If you’re confused how a duck-hunting entrepreneur’s disparaging comments about gay people became the biggest news story of the week, you’re not alone.
There were plenty of other things to talk about, from Iran and Syria, to Obamacare and the NSA, yet Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson’s suspension from A&E commanded by far the most interest, as anyone who monitors traffic for news websites could tell you. The story has stayed atop the news ranking site Memeorandum‘s leaderboard for the past three days and absolutely dominated Google searches compared to other stories:
Why? You could blame a slow news week, our infatuation with celebrity culture, the media’s love of inanity, etc. But I’ll hazard another guess: The story provided profound psychological satisfaction for both sides in the culture war by confirming deep, ugly suspicions of the other side.
Take two of the most cited columns from the right and the left, which generally encapsulated the response from either side.
Matt Lewis wrote at the conservative Daily Caller that the controversy exposed that “there really are two Americas” — a conservative, rural, Christian America that feels under attack from a cosmopolitan, blue America.
Responding to Lewis from the left, Business Insider‘s Josh Barro agreed, but added that “one [America] is better than the other.” There’s the one where it’s OK to dehumanize gays as subhuman and claim that blacks were happier under Jim Crow than they are today, as Robertson suggested, and then there’s the better one where it’s not OK to say those things, Barro argues.
Each column elicited a chorus of “amens” from their respective side, and therein lies the appeal of the Robertson saga.
For urban liberals, it’s hard to find a more cartoonishly distilled stereotype of the American South and modern conservative masculinity than Phil Robertson, with his ZZ Top beard, camouflage everything, and molasses Louisiana drawl. So Robertson’s comments were seemingly confirmation of the urban liberal’s worst suspicions about Southern White conservatives: They really are all as bigoted as I thought!
Of course that’s not entirely true, but it’s much easier to think of the other side as a cartoon than as a complex, nuanced human, so this kind of apparent confirmation provides deep satisfaction that the way you think you understand the world is actually true and has been all along.
For conservatives, it’s the inverse. A&E’s (read: the liberal media) decision to fire Robertson and the Left’s glee at his removal is confirmation that your world and everything you hold dear really is under attack. Urban liberals really do hate my Christian, traditional, rural values. This country really is slipping away.
As Lewis wrote, the Right sees it as “an attack on ‘unsophisticated’ country folks as much as it is an attack on orthodox Christianity.” America is becoming a country conservatives no longer recognize, and when a guy like Robertson gets fired for espousing a deeply held religious belief — a view shared, by the way, by almost half of Americans — that is terrifying. Mark Steyn wrote Friday in the National Review that the firing presages an “age of intolerance” against Christians.
Of course, both sides’ reductionist views are incomplete. But the satisfaction of feeling like you were just given license to continue holding that incomplete view — and to remain inside your comfortable bubble — is what drove so many clicks and Tweets and comments on the Robertson story.
It’s license to continue misunderstanding the other side.