Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Two Mr. Phils

Linda Holmes has penned an excellent piece over at NPR about A&E (the network once known as Arts and Entertainment) suspending Phil Robertson from the filming of Duck Dynasty. In it, she talks about Show Phil and Actual Phil and how A&E has set about protecting the version of Phil that they feel belongs to them from the version that belongs to him.

Because the media comments on the part of Actual Phil that landed him in trouble with A&E generally mesh (more in some places, less so in others) with stereotypical "conservative" and/or "Christian" values, the broader discussion (rather quickly) began to turn on whether or not Robertson was being persecuted by secular society.

Cue conservative charges of anti-Christian intolerance. So predictable.
Jonathan Merritt, The Real Duck Dynasty Scandal: Phil Robertson's Comments on Race
But really, what's at issue here is the nature of celebrity and the general set of values that "the public" tends to for celebrities to subscribe to. Despite a general suspicion that little is more fake than reality television, there's still a desire to see it as being more WYSIWYG than it actual is - to believe that the people would still behave the same way when the cameras are elsewhere. Which is what makes the appearance of Actual Phil problematic. Regardless of what you think of his opinions and/or any deeper meaning behind his words, the problem with the Actual Phil that was presented in the GQ interview is that he's not the blandly "wholesome," everyone-can-see-themselves-in-him everyman that wants A&E to present to us by way of Show Phil. And like just about every other television station, they would like to believe that he's the real thing.

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