MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Now it's time for our weekly visit to the Barbershop where the guys talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds. Sitting in the chairs for a shape-up this week are writer Jimi Izrael, with us from Cleveland. Also with us, Christopher Ave, political editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. With us in Washington, D.C., Corey Dade, contributing editor for The Root, and TELL ME MORE editor Ammad Omar. Take it away, Jimi.
JIMI IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Happy holidays. Fellas, welcome to shop.
CHRISTOPHER AVE: Happy holidays.
IZRAEL: How we doin'?
AMMAD OMAR, BYLINE: What's up?
COREY DADE: What's up, Jimi? Awesome.
IZRAEL: OK. So who - you know what? It seems "Duck Dynasty" may be going down. Before we talk too much about the reality TV show, we got a clip I think we should hear. Drop that.
MARTIN: Sure. Let's do it.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DUCK DYNASTY")
P. ROBERTSON: All right, let's go eat.
J. ROBERTSON: No. Hey, ho, ho, ho. Where's your Christmas spirit? I'm building this into a crescendo for mom.
K. ROBERTSON: What does that mean?
ROBERTSON: That means, like, this is the grand finale.
IZRAEL: All right. So, you know, I guess - so wait. So wait, evidently, papa duck, or Phil Robertson, was suspended from A&E's "Duck Dynasty" for some comments he made during a GQ interview about homosexuals and black people for good measure, I guess, Michel. You might want to explain this one.
MARTIN: Well, I really can't because...
MARTIN: But - well, let's just say that he had some detailed analysis of why he preferred women, which is his perfect right. But he also - and he also had some - but he also had some negative things to say about gay people, LGBT people. And he compared being LGBT to engaging in bestiality. And he also said some choice remarks about how happy black people were growing up in pre-civil rights era Louisiana. And I think what's interesting about this story is how it's taken a certain turn into the world of politics.
The former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal have all felt that they needed to weigh in to defend Pat Robertson. Also the fact that his - I'm sorry, Phil Robertson. Forgive me. Phil Robertson.
MARTIN: It was not a Freudian - no, it was not a Freudian slip. It was not a Freudian slip.
AVE: All right, Michel.
MARTIN: I happen to have been thinking about Pat Robertson for a different reason.
AVE: Of course.
DADE: We all are.
MARTIN: OK. So anyway, he was suspended, as you were saying, from A&E. So that's kind of why they felt that they needed to jump in and defend free speech. So there it is. And I will not talk anymore. I'm not going to talk anymore.
IZRAEL: Michel, thank you so much. Christopher Ave, now you're a fan of the show, right? You know, so why do you like it and what do you make of the controversy, bro?
AVE: All right. First of all, I'm shocked, shocked that a 67-year-old white man from rural Louisiana would not have the same values as a Hollywood television production company network.
IZRAEL: Clutch the pearls.
AVE: Good night. The show - you know what? I saw all the ads, and I heard the craze. And I thought, no way am I going to like this show. I am not 67. I am white, but I don't share a lot of the hunting love and the other rural things that the show reflects. But you know what? I kind of like it. I gave it a shot. These guys are kind of funny. They're kind of personable. I would say that what he said, I didn't think he said it very well. But I think it is worth noting that strictly on his view of what the Bible says about homosexual acts, a lot of people agree with what he said...
AVE: ...Or believe that way. In fact, I saw a survey that said about 49 percent of the United States feels that way about that issue. Now more of those folks are here in the middle of the country where I sit than they are on either coast. That's for sure. But he has a right to say it. At the same time, I believe that A&E has every right to terminate his contract if they want to it. It is a free country and that goes both ways.
IZRAEL: You know, it frustrates me that we love our reality stars, but - and we love them because they're authentic. But then we browbeat them - not broad-beat them - but we browbeat them when they are authentic. That gets on my nerves.
MARTIN: Speaking of Freudian slip.
IZRAEL: Right. No.
