I’ve been following the evolving Duck Dynasty saga for a few weeks now. For those of you who haven’t been drawn in by the drama, here’s a quick recap:
Duck Dynasty is a popular reality show on A&E. It follows the Robertsons, a family of camo-clad, bearded, Louisiana dads, sons, and brothers, and their wives. Duck hunting is the family’s raison d’etre. And so is Jesus: the Robertsons are devout Christians. But “Duck Dynasty” on A&E carefully keeps ideology of the airwaves: the show is more focused on silly stunts and family relationships.
Last month, GQ published a (rather flippant) profile of patriarch Phil Robertson. Writer Drew Magary goes hunting with Robertson. The whole affair causes him to look longingly (and with irony) at Phil’s outdoor lifestyle:
“I should be out here, dammit! Killing things and growing things and bringing dead things home to cook! There is a life out in this wilderness that I am too chickenshit to lead.”
But perhaps more importantly, Magary quotes Phil saying what he can’t say on TV about homosexuality, sin, race, and people’s private parts.
A&E responded by banning Roberston from future episodes of the show, saying that his statements weren’t in line with their mission.
Cue the internet – and cultural – firestorm.
Sarah Palin, Bobby Jindal, and the tons of people on the internet weighted in. Gay rights groups were quick to praise A&E. This piece of satire from the New Yorker jokingly suggests that Justice Scalia called the decision to suspend Robertson unconstitutional.The Roberston family released a statement defending Phil’s beliefs and questioning whether they could go forward with the show.
I confess that I’d never heard of Duck Dynasty until this fall. I don’t have cable TV. But then I started to notice their products all over the shelves at Walmart. And when I spent Halloween at Banford Elementary School in Canton, I saw droves of little boys dressed in camo, wearing Duck Dynasty t-shirts and sporting (very funny looking) long grey beards.
And now I can see the appeal. The Robertsons can be funny and likable. And their lifestyle (being outside, huntin’ and fishin’, spending time with family) strikes a familiar chord with people who live in rural places.
And that is why, in part, the GQ article doesn’t sit well with me: its tongue-and-cheek tone doesn’t take Phil Roberson seriously. Yes, the guy made some outrageous, bigoted statements. Yes, the network probably had to say something. But the whole suspension and resultant uproar just allows people to decamp into their places on a broader culture divide in our country, between urban and rural, right and left, devout Christian and otherwise.
I think that NPR’s Linda Holmes gets at it in this commentary. A&E’s statement, she says, isn’t just saying that Phil’s thoughts aren’t in line with the network:
“It is explaining,” she writes, “that Phil’s personal beliefs are not reflected in the show that is ostensibly about Phil. It seems that Real Phil is instead being suspended for opening his mouth to GQ and fussing with the carefully maintained image of Show Phil by telling people what he actually thinks — by telling people who have appreciated his family’s devotion to devotion, as it were, about the parts of their faith that A&E doesn’t talk about.”
And Holmes says there’s another possible, albeit more cynical, read: that the profile and suspension and reinstatement of Phil on the show are just a way to raise ratings. Which may not be too off base, seeing as A&E was running Duck Dynasty marathons during all the drama.
And after just a week, Phil was back on the show. A&E, in a carefully constructed statement, said the following:
“But Duck Dynasty is not a show about one man’s views. It resonates with a large audience because it is a show about family … a family that America has come to love. As you might have seen in many episodes, they come together to reflect and pray for unity, tolerance and forgiveness. These are three values that we at A+E Networks also feel strongly about.”
Huh. Meanwhile the Duck Dynasty publicity and product machine keeps turning: the family rang in the New Year on Fox, and just announced they are releasing their own line of guns.
What’s interesting to me is that the drama struck such a chord with so many people. It’s been part of the cultural conversation for almost a month. I’m curious to know what what you think of the Duck Dynasty brouhaha. Are you a devoted fan? Are you reviled by Roberson’s remarks? Let’s talk in the comments below.