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Thomas Alter Headshot

Duck Dynasty and Madonna

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In April 1989, the Pepsi Corporation announced that it was canceling plans to broadcast a television commercial that featured Madonna, then arguably the most popular singer in the world. Madonna had released the music video for "Like a Prayer" a month earlier, and was entering a $5 million ad blitz with Pepsi. The corporation faced relentless pressure from Reverend Donald Wildmon to end its relationship with the controversial singer, and eventually caved to the pressure. The "Like a Prayer" video featured stigmata and burning crosses, but no specific derogatory terminology toward any group.

This was far from Wildmon's first religious protest. Throughout the '70s, he and his American Family Association protested dozens of targets including: Disney World for not preventing LGBT community groups from hosting "gay days" at the theme park; the film The Last Temptation of Christ, for its controversial take on Jesus Christ; and popular TV shows like M*A*S*H* and Dallas for "promoting immoral lifestyles." Wildmon convinced General Mills, Dominos Pizza and Ralston-Purina to pull ads from Saturday Night Live, because the show didn't comply with Wildmon's vision of "Biblical ethic of decency" for America.

If you were involved in American popular culture in any way and you had a different take on Christianity from Wildmon, chances are he was protesting you.

This public history of demanding "political correctness" and obedience from television networks adds thick irony to the Phil Robertson Duck Dynasty drama. Wildmon has retired, no doubt terrorizing some random retirement home for airing HBO, but his son Tim has taken over the AFA, and is leading the charge in defense of Robertson. The AFA and similar groups have claimed that Robertson's religious freedoms have been impinged and that A&E should have no problem with their bearded star comparing homosexuality to bestiality among other things.

Sarah Palin and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal have gotten a lot of ink for their A&E slams, but they're sideshows in this dispute. Palin is a professional quitter who never saw a microphone she didn't like, and Jindal is the most unpopular governor in America, still best known for of one of the most awkward speech entrances in recent political history.

Carnival barking politicians aside, it's groups like Wildmon's AFA that will keep this fire blazing. As their past lobbying success with television networks shows, this a fervent group that often gets what they want.

If there's one thing everybody can agree on about Phil Robertson, it's that he's honest. His refusal to filter himself, even a little bit, is what made Duck Dynasty so popular and what will also probably cost him his job. Robertson has a right to say whatever he wants, but he doesn't have the right to be on TV.

The Wildmon family and groups like the American Family Association are not honest. Their interpretation of religious freedom and freedom of speech depend on the speaker. They abhor "political correctness" when Phil Robertson is suspended for bashing gays, but when it's Madonna, or Ludacris, or any of dozens of other pop culture stars that they don't agree with, it's a different story.

If there's anybody in today's society who has proven to be ethically dishonest, it's groups like these.