MARTIN: I'm not going to be the only one out here.
IZRAEL: And it's so deep...
MARTIN: I'm not.
IZRAEL: ...It's so deep to me that, you know, we're surprised that a hillbilly has regressive race and gender politics. I mean, oh, my God. Corey Dade, weigh in here.
DADE: You know, news flash, there's a redneck who's anti-gay. I mean, you know, we can take that to the bank. I mean, you know, he is a star, particularly, because he lives outside of modern American society. And so it's no surprise when he goes off the rails on something like this. But, you know, what I'm sick of - and he...
MARTIN: Go ahead.
DADE: ...When he talked about blaming political correctness for the blowback - I'm sick of bigots blaming political correctness for this kind of blowback. The bottom line is that's the legacy of the civil rights movement. It holds you accountable for being a bigot. And if you want to - and if you want to inject yourself in and get the fruits of being in modern American society - i.e. becoming a millionaire and a best-selling author - you know what? You get held accountable for your views that are actually offensive. It's real simple.
MARTIN: It's the market -
IZRAEL: Well, what is it - what is it...
MARTIN: Well, can I just have one thing, though, 'cause there are people who would say that redneck and hillbilly are offensive terms. Like, he used...
IZRAEL: I was going to say that.
IZRAEL: You're right.
MARTIN: Yeah, like...
DADE: He's a self-described redneck, OK. I didn't...
DADE: ...Give him that title.
IZRAEL: Well, hillbilly is definitely...
MARTIN: Well, it's interesting like the whole white trash. He also called himself...
MARTIN: ...White trash.
MARTIN: And that's another thing that is an issue that, you know...
DADE: Yeah. And he said, I have no problem with the blacks. OK, that's a problem right there. But...
DADE: ...Because - but the reason he doesn't have a problem with the blacks is because he's white trash. So in other words, because - because I am somehow on the lowest rung on the socioeconomic ladder, I damn sure am not going to have a problem with other black people.
MARTIN: Who are all, in his view, on the...
DADE: Because they are...
DADE: They're at the same level...
DADE: ...Which is absurd.
MARTIN: Go ahead, Ammad.
OMAR: Yeah, it was interesting that that bit didn't get as much, I guess, reaction as the bit about the homosexual thoughts that he had. But, I mean, honestly speaking, who out there doesn't have an uncle or a grandpa or a dad or a friend that doesn't say that exact same thing behind...
OMAR: ...Closed doors?
OMAR: You know what I mean? And I'm not white. But in Pakistan, it's funny to me because a lot of these same values are the same over there that they are over here. You know, they don't like gay people, no abortion, no gay marriage. You know, and he went off about adultery and drinking and all that stuff. I mean, lots of people think that. And the fact that anyone was surprised that this guy thought that is, I mean - no one was really surprised were they? Come on. Who are we kidding?
MARTIN: Well, again, I don't - see, that's the only thing I don't like is that I don't like ascribing certain views to people because of who they are...
MARTIN: ...Because I don't like people ascribing views to me because of who I am.
OMAR: That's not...
MARTIN: You don't know what I think until you ask me.
OMAR: No, but that's not the point.
MARTIN: Like I can't tell you when I was covering a Republican administration - I can't tell you how many times people would call me up and say, well, you're a liberal. So I'd be like, hold up.
OMAR: I'm not saying...
MARTIN: When's my birthday? What's my favorite color? What are my children's names?
MARTIN: If you don't know those things about me, then you don't know anything about me. So don't tell me what I think until you ask me what I think.
OMAR: No, but I know young people who are not white who think those exact same things.
OMAR: So the fact that anyone thinks that is not surprising to me.
MARTIN: It's interesting - can I just ask Corey 'cause, Ammad, I know - 'cause we're going to cover this. So I'm not going to ask you what you think.
