The Cash Cows Come Home

One of the Duck Dynasty stars greets members of  the military during the 2013 Chairman USO Holiday Tour earlier this month.  Flickr photo by USO

One of the Duck Dynasty stars greets members of the military during the 2013 Chairman USO Holiday Tour earlier this month. Flickr photo by USO

Good news, Church & State readers: I’m back!  Please forgive my extended absence.  It turns out that moving to another state takes up a lot of time and energy, made even worse when your car tries to kill you, your new basement floods, and your refrigerator is full of a mysterious scent that makes you want to puke and simply will not go away.  Oh, and did I mention this all took place during the busy holiday season?  Let’s just say that writing blog posts has not been at the top of my priority list.  However, things are beginning to settle down, and I have finally reached the point where I feel ready to dive in again. (And there was much rejoicing…)

Quite a bit has happened since I went away.  Pope Francis was named TIME’s Person of the Year a few weeks after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chose to give him a book on the Spanish Inquisition.  I considered writing an article about the irony of that incident, but there simply was not enough time.  The Obamacare rollout continued to be a disaster of epic (while at the same time entirely predictable) proportions.  There was no need for me to throw in my two cents on that one, since everybody and their mother was doing so already.

The Republicans and Democrats in Congress managed to come to some kind of agreement regarding the budget, but as I have already stated regarding our ongoing legislative morass, I’m not bothered.  The cynic inside me appears to have won this round, but I’m sure my inner idealist will eventually come back and spur me on to more false hope.

Beyoncé released a surprise album that has apparently reset the rules of the music industry forever.  American Hustle charmed critics with its mix of sequins, polyester, and hairspray.  On a related note, Jennifer Lawrence was named the Associated Press Entertainer of the Year.  I saw neither American Hustle nor her other end of year release, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, so my main memory of Jennifer from 2013 is her stumble heard ’round the world at the Oscars.

One movie I did go to see, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, was pleasing enough as a fantasy action flick, but veered so far away from the source material that I considered a post entitled “The Desolation of Tolkien”.  I even had the first few lines written in my head: “Local authorities were troubled by recent seismic activity in Oxfordshire until they traced the source to a local cemetery and realized it was just Tolkien turning over in his grave.”  It would have been hilarious, but it was not meant to be.

The main page of the Drudge Report on December 27, 2013 at 7:40 p.m. (www.drudgereport.com)

The main page of the Drudge Report on December 27, 2013 at 7:40 p.m. (www.drudgereport.com)

Lucky Duck

Perhaps the one story that tempted me more than any other was the suspension of Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson.  It was a blogger’s dream: an uber-redneck reality star gives an interview espousing his interesting (that seems like the safest descriptor) perspective on homosexuality and race relations, and from that point on everything else follows the usual script.

Enter gay rights groups, horrified that such comments still occur in the 21st century.  Enter evangelical Christians, ready to identify themselves with any public figure who seems to share their beliefs.  2013 had already been a landmark year in the ongoing battle over gay rights thanks to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that found the federal Defense of Marriage Act to be unconstitutional.  Sensing the shifting political tide, A&E (the channel that airs Duck Dynasty) did what any self-respecting media outlet would do in such a situation: it suspended Robertson and attempted to distance itself from the controversy as much as possible.

The reasons I chose not to weigh in on this story at the time were, 1) Everyone on the internet was already doing so, 2) I find all the moral indignation on both sides to be rather ridiculous given that we are talking about a reality television program (not a genre known for its high class), and 3) I was very busy, as I previously stated.

However, much like an Aussie boomerang, this story was bound to come back full circle.  Thus it is that even as I make my own return to writing, it has been announced that Phil Robertson has been welcomed back into the A&E fold and filming is now set to recommence with all members of the family included.  I suppose this means that my return will be only the second most talked about one this weekend.

Robertson’s return should not come as a shock to anyone who pays attention to these kinds of media controversies.  Why?  Because if there is one thing that is more important to the people in Hollywood than being politically correct, it is making a boatload of cash.  Duck Dynasty has become a real “cash cow” for A&E.  Its season four premier had the most viewers of any “non-fiction” cable program in U.S. history. (I place “non-fiction” in quotations, because we all know that “reality television” is a complete misnomer.)

Duck Dynasty books on sale in October 2013.  Flickr photo by Corey Seeman

Duck Dynasty books on sale in October 2013. Flickr photo by Corey Seeman

What I find even more impressive than the overwhelming number of viewers is the massive empire of Dynasty-related merchandise that has taken over stores such as Wal-Mart from sea to shining sea.  A&E has a lot of money riding on this show’s continued success, and I was not surprised that after giving Phil Robertson a slap on the wrist, they decided not to mess with success.

