Reality’s biggest star speaks his mind and the world is dutifully shocked.
Duck Dynasty is more than a cable reality television show. It has become a cultural phenomenon. Not only does the show dwarf everything on TV today (at least in viewership), it has become a merchandising wet dream. From t-shirts, to tea cups, to trailers, the Robertson boys’ mugs are on everything. The family even released a Christmas album that has skyrocketed up the country music charts. The show was built around a family who made a fortune manufacturing duck calls in Louisiana. The Robertson family is resourceful, faithful and a little kooky. A hit reality show, yes. But a television icon, I don’t think anyone saw that coming. Yet Duck Dynasty filled a television void and the American public responded.
If the Kardashians are the Beatles of reality television, the Robertsons have become the Rolling Stones, who didn’t start the British Invasion but made darn sure it was not a flash in the pan. Duck Dynasty has taken the family-centered cable reality show format and given it cultural and critical respectability. There is many differences in the Kardashians and the Robertsons, but both families used TV shows to gallop to major worldwide pulpits. The Kardashians used theirs to join the Hollywood elite world of fashion and culture. For the Robertsons, seemingly, the family was content promoting faith-filled values while having a little fun along the way.
Duck Dynasty is a show tailor marketed to a Wal-Mart audience. I don’t mean that in a derogatory way, because there are a lot of people who shop at Wal-Mart, including the author on occasion. There are also a lot of people who hunt, fish, would rather wear Lees than Dockers and would sooner wait in line for bullets than to catch the latest “Avengers”movie. These are people who say Merry Christmas and not Happy Holidays, go to church on Sundays and say grace before dinner. I am of course stereotyping the audience of Duck Dynasty. So too did TV executives who completely underestimated the show. That’s why Duck Dynasty has become such a force. In a world where dead bodies are normal, zombies stalk about, bombs explode, sex is casual, violence is an afterthought and locker room speak is the official language, Duck Dynasty was a refreshing change. Even as we kept up with the Kardashians, its show seemed as fake as silicon breasts. Duck Dynasty seemed to transcend all of this. It showcased a successful family who pulled itself up from the bootstraps, created an empire on a simple, very American device and managed to hold on to its dignity, faith, roots and bonds through it all. “Happy! Happy! Happy!” The Robertsons became must