigoted, etc., is immensely tiring, and it’s just wrong. Rural communities have their own centers of arts and culture, they include people who are highly creative and educated, they include progressives and radical movements.
Rural life does not mean living in a social backwater, out of touch with all reality.
I'm from rural America and I'm a total pinko commie queer. Do you think I'm some kind of special snowflake? Who do you think I hung out with in school? Hell, who do you think I hunted with in school? Why do you think I choose to continue living in a rural community despite having access to plenty of options elsewhere in the United States?
The problem here isn’t that A&E had a show starring some backwoods hicks, but that A&E chose to run a reality show starring conservative Christians who believe in a very specific set of “values,” which include racism and homophobia. A&E carefully controlled the editing and presentation of the show to make their lives into a sort of mockery/send-up of a particular subtype of US culture, but it couldn’t control the stars in their off time, and this was the result.
What people don’t seem to understand is that the subtype of US culture depicted in “Duck Dynasty” isn’t “rural life” but “life for rural conservative Christians,” which is an entirely different kettle of fish, or bag of feathers, or whatever. Are there conservative Christians in my rural community who behave a lot like these guys? Yes, yes there are.
There are also, as a friend put it on Twitter, “openly gay, gun-toting rednecks.” (And this is not a new development.)
Rural communities host Christian churches working side by side with undocumented immigrants for farmworker justice and immigration reform. They host queer communes and radical artists and so much more. And, yeah, we host bigoted jerks who show up at the annual logging contest and make arses of themselves. There are bars here I won’t go into because I don’t feel safe in them.
But the same can also be said of urban communities, too. Urban and rural communities are characterized by the same thing: Both contain people, and some people are assholes. The insistent messaging that rural communities are more likely to contain people who maintain marginalizing views of the world is wrong, and it’s hateful, and it’s discriminatory.
Such attitudes may be more openly tolerated or even actively welcomed in some rural communities, but that doesn’t mean urban areas are free of these problems. And in fact, in many urban communities, the issue is much more subtle and hidden, because people have learned that being bigoted in public is wrong. Their takeaway from that isn’t that they should stop being bigots, but that they should go underground.
And I don’t know about you, but I like my bigots where I can see them. So thanks for outing yourself, Phil Robertson, although I wasn’t that surprised -- not because you’re rural, though, but because you’ve made no secret of the fact that you’re a conservative Christian.