MARTIN: Corey, weigh in on - Christopher's weighed in, and he said, yeah, A&E has every right to suspend the dude or cancel the dude. And I just - can I just say, I think people watch that show for the same reason that some people listen to our show 'cause they don't know anybody like us. That's a fact. I hear people say this all the time. They say, I don't know anybody like you, and this is my way of hearing from you. So that's why I think a lot of people like the show, including me, if you really want to know. I'll just be honest about that. I mean, and I like all of these shows, like the guy who fixes the motorcycles, the guy who, you know, tricks out the cars, the pawnshop people.
DADE: But I think also...
MARTIN: I love all of them. I'm sorry. I'm feeling all of that.
DADE: I don't think everyone is - I don't think everyone likes those kinds of shows simply because it gives them a window into something new, per se. I think in some cases, it gives them - it gives them a group of people who are willing to be a little bit more taboo. They're willing to engage and live a taboo in a way that people in modern American society...
MARTIN: But how...
DADE: ...Do not.
MARTIN: ...Is that different from "Mad Men" in the sense that, you know, you have all these people saying these, you know, racist and sexist things...
MARTIN: ...And then people are - and they're like, oh, my God. I want to buy the dresses. Why do you want to buy...
DADE: It's not.
MARTIN: ...the dresses?
DADE: For some people, that's nostalgic.
MARTIN: All right.
DADE: And I think in A&E's case, you know, they have a lot riding on it.
MARTIN: So should they cancel it or should they not? Or should they suspend him...
IZRAEL: It's always...
MARTIN: ...Or should they not? That's my...
DADE: A&E has a lot riding on the show. This is the most successful show in A&E's history. And what people have to understand is they're using the show to not only bring in advertisers...
DADE: ...But to advertise and do corporate linkages across their entire network. And so if they have a show where the star...
MARTIN: I know. They can speak for themselves. I'm asking what you think.
DADE: Yeah, I think they have to. If they want to stay legitimate in the market place, they have to.
AVE: They have to cancel it?
OMAR: I think that, you know...
MARTIN: Go ahead, Ammad.
DADE: No, they have to suspend him.
OMAR: Anyone who's been on TV or on the radio - you guys all know this - you go in front of the mic and there's a tiny little piece of you - you were already talking about Freudian slips. You know what I mean?
MARTIN: I wasn't.
OMAR: But pretty much, the understanding is you're probably eventually going to say something...
MARTIN: That's true.
OMAR: ...That offends enough people that they're going to fire you. And that's just the business that we're in, and especially in today's day and age.
DADE: Yeah. It's a tightrope.
OMAR: So I don't think that they're surprised, you know. I think that they probably have no problem with it. They have a huge brand outside of A&E already. I mean, not to mention the duck call business, but just all the books...
OMAR: ...And the speaking and all that. I mean, they probably knew what they were getting into here.
MARTIN: Chris - OK, final thought, Christopher. You wanted to jump in on it?
AVE: Well, I agree with you. Phil Robertson's going to be fine whatever happens here. But I find it ironic - you were talking about the taboos and then that's why these shows are popular. But if they're too taboo, then they can get yanked. And I think that's the gray area there. I'm not sure what A&E should do. I think that it's an entertaining show. It makes them a lot of money. So it'll really be interesting as to whether money is more important or whether A&E's core beliefs are more important.
MARTIN: Or whose money? Or whose money? Jimi, final thought on this? You tend to be - it's funny 'cause you tend to be very - how can I say - you tend to have a very expansive view of free speech rights. Maybe I'll put it that way.
MARTIN: Or in another way of saying, not much offends you. So what do you think?
IZRAEL: My hope is that papa does not apologize, and he lets the chips fall where they may, and he stands his ground. I mean, we're all not living in the same America. He has the right to live in the America in his head if that's where he wants to live. And A&E has the right so say, hey, we don't want to show that. So, you know, God speed. God bless both of them. God bless America.
OMAR: You might hit Chik-fil-A...
DADE: Amen, brother Jimi.
