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01/17/2014

Well *of course* 'Duck Dynasty' premiere ratings are down

by Jeremy Hooper

Back when the most anti-LGBT of social conservatives were congratulating themselves for supposedly winning the whole Chick-fil-a debacle, I really didn't offer much response. I kind of just smiled quietly as I watched the Mike Huckabees and Sarah Palins of the world pat themselves on the back, amid suggestions that they had done something great and powerful on behalf of their movement and cause. I laughed, and heartily, when many of them began suggesting that their increased support of that fast food chain in the summer of '12 was a harbinger of the Republican landslide that we were told was coming to the polls that November.

I wasn't at all bothered because I saw it for the nonsense that it was. It was complete and utter noise. It was all part of that alternate conservative reality, fostered on by echo chambers and for-profit show people who care more about their own checking accounts that they do about political pragmatism.

The truth is that for every person who was loudly coming out in support of a fast food COO who claimed gay people bring on God's judgement, there were ten other people (and particularly young people) who would never consider patronizing this company until they made some real changes. And I knew, from both inside information and just plain common sense, that no one was more annoyed with the social conservatives' attempt to turn this chicken chain into their personal feed house than was Chick-fil-A itself. No company wants this kind of controversy attached to its name. Even if it looked like the support was at an all-time high, thanks to the many proud pictures of anti-LGBT activists smiling as they eat a fried sandwich, the evaporation of the company's reputation was of much greater concern. For a while there (and even sometimes now), you could barely turn on the TV without hearing a public figure make jokes, if not direct factual statements, about why no person who supports gay people can eat at this chain. It was everywhere, and I can assure you the business-minded folks at Chick headquarters hated every minute of it.

Oh, and of course pro-equality Dems swept the 2012 elections.

Which brings us to Duck Dynasty, a situation where the false outrage and misrepresented support played out as a virtual parallel to the Chick-fil-a fiasco. Over the holiday season, the false outcry, drummed up by the very same figures and outlets, was loud and often vicious. Then, when news came that A&E was keeping its star, despite his deeply disturbing rhetoric, cries of "VICTORY!" rang out from the #StandWithPhil hashtag. Most of this celebration was coupled with gloating about "sticking it to" the gays.

Once again, I just kind of went, "whatever." For one, as I have already spelled out in a lengthy post, I didn't think there even were clear "win" and "loss" areas. But beyond even that, I knew that for every diehard supporter who would now consume a certain product just so they could feel more anti-gay, there were many more who were now completely turned off.

We're now seeing that play out. When the show premiered its new season this week, the episode found three million fewer viewers than tuned in for last season's premiere episode. Considering how much attention this thing got over the past month (seriously—Santa Claus is really pissed at being overshadowed), someone who gleaned his or her information from the far-right noise machine could reasonably assume that this year's debut episode would be a monster—it's biggest premiere ever. But no; it was lower than last.

This is not even kind of surprising to me. The other side is fantastic at bringing out a loud crowd, getting a good picture of what seems like a massive support base, and painting a general portrait of outsized enthusiasm for their cause. If you only listen to this deliberately drummed up illusion, it's easy to get freaked out. But, on the other hand, if you remember the millions upon millions of quiet people who are listening and processing and forming opinions, yet doing so in the privacy of their own minds and homes, you realize that some of the strongest reaction is happening away from Twitter, cable news, and the daily division that politicos play as a love/hate game.

This less-engaged-but-often-no-less-informed crowd is going to the polls and re-electing Presidents who support marriage equality. This crowd is going to Starbucks for a coffee, even if the chicken chain's drive-thru is closer. This crowd is showing up in poll numbers on same-sex marriage, even as the far-right noise machine continues to insist that the American public supports inequality. This crowd is more likely to tune out of a show where viewership, thanks to both public comments and a certain political movement's attempt to hijack the show as its own source of partisan entertainment, now seems like a controversial act rather than an act of lazy couch-potato-dom.

It's really not good for a brand to be known for its hostility to certain kinds of potential consumers.

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