The Pilot Newspaper: Opinion
Listen: Phil Robertson is trolling you.
If you’ve spent any time on the Interwebs, you know that a “troll” is someone who, in the words of Urban Dictionary, “posts a deliberately provocative message to a newsgroup or message board with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument.”
However, in the age where the Internet continues to push its influence more and more into real life, where news organizations routinely go to Twitter to find out what’s going on, where the latest meme or viral video becomes the water-cooler conversation du jour, the trolling that used to be the province of socially maladjusted teenagers online is now a PR technique.
The pattern has become depressingly predictable: Minor celebrity or previously unknown CEO says something racist, misogynistic or homophobic. The Internet explodes with outrage, calls for boycotts, etc. Within a day or so, the counter-outrage begins with a disheartening number of people claiming, in essence, that the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech means that saying something stupid should have no consequences whatsoever, even criticism.
Voila! The previously little-known figure is now front-page news. And once again, America has been trolled.
If the original troll gets really lucky, their work or their product (say, for example, chicken sandwiches) now becomes something that racists, sexists or homophobes now feel like they NEED to consume as much out of a sense of “we’ll show those libs!” as out of actual enjoyment. Because nothing sweetens the taste of a wingnut’s chicken sandwich as much as thinking that he’s sticking it to “those people” with every bite.
Which brings us back to Phil Robertson. The so-called “patriarch” of the clan featured in A&E’s rednecks-with-money reality show “Duck Dynasty” caught a lot of flak recently for an interview with GQ magazine in which he trotted out the tired old canard about how tolerance of homosexuality would lead to “bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men,” and asserted that gays would not be admitted into heaven.
He also claimed that pre-civil rights and “entitlements” he never saw any black people complain and that in fact, they were “happy and singing.” Later, a speech Robertson had made a few years ago popped up in which he urged men in their 20s to marry 15- or 16-year-old girls
because they won’t pick your pocket, “they’ll pick your ducks.” (I’m hoping that’s not some kind of weird euphemism.)
The reaction proceeded according to the usual playbook. Twitter and Facebook went nuts. A&E suspended Robertson (but didn’t say anything about cancelling the show). Cracker Barrel removed some Duck Dynasty products with Robertson’s bearded visage on them from their “Country Store.”
The counter-backlash occurred right on schedule, with people claiming that A&E’s suspension of Robertson violated his First Amendment rights (showing once again that the people who clamor loudest about the Constitution have clearly never read it). Sarah Palin weighed in on Robertson’s behalf, but later admitted that she hadn’t actually read the interview
. Pretty soon “I Stand With Phil” petitions began to appear, followed by the inevitable T-shirts. Cracker Barrel quietly returned the Duck Dynasty stuff to the shelves. A&E not only reinstated Robertson, they ran a Duck Dynasty marathon over the holidays. Successful trolling achieved!
The thing is, the show, like most “reality” TV, is a fraud. I’ve seen a few episodes as I meander around the channels. Sure, it’s amusing. Phil Robertson and his sons, heirs to the multi-million-dollar “Duck Commander” hunting supply fortune, come off on screen as some sort of modern-day Beverly Hillbillies dressed in camo and bandannas and sporting beards that make them look like a ZZ Top tribute band.
But the whole thing’s as big an illusion as that so-called “Country Store” mentioned above. Pictures have surfaced all over the Internet of the college-educated Robertsons dressed as what they grew up as
: rich frat boys who grew up to be rich yuppies.
There’s even one embarrassing shot of brother Willie with frosted tips in his hair.
Phil Robertson himself admitted in another interview that A&E inserts “bleeps” in the soundtrack as if the boys are doin’ some down-home cussin’, but they’re actually not.
It’s all marketing, and this latest controversy is just another example of how there’s no such thing as bad publicity. The vast majority of the people who’d get riled up over Papa Phil’s remarks aren’t going to be buying his products anyway, but he and his sons can count on the tribalism, persecution fantasies and resentments of right wingers to help line their pockets.
Trolling’s not only become an art form, it’s become a profitable one. And it ain’t just the ducks gettin’ plucked.