MARTIN: Well, we're having our weekly Barbershop roundtable. We're joined by writer Jimi Izrael, journalist Christopher Ave of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, The Root's Corey Dade, and TELL ME MORE editor Ammad Omar. Back to you, Jimi.
IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Ok, let's turn to the world of music. The aura - R. Kelly, he's out with a new album, as it turns out. It's called "Black Panties." OK. There's so much to say, but we can't say most of it on the radio. Let's hear a clip from the song "My Story." Drop that.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY STORY")
IZRAEL: Wow. OK. So...
MARTIN: That was barely tolerable.
IZRAEL: All right, so critics say he's referencing his past, all the allegations of his inappropriate relationships with underage girls...
MARTIN: From which he was acquitted.
IZRAEL: You know, this conversation...
MARTIN: But, from which he was acquitted. It has to be said.
IZRAEL: Listen, if we can be serious for like a half a second.
IZRAEL: You know, this conversation, for me, is troublesome and it always has been 'cause we excuse this behavior because a lot of us are - certainly in some black communities, have seen this behavior with not just young girls, but we've seen it with young boys in ostensibly consensual relationship with grown-ups. Me myself, I have some history with this. When I was 15 years old, I was dating a 45-year-old. I called myself dating a 45-year-old woman. Now I was living with my grandparents...
MARTIN: Which was totally inappropriate. I mean, you do understand that, right?
IZRAEL: Totally inappropriate and my grandparents let me know. It was like, if that woman calls the house, there's going to be a problem. And I got out of that relationship. But I think it's - I think this kind of thing tends to be very low class, also very regional. But some of us have seen it, and we don't know exactly what to say. I mean, it's not appropriate dinner party conversation, although it shouldn't be because we need to protect our children.
MARTIN: So your point is what? Are you saying that - what should people do here? That's really the question before us.
IZRAEL: It's - people should have this conversation...
MARTIN: Is - as a consumer, what's your responsibility here?
IZRAEL: You're - look, I'm not sure you have responsibility as a consumer. If you like the record, buy the record. You know, the man and his music are different. I mean, Marvin Gaye, you know, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, actor Robert Lowe. I mean, there's a long list of people in the public eye who have had dalliances and full scale relationships with underage children. You know, does that make it right? It doesn't. But if you're going to apply one standard here, you have to apply it everywhere. You know...
IZRAEL: ...So my thing is deal with the man's art, you know, and have the other conversation at another time.
MARTIN: Ammad. Go ahead, Corey.
DADE: I'll deal with his art. You know, James Brown beat his wife. Jerry Lee Lewis married his 13-year-old cousin. You know, there are - you know, Bill Wyman from the Rolling Stones dated a girl for five years when he was in his 60s...
AVE: And think about it, though.
DADE: ...A girl. But the difference is their art wasn't built on their sexual abuse of children. R. Kelly's art is built not only on objectifying women in general, but specifically the type of acts that we saw in that video years ago. And let's be clear. It wasn't just one video. It was multiple videos. There were hundreds of accusations and allegations against him.
MARTIN: But it was never - I understand that. But we do have to clarify, once again, that he has been acquitted in a court of law of breaking the law.
DADE: Right. But he was never tried on rape. He was never tried on statutory rape.
MARTIN: Statutory rape.
DADE: On the things that he did in that video - in those videos, he was never tried on those things.
MARTIN: Go ahead, Ammad.
IZRAEL: So wait...
DADE: I talked...
IZRAEL: And that's why I think the conversation is weird because we're not - we're angry with him for being involved with underage girls, but we're also angry with him for what we saw on that video.
MARTIN: But we're allowed to be angry.
DADE: But let's be clear.
MARTIN: Hold on, Jimi.
DADE: But let's be clear. It's him fusing those experiences into his music, and it infuriates me that we continue to cosign on it by being fans of his music.
