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5 Sad Ways A&E Became the Walmart of Television Networks

#2. They Make Superficial Progress for Business Reasons

Creatas/Creatas/Getty Images

In some ways, A&E's decision to suspend Phil Robertson for his remarks about homosexuality could have been seen as progress. I mean, it borders on unbelievable that they wouldn't have known this guy was a loon with all sorts of wacky beliefs since at least as long as they've been doing business together. It's those beliefs, at least in part, that made the show so famous in the first place. The suspension, if you're a "look on the bright side" type, could have been an indication that A&E realized they'd entered into a creative partnership with a religious zealot and finally come to their senses.

Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
The same "senses" that bought this show in the first place.

Of course, the decision to suspend Robertson from the show lasted just about a week, so any hope that this move was a sign that A&E actually cared about the views and beliefs of its stars have evaporated by now, especially when you consider that the reversal came as a result of nothing more than a bunch of rednecks banding together as one to threaten a boycott of the network. In fact, my faith in the good intentions of the people who turned mental illness into theater has waned to the point that, if anything, I suspect they suspended Phil Robertson to draw more attention to the crazy shit he said in that GQ interview.

Nick White/Photodisc/Getty Images
Because who reads magazines unprovoked these days?

Keep in mind, no one involved in this scandal is stupid. A&E knows how the average Duck Dynasty viewer is going to react upon hearing that their beloved Phil has been suspended for invoking religion to denounce homosexuality. They will (and did) respond with nothing but support, including a concerted effort to snatch up every bit of Duck Dynasty merchandise available.

That's not a minor point, either. One of the factors that drive the massive success of this show is its record-shattering merchandise sales. Total sales were in the neighborhood of $400 million last year.

Walmart.com
Currently out of stock online. Sorry, fellas.

Is it so crazy to think that, maybe, A&E knew this suspension would lead to a run on DD merchandise and decided to capitalize on the fortuitous timing of the GQ interview by rattling the base?

Those are the kind of conspiracy theories we attribute to corporate behemoths like Walmart and then laugh off, thinking (more like hoping) no company could be so inherently bad as to see the unfortunate situations of others as a means to make money. Then, we all stop laughing when we remember that Walmart was sued not too long ago for secretly taking out life insurance policies on employees so they could collect on the off chance that employee met an untimely end someday.

J.D. Pooley/Getty Images News/Getty Images
"Untimely" meaning "Please, God, just let it happen already."

Is there any way to definitively prove that A&E lent a hand in manufacturing this scandal in the hopes that it would pay off in huge merchandise sales? No, of course not, but can you think of a reason why they wouldn't?

Hell, even the part where they pretended to care about the rights and/or feelings of gay people (when they briefly stuck to their decision to suspend Robertson) solely for financial reasons is a move right out of the Walmart playbook. Their last CEO signed a petition saying gay marriage should be outlawed, but recently Walmart made headlines by finally recognizing same sex couples for health insurance benefits and such. It's a nice gesture that certainly deserves some applause, at least, but it's also nothing more than a financial decision. Anyone who thinks otherwise should remember that a Walmart spokesperson said that notion is "just wrong."

What they're practically screaming with that official statement is that Walmart hasn't changed their stance on gay people; they just want it to look like they have so you'll start spending money there again. When A&E suspended Phil Robertson, their motivations were similar. They didn't want to reprimand anyone for speaking about homosexuality, they just wanted to make sure the people who would be angry if they did had something to spend their money on this Christmas.

And that's why now, along with Walmart and Nickelback ...

#1. A&E Represents a Line That Divides America

Bruno Vincent/Getty Images News/Getty Images

"There are two kinds of people in this world ..." is an expression that gets thrown around a lot, but in the case of Walmart, it definitely fits. For some people, the sins and crimes of Walmart will never be great enough to discourage them from shopping there. No matter the quality of the purchases or the reputation making them stands to earn a person, they will shop at Walmart and will think nothing of it.

Hovering somewhere above these people is that class of citizen who turns their nose up at the idea of big box department stores and discount brands and anything of the like. It's all evil and it's all to be avoided.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images News/Getty Images
"Beware of falling prices!"

In summary, there are two kinds of people in this world: people who shop at Walmart, and people who don't. If you think about it, that's a pretty handy distinction to be able to make. I actually put forward a similar argument awhile back in regards to Nickelback. Sure, they're a goddamn awful band, but isn't it nice knowing you can immediately discount anything else a person says once you hear the words "I'm a Nickelback fan" come out of their mouth?

Getty Images/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
America's #1 reason for wanting to bomb Canada since 2002!

Unfortunately, in what has to be the rock bottom moment of their descent from that once lofty status as the "smart channel" on cable, A&E has come to represent a similar dividing line in American culture. There are two kinds of people in the world: those who watch Duck Dynasty, and those who don't. I know it amounts to little more than stereotyping, but where you line up in that battle probably tells a person everything they need to know about where you stand on life's more important issues.


Adam is the host of a podcast you should download and a live comedy show you should check out sometime. You can also follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr, if that's your thing.


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