December 31, 2013
Now that I’ve actually seen a few episodes, “Duck Dynasty” is relatively harmless entertainment. Whatever “reality TV” means, it’s definitely not that. It’s a semi-scripted sitcom, basically cornball self-parody. Think “Hee Haw” without the music. I find it utterly inane, but then I don’t watch TV with children.
The “tell” is the show’s women, cute Southern sorority girls turned mommies. In real life, no way would those women tolerate their “menfolk” running around looking like a truckload of ZZ-Top impersonators. They’re also not going on TV with hay in their hair like some Hollywood director’s idea of a country girl. Every comedy needs a straight man; on “Duck Dynasty” it’s the women.
But realism? Please. The beards, hair and overalls are costumes every bit as theatrical as the outfits the Rolling Stones wear onstage. In the rural Arkansas county where I live, you could hang around the feed store for a month without seeing anybody like “Duck Dynasty” “patriarch” (and head bigot) Phil Robertson. And if you did, his wife wouldn’t have any teeth.
The Robertsons are country-clubbers posing as rednecks. Duck hunting itself — requiring, as it does, quite a bit of expensive gear and pricey leases — is mainly a rich man’s pastime in the South. Deer hunting makes economic sense; duck hunting’s a luxury. It’s what doctors, lawyers and bankers do when the weather’s too lousy for golf. Bill Clinton used to go duck hunting once a year to prove he loved guns.
(My own most recent — and final — duck hunting trip began with me tasked with lugging an outboard motor across a muddy soybean field at 5:30 a.m. Never again.)
But I digress. Although many Southerners wince at yokel stereotypes, the basic “Duck Dynasty” joke is that every redneck is a Peter Pan at heart. The Robertson men spend their time bickering like children and making mischief with pickup trucks, ATVs, shotguns, handguns, deer rifles, chainsaws, outboard motors, dynamite, etc. Basically anything that makes loud noises and/or throws mud around.
How long, I wonder, before the “Duck Dynasty” boys endorse the “Bad Boy” brand of riding mowers? Currently represented by a half-clothed model urging guys to “Get a Bad Boy, Baby!”, these machines have the magical capacity to convert a tax accountant mowing a suburban half-acre under his wife’s supervision to a daredevil NASCAR racer. Yee Haw!
But the laughter ended abruptly when “Duck Commander” Phil Robertson inserted himself into the nation’s vituperative culture wars. The whole thing looked like a publicity stunt gone wrong — possibly successful in the short run, but almost certain to prove destructive in the end.
Concerning which, a few thoughts:
First, Sarah Palin and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal notwithstanding, nobody has a First Amendment right to appear on TV. Make controversial public pronouncements deeply offensive to your employers, and you’d better have a backup plan.
The creator and producer of “Duck Dynasty” is one Scott Gurney, who once appeared in a gay-themed film called “The Fluffer.” (Don’t ask.)
The guy helps make you rich and famous, and you denounce gays as evil? That’s appalling.
Second, it has nothing to do with Christianity. Robertson didn’t just say he’s against gay marriage, nor even that God is. He spoke in the coarsest possible terms about homosexuality, equating it with bestiality.
He’s also characterized gay men and women as “full of murder, envy, strife, hatred. They are insolent, arrogant, god-haters, they are heartless, they are faithless, they are senseless, they are ruthless, they invent ways of doing evil.”
Here’s my favorite moral philosopher Fox News’ own Bill O’Reilly:
“It’s not about the Bible, or believing or not believing in the Bible. It’s singling out a group, could be any group, and saying to that group, ‘Hey, you’re not worthy. You’re not worthy in the eyes of the Lord, or in the eyes of God, you’re not worthy because of who you are.’ So once you get that personal, once you get down into that kind of a realm, problems arise.”
Third, 10 years ago, many of the same people portraying Robertson as a martyr burned Dixie Chicks CDs and cheered their banishment from country radio stations for the terrible crime of saying they were embarrassed by George W. Bush before everybody was.
And those girls have genuine talent.
Fourth, as for the happy, singing darkies of Robertson’s Louisiana childhood, where are they on “Duck Dynasty”? Know what the African-American population of Monroe/West Monroe is? It’s roughly 60 percent. I’ve seen no black faces on the program.
Another prominent American from West Monroe is Boston Celtics great Bill Russell — a black man who’s been known to have strong opinions about race. Maybe Robertson ought to talk with him, although it wouldn’t be easy.
“Duck Dynasty” may be this month’s right wing cause celebre. Longer term, however, unapologetic bigots always fade into obscurity, basically because they embarrass people.
Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of “The Hunting of the President” (St. Martin’s Press, 2000). You can email Lyons at firstname.lastname@example.org.