Wishbone tug-of-war: Fighting over the holiday duck dinner

When I first heard the morning news reports regarding the A&E Networks’ decision to indefinitely suspend Phil Robertson, one of the stars of the smash hit reality television show “Duck  Dynasty,” for remarks he made in an interview for GQ magazine, my knee-jerk reaction was likely the same as many others.


Namely, that A&E had violated Robertson’s rights to free speech.
My social studies teacher from high school, Doug Smith, would have cringed at my mistake.
“Did you learn nothing from my class?!!” he would ask – and with good reason.
The right to Free Speech in the first amendment is meant to protect people from being imprisoned for criticizing our government. It is an important right, one that is still all too rare on this planet, but it still has nothing at all to do with Phil Robertson.
How do we know this?
Because following publication of the GQ article, nobody arrested Robertson and put him in jail! Especially not the US government.
The attention that this story has drawn from some conservative pundits amuses me. The same folks who are currently bashing A&E’s decision to  suspend Robertson for expressing his personal beliefs are exactly the same folks who pilloried Natalie Maines and the Dixie Chicks in 2003 for daring to criticize George W. Bush and the Iraq War.
She didn’t go to jail either. But that didn’t protect her, or her group, from suffering the commercial backlash that her comments would make to their fanbase.
Country radio stations exercised their option to cut the group from their playlists and they earned a very chilly reception from their former peers in the Academy of Country Music.
Which just goes to show that while we may be protected from being political prisoners because of our personal views, the exercise of free speech does not protect anyone from commercial consequences in a free market.
However, all the blather from news pundits on this issue obscures a far more interesting story — a power struggle that’s going on behind closed doors between A&E Networks and Gurney Productions, the company that owns “Duck Dynasty.”
I read Drew Magary’s article on the family patriarch of “Duck Dynasty” in GQ. Being somewhat familiar with the magazine, I was not surprised that Magary’s tone in the article is condescending toward his subject.
But I do have to wonder if Robertson was familiar with the magazine before he agreed to the interview?
I respect Robertson’s profession of Christian faith and I believe it’s genuine. But I have seen no news story that dismisses the GQ article as libelous and there are some quotes that put A&E in a difficult position with its advertisers.
A&E Television is under the joint ownership of two rather powerful media giants: Hearst Corporation and the Disney-ABC Television Group. Though “Duck Dynasty” caters to a very big audience, it is just a demographic.
Disney and Hearst look at a much bigger picture. They don’t want just one demographic. They want them all!
I have no idea how much the Robertson family owns of the “Duck Dynasty” show. However, it’s easily the most successful show that its production company, the amusingly named Gurney Productions, has ever produced.
Before “Duck,” Gurney’s main claim to fame was “I Was Bitten,” a series it produced for Animal Panet about people surviving being bitten by large animals.
It also produced the series “Hollywood Treasure,” a reality pawn shop series, and “Haunted Collector” – a ghost hunter series.
But I am certain this is a company that is trying to use the media stir as leverage for a larger piece of the “Duck Dynasty” marketing pie.
But who in this relationship created this marketing juggernaut? Gurney or Disney?
Robertson, himself, said in the GQ article that celebrity in a television series is a fleeting thing.
“Let’s face it,” he said. “Three, four, five years, we’re out of here. You know what I’m saying? It’s a TV show. This thing ain’t gonna last forever. No way.”
So the real debate – the one going on away from the cameras and the pundits – concerns where the Robertsons and their production company think they can profit most?
Do they honestly think a relationship with Rupert Murdoch and Fox would profit them more than Disney and Hearst?
It’ll be interesting to see how this pans out.

There’s a spy in the chocolate wars

There’s a spy in the chocolate wars

There’s a spy in the chocolate wars …

For the most part, the European teenagers that my wife and I have hosted through EF over the last five years are not very demonstrative when it comes to expressions of national pride.
We were told by our regional coordinators to expect this. It is not that Europeans are not proud of their homeland. Quite the contrary, they identify very strongly with their home country. Particularly when poking fun at the stupid American bimbos during episodes of “The Real Wives embarrassing some US city” which most tend to watch in marathon sessions after school.
But where most American country singers can make a pretty good living composing an old-fashioned patriotic song, and there’s a seemingly endless market for slapping an emblem of the Star Spangled Banner on a t-shirt or a denim jacket patch, Europeans tend to be more reserved and a lot more cynical about how they express their allegiance to their capital.
Except when it comes to their chocolate.

On other subjects, our exchange students are prepared to concede that, maybe, the French or Belgians have the best cooking and, perhaps, there is better skiing in the Swiss Alps than in the Italian Alps.
The subject of chocolate, however, is a source of constant and heated debate. It may sound playful, but it is only a masquerade. It is war. And like any true war, at the end of the arguments there are no winners, just a mutual halt to hostilities. No quarter is given and there is no peace in our time.
Pam and I have two German hostdaughters and one each from Finland, Norway, and Switzerland. Each has declared the absolute perfection of their national chocolate brands.
There is only one moment when my hostdaughters are united and that is when I have the gall to suggest that maybe, just maybe, American chocolate is the best.
It is in this arena that there may be hope yet for the future of the European Union for nothing unites my hostdaughters more completely than my suggestion that Hersheys is the superior world chocolate.
The outcry is immediate and their rejection is universal. And as further proof of the error of my ways, they all immediately write emails to their parents requesting care packages of their home chocolate as definitive proof of their chocolate superiority.
I am upping the ante this year with Rebecca Ruth Bourbon Balls and handmade candies from Cynthiana’s own J.J.’s Sweets.
That’s right, I’m taking this debate out of the realm of “USA, USA” and into the heart of My Old Kentucky Home. Everyone wish Josh Jenkins good luck.
But, do I imagine that, this time, I’ll win? That my darling and lovely hostdaughters will concede that Cynthiana chocolate trumps the very best that the Swiss can produce?
I’m not holding my breath.
But each and every holiday season, care packages arrive at my doorstep from all over Europe loaded with contraband Milka and Moser Roth bars and Kinder eggs from Germany, Karl Frazer bars and bags of Salmiakki from Finland, Marabou and Daim brand chocolate from Norway, and from the Swiss: Toblerone, Lindt, Nestle and Ferrero Rocher.

…And I’m proud to be an American…