OMAR: ...That video we're talking about was mailed to a former colleague of mine, Jim DeRogatis.
DADE: That's right.
OMAR: It was at the Chicago Sun Times. And it was a video that he was tried on for child pornography charges. I spoke to Jim DeRogatis yesterday because the stuff that kind of made this all popular - you know, the conversation that we're having now, the details are not new. So I asked Jim why he thought, you know, this is bubbling up now. And, you know, he said he was surprised 'cause he's been kind of beating this drum for the last 15 years. And...
MARTIN: But I think it's what Corey said. It's that he has made it an integral part of his art. He's not only not sorry...
OMAR: But he has for a long time.
MARTIN: But he's saying this is...
MARTIN: ...Who I am.
OMAR: Right, but that's...
MARTIN: Deal with it.
OMAR: ...That's been the case for 10 years.
DADE: Yeah. And for 10-plus years I didn't like him.
OMAR: Jim told me that, you know, he never expected this conversation that we're having right now to happen in his lifetime because he has been ridiculed by everybody for, you know, continually beating this drum. And he told me yesterday that he interviewed dozens of families of young girls who cried on his shoulders saying that R. Kelly has ruined their lives. And he said, you can't throw a stone in the Southside of Chicago without hearing someone say that this guy has a problem with young girls...
DADE: Including Aaliyah's mother. He married her when she was a teenager.
MARTIN: Christopher, you want to get in on this last...
AVE: I think it goes...
AVE: Sure. I think it goes beyond his art. I mean, look at the album cover. I can't really describe it in much detail - that there is a nearly naked young looking woman on there. And, of course, it's called "Black Panties." So, I mean, he is not only using it as the centerpiece of his art, he's using it to sell himself. And, look, we're talking about it. I mean, more CDs are being sold even as we speak. But I will say this...
MARTIN: Yeah. But that's not why...
AVE: I agree.
MARTIN: ...We're talking about it because Jimi is saying - part of what Jimi is saying, you have to talk about it. This cannot be not discussed.
AVE: No I agree. It's a good thing to talk about and I agree with Jimi, too, in that, look, if you're going to start saying you can't buy this because you disagree with something that this artist has done, that is a slippery slope. I mean...
MARTIN: Why can't you?
IZRAEL: It really is.
MARTIN: It's your right to not buy things...
AVE: No, listen.
MARTIN: ...Because you don't like what an artist has done.
AVE: You can...
MARTIN: Why should you?
AVE: But how far do you take that, Michel?
MARTIN: I mean, there are people who have never gone to see a Roman Polanski film because he was never held to account for having sex with a 13-year-old girl.
AVE: That's right. Well...
MARTIN: And there are a lot of people who will say, you know what? I don't need to support his art because I don't like what he did. Why shouldn't they?
AVE: And they're free not to. That's fine. I'm just saying that just in terms of art, how far you go to say, well, I'm not going to watch that because I disagree with something that that person did? I mean, "Got to Get You into My Life" by the Beatles, Paul McCartney wrote that about marijuana.
DADE: We're talking about this problem...
MARTIN: All right, we have to leave it there for now. Important subject to talk about so I am glad we talked about it. Jimi Izrael is a writer and adjunct professor of film and social media Cuyahoga Community College with us from member station WCPN in Cleveland. Corey Dade is a contributing editor for The Root with us in Washington, D.C. along with TELL ME MORE editor Ammad Omar. And Christopher Ave is the political editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch with us from St. Louis Public Radio. Thank you all so much everybody. Happy holidays to everybody.
OMAR: Thank you.
AVE: Thank you, Michel.
DADE: Yes, sir.
MARTIN: And remember, if you can't get enough Barbershop buzz on the radio, look for our Barbershop podcast. That's in the iTunes store or at NPR.org. That's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News and the African American Public Radio Consortium. I'll be away next week enjoying time with family so I'd like to say to you a happy holiday. Tune in for more talk on Monday. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.