Duck Dynasty and culture wars

Group in Duck Dynasty costumes, Halloween 2013. Photo: Anthony Acosta, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Group in Duck Dynasty costumes, Halloween 2013. Photo: Anthony Acosta, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

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.


7 Comments on “Duck Dynasty and culture wars”

  1. Jeff says:

    My comment? Many somebodies are too full of themselves and it isn’t the Robertson’s. Homosexual practice doesn’t jibe with the Bible. Anytime people who believe the book are asked enough about something society accepts and the bible does not, it should be expected that a conflict will arise. The press will take a magnifying glass to it and “report” that this person is backward, bigoted, narrowminded and so on. The title of bigot goes both ways. Those who cannot tolerate beliefs similar to Phils or zealots of the Koran or zealots of witchcraft or of science only etc. are bigoted in reverse….

    The show is amusing such as it is. Go create a show about an extended American Indian family or “African American” family or another cultural subgroup. No we can only tolerate humiliation of whites at the moment. White moonshiners, alligator hunters, loggers, West Virginians, gold miners and people who “dress poorly.”

    We’ve had Queer Eye for the Straight Guy etc, same stuff, fabricated reality with certain elements clipped, trimmed and shaded.

    The “public” probably took the bait-create controversy, even though most people expected it existed under the surface anyway- and get some more press buzz. I read about it but heard no one discussing the issue on radio or television and I listen to radio a lot.

    Can’t people see a parallel between Miley Cyrus and the Duck Dynasty show? They, with different content are riding the wave to the bank.

  2. Pete Klein says:

    I’ve never watched the show, but then I never watch any of the so called reality programs including all of those singing for fame and fortune programs.
    To each their own.
    What do I think about the flap? Not much. But I will say this. When you work for someone as the Duck family has been doing, expect to be told what not to do and that includes what not to say – or there is always the possibility of being fired.

  3. A friend of mine postulated that A&E never intended to punish this yahoo or do anything to a show and that it was all a publicity stunt. If so, and I suspect he’s right, it was a fantastically successful one.

    Bigots like Phil Robertson are entitled to believe in whatever they want. Just like the Westboro Baptist people. They are entitled to free speech. They are not entitled to the megaphone of their own show or oodles media publicity.

    When will the news media start being responsible and stop glorifying the freak shows?

  4. Dan says:

    Never ceases to surprise me how the people who demand tolerance are the very ones who are not tolerant. I keep reading that Phil is a Bigot because he doesn’t agree with the lifestyle of many of the people of this world. I don’t either so I proudly stand by him. I’m not a religious person but I do know what is morally sound and have ethics that I live by.
    The PC groups of today are the crybabies of yesterday. Nothing you say short of agreeing with their lifestyle will appease them.
    I proud of Phil’s family sticking by him. Maybe one day humanity will wake up and know that life has much more to offer than sex with the same gender. The media is the problem. They feed off this garbage for ratings.

  5. Dan Murphy says:

    I called the “re-instatement” of Phil on my blog, almost exactly as it took place.


    My guess for when it would happen was off by 4 days, but other than that, it played out almost exactly as I predicted it would.

    The whole thing was a well-crafted stunt that worked beautifully for them.

  6. Jeff says:

    Was it beautiful for “them” or for A & E?

  7. Dan Murphy says:

    Both… there is no way that Jase and the boys and A&E didnt sit down together and script this whole “event”

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