Bridegroom and Duck Dynasty: A Tale of Two Interviews

The other night I watched a great documentary called Bridegroom. It is the story of an attractive young couple who met, fell in love and spent an amazing six years together before one of them died in a tragic fall from a fourth floor roof. The two were seemingly meant for each other in every aspect as they also were business partners and traveled the world together. They talked about marriage and dreamed of one day having children. It was very touching.

The documentary is narrated by the surviving partner. Friends and family were also interviewed and no one had anything but glowing words to say about the couple. From all accounts, their relationship was Romeo and Juliet-style: fun, intense, mutual and, quite frankly, enviable. A relationship for the ages. The friend who was present when the fall occurred even spoke of her wish that she had been the one to die because the couple had such a remarkable love and should not be separated.

Besides the untimely and devastating death though, you might wonder why their story is being told. The answer is because they Bridegroomwere a gay couple. And because they were gay, they couldn’t legally marry and have all the rights that come with that. Shane wasn’t allowed to be with Tom when he died because he wasn’t family. Tom’s mother came to gather his body and his stuff (which Shane had no legal right to keep). Then Tom’s family refused to let Shane – threatening injury and perhaps death – attend his funeral, probably because they were trying to erase the fact that Tom was gay.

This exclusion was even worse for Shane because he had already suffered so much for his sexuality. When he was growing up, Shane was bullied by other kids and forbidden to attend some school and church functions because he wrote a letter telling another boy that he liked him. If every adolescent who wrote a mawkish letter was made fun of and required to maintain a certain distance from an unrequited crush, schools could not function!

So, the documentary was interesting and sad but what made it really resonate with me was that I watched it in the same week as another interview-based media presentation: the now-infamous GQ interview with Phil Robertson, patriarch of A&E’s Duck Dynasty. Robertson’s racist and homophobic comments bothered a lot of people, so much so that A&E briefly suspended him from the show. I do not want to get into the hornet’s nest that their decision stirred up but I do want to discuss why the juxtaposition of the documentary with the interview was so disturbing.

There were several things that are truly upsetting about the two media events. First is the fact that the Robertson interview contained only opinion while Bridegroom had to do with actual lived experiences. Or, put more simply, one had intimate knowledge of the subject of homosexuality while the other did not. This issue of knowledge is an important one because of the distribution of information about homosexual people and empathy towards them. Once people start learning more about and knowing people who are gay, they can understand their feelings and experiences and opinions begin to change. That is why exposure is so crucial to the elimination of prejudice. However, if all people hear are uninformed opinions on homosexuality from someone who is not gay, then prejudice is solidified. No matter your opinion on homosexuality, I hope we can all agree that prejudice is not good for anyone.

Another upsetting feature was the differing tone between the two. The Robertson interview was pretty negative and his attitude towards people who are different from him was, at the very least, condescending. Bridegroom was the exact opposite. Most of the interviews in it were brimming with love and friendship. Even the interviews discussing the hurtful actions of some of the people in Shane’s hometown and Tom’s family only expressed bewilderment and sorrow. Despite being given ample reason to be angry at them for their reprehensible behavior (regardless of beliefs, you still treat human beings with respect), their attitude was more about hoping that someday they’ll change their minds. In short, the Robertson interview was destructive while Bridegroom was constructive.

Perhaps the most troubling aspect to the juxtaposition though is that, despite the differences in prejudice and tone, the Duck Dynasty guy got much more attention than did the Bridegroom documentary. And this seems to be the way we roll in the United States these days. Our emphasis is more often on the soul-destroying parts of our society than on the soul-enhancing ones. We get a larger daily dose of the things that tear us apart than we do on what unites us and makes us stronger.

That’s pretty scary because of the toll this takes on people’s psyches. One of the ways you brainwash people is to give them unrelenting information about what it is you want them to believe. After a steady diet of that information, people get cognitively fatigued and start believing it. We already can see evidence of this in the downward societal shift toward anger, negativity and intolerance over the last 20 years. Society is not what it once was, in large part because of what we emphasize.

But there is hope. One way to counteract such negativity is through viewing uplifting things like Bridegroom. If you can see the love and goodness that shines through people’s lives, you can form your own opinion rather than relying on that of others. Another way to counteract pessimism is to actively seek out news, events, groups and individuals who are working for the betterment of society for everyone.

A third method is to make sure you receive a diversity of perspectives. Too many people only listen to news they agree with or interact with those who do not challenge their beliefs. If your beliefs cannot stand up to disagreement, then maybe they weren’t that good initially. Moreover, conflict management is a skill we all need to hone. Maybe if we do that, then the next ridiculous (and probably contrived) interview can just be ignored.

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