Contrary to popular belief in some circles, Hollywood is not really anti-God or anti-Christianity, at least not all the time.  Maybe the actors and directors are occasionally interested in social commentary, but the execs primarily want to make money.  The box office success of ventures such as Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ led many in the film industry to consider how they could get those same viewers to show up for other movies.

Thus, productions like the most recent Chronicles of Narnia film series, last year’s Les Miserables film adaptation, the History Channel’s miniseries The Bible (which is now being reshaped into the feature film Son of God just in time for Easter 2014), and the newest Supreman flick, Man of Steel, have all targeted churchgoers.  Although they are still not as powerful of a demographic as the teenage boys (who seem to be responsible for the insane number of movies based on comic books in recent days), evangelical Christians have proven that they have the power to get behind a cause when it is important to them.

When the founder of Chick-fil-A restaurants was quoted saying that marriage should be between one man and one woman, some people took offense, but an even larger number showed up to buy chicken as a show of support.  Had the Robertson clan been dismissed from A&E permanently, I suspect they could have easily found a new home and opened up shop again with many faithful viewers still watching, similar to what happened with Conan O’Brien and Arrested Development (and what many fans wished would have happened with Firefly).

Someone surely would have been willing to take a little heat in exchange for all that cash: perhaps a competing cable channel, a network in need of a big hit (think NBC), or a streaming service such as Hulu or Netflix.  When A&E saw the kind of support that the duck boys were getting, they really had no choice but to reinstate Phil Robertson.

The opening logo for the TV series "Homeland", copyright Showtime.  This single screen shot of an official logo is being used for commentary purposes only.

The opening logo for the TV series “Homeland”, copyright Showtime. This single screen shot of an official logo is being used for commentary purposes only.

Trouble in the Homeland?

Caution: Do not read on if you do not want to know what happens in the season three finale of the television series Homeland.

Speaking of television cash cows in danger of being slaughtered, moving to a new state required me to switch cable providers, and as part of my new plan I now have a free 12-month subscription to Showtime, at the end of which I will undoubtedly start being charged for it without being notified.  I was looking for something to watch the other day, and came across a re-airing of the Homeland season three finale.

I watched most of the first two seasons after their original air dates, but had not seen any of this most recent batch.  I briefly considered starting at the beginning of the season and working my way through sequentially, as God intended, but then I thought, “That will take a really long time.  I’ll just watch the finale and find out how it ends.”

First, let me say I agree with nearly every Homeland fan on the planet who has complained that the show went downhill after the first season and has become far too melodramatic and/or unrealistic, focusing on an increasingly absurd romance between its two leading characters rather than counter-terrorism operations.  Poor Mandy Patinkin, surely one of the greatest talents in show business today, seems to be a bit too good for all of this lovesick moping, but if I think the show is so terrible, then why am I watching it, right?  Well, I guess it still makes for passable entertainment, at least when you’re getting it for free.

"Homeland" cast members Damien Lewis and Clair Danes participate in a discussion at the Academy of Television Sciences on March 21, 2012.  Flickr photo by user starbright31.

“Homeland” cast members Damien Lewis and Claire Danes participate in a discussion at the Academy of Television Sciences on March 21, 2012. Flickr photo by user starbright31.

Anyway, for those of you who did not watch the season three finale, which I suspect is most everyone reading this blog, the character Brody got killed off, and this has a lot of people wondering how the show will continue and whether the death was real or faked.

I cannot give you any answers to those questions, but I do know that the show’s writers have desired to get rid of Brody for some time.  They reportedly tried to ax him at the end of season one and again in season two, but each time the network told them not to, presumably because of how much the show’s fans liked the character.  Just like A&E, Showtime didn’t want to mess with a winning recipe.

If Brody really did die in the most recent episode and will not be making some kind of miraculous reappearance, then a new story arch is in order along with some new characters.  The writers will be happy and the quality of the storylines will probably go up, but there is no guarantee that the viewers will play along.

I have to say, I do not particularly care at this point.  I have very little intention of sticking around for any more of a series that has grown increasingly absurd, even as the moments when it hits close to reality have become particularly depressing given the recent revelations about NSA spying.

What point am I trying to make in this article?  Well, it really isn’t intended to be a cohesive argument.  I suppose I am a bit out of practice, and this was an attempt to simply get my feet wet.  However, if you take away one thing from reading this post, let it be this: use great caution when dealing with your cash cows.  Killing them is tempting for the satisfying meat it provides, but the milk goes on a lot longer.  Just ask the people behind the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise: they’re laughing all the way to the bank.  Milk that cash cow, my friends!