I’m about the biggest fan of Dog The Bounty Hunter, ever. Well I was, anyway. I mean, I still love the show and what now appears to be the character Duane Chapman played when the cameras were rolling. But the man, himself? I’m not sure what to think.
For Dog’s detractors, it seems pretty simple: the man is a red-neck, grammar-be-damned, dictatorial racist. Period. Maybe you have it in you to feel for him a little that it was his own son who sold a private conversation for personal gain. Possibly for love. Possibly because he was denied a spot in the family business that brought fame and fortune to a few of his siblings. Possibly because $15,000 is a fine day’s pay for a shiftless 24-year-old, no matter how you look at it. But the bottom line remains: That Word came out of Chapman’s mouth far too often and far too easily for it to be the rotten fruit of a one-time frenzy.
Save for a vocal faction who have wasted no time in riding to his rescue on assorted chats, blogs and call-in news programs, it’s the bottom line even if you are a fan of Dog’s brand of rough-hewn, street-crime-cleaning evangelism. Even an enormous fan. Which is where it gets so dicey.
Much to my own children’s chagrin, I have the mouth of a drunken sailor. But I could not ever say that word. Not on my worst day. Not even standing in front of the mirror, trying to force myself to say it, just to see if I could. I can’t even get myself to think it. You give me those six letters in a row and I’ll give you “The N-Word.” It’s kind of like when you were in fourth grade and your best friend said the F-word for the very first time. You wondered if you could do it, too. You tried. But it just wouldn’t come. Fuh-lalalalala. Fuh-lalalala. Oh for-get it. Until you were a sophomore and your first boyfriend broke up with you and suddenly it came flying out easy as could be … but that’s another story for another time. And anyway, the F-word: tension reliever. The N-word: verbal weapon of mass destruction, plain and simple. Ni-lalalalala forever and ever, amen.
So hearing a man who made himself a household name offering mercy and good will to “lolly-lolly iceheads,” prostitutes, thieves, dealers and other self-created lowlifes use a word that, in two vicious syllables, denigrates an entire people based on race alone? It does just exactly what he feared that fact’s exposure would do — undermines 30 years of cultivating his high-profile career and the public image that came with it. And leaves millions of fans desperately trying to reconcile the two.
It’s also where that laundry list of disclaimers have been served up in his defense. Among them:
1) Forgive the generalization, but one look at our Dog — with his black jeans, mullet and serious aversion to shirts — suggests that he was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth. An unfiltered cig, perhaps. Silver spoon, not so much. And he himself has been nothing but forthcoming about his rough-riding youth and young adulthood, and the resulting stint in prison that, according to his lawyer, irrevocably burned the N-word into his vernacular.
But here’s the thing. He probably also used to call folks “poopy-head” or something akin to it when he was a wee pup, and gave it up because it was childish and vulgar and he outgrew it. It doesn’t take so much to outgrow the N-word either, other than recognizing the damage it inflicts.
Bringing us to disclaimer #2 …
2) He is part of a generation that, to put it as kindly as possible, isn’t as uncomfortable with the word as those to follow. The Archie Bunker generation.
Yes, he is. My father is in that generation, too. My husband’s father is. And they’ve learned from experience not to even consider saying it when we — and their grandchildren — are around. In like-minded company, the N-word is still unforgivable, even if no one calls you on it … in open-minded company that includes your children and/or your children’s children, it is that much more unthinkable. No question about it, young Tucker Chapman leaves something to be desired in the good-boy department … but rarely does the apple fall far from the tree. Leaving one little choice but to question the integrity of the tree.
3) The conversation between father and son was private and not intended for the public ear.
No matter where you stand on the subject, most people agree that what Son of Dog did was low. And probably illegal. And the ramifications of his actions stretch beyond his father to his sister and niece, his brothers and Tim Chapman and their wives and children. Cleaning up, flying right and earning money and attention from his father by being part of the family business was probably a better bet — although it appeared to come with dubious rules he could not abide. But you have to score him a few points for making a point: in the recorded conversation, Dog predicted that it would be the [expletive] who clued the Enquirer into the fact that he used the word [expletive] on a regular basis. Guess again.
By the way, those of you scoffing at the paltry sum shelled out by the tab, reread that last sentence. Could be it wasn’t necessarily about the cash. Could very well be it was, given the parties involved — but it does beg the question.
4) He didn’t actually call the young woman in question a N-word.
Yeah … he did. I believe his actual words were “f-ing n-word [who] heard us say n-word.” Making that the part where he further attempts to explain away his actions by saying that he wasn’t objecting to her race as much as her character just a little dab laughable.
So that’s how it shakes out on paper. And in the papers, thus far.
To their credit — and/or to the puzzlement of industry-watchers who were shocked that they’d pull the plug on their highest-rated offering — A&E has suspended production of Dog The Bounty Hunter, perhaps indefinitely.
But for fans like me who’ve happily tuned in from Episode 1, there are still some questions we’d love to have answered before the Dog is put down for good.
A number of pundits have offered up that Dog’s display is evidence of a hatred toward women as well. That I don’t buy. Watch the show for even a few episodes and it becomes delightfully evident that Mrs. Dog Chapman runs the show, both onscreen and off. In her presence, the Dog becomes a lap dog, frequently admitting he’d be lost without her velvet-glove-o’er-iron-fist direction.
Not to mention his unwavering gentle treatment of mothers — even those who have forsaken their children for a drug-fueled life on the streets.
And the aforementioned, obvious simpatico for the other wayward souls he hunts down, cuffs, then offers a kind word, a cigarette and a cell to call their mamas.
And why, looking back on four seasons, spanning Denver to LA to Hawaii, not one of those souls was contained by black skin …
Programming note from CNN:
“Duane Chapman, known as ‘Dog the Bounty Hunter,’ will appear on Larry King Live on Wednesday, November 7 at 9 pm/ET. Chapman will discuss the heated reaction to his use of a racial slur in a voicemail he left for his son, who later made the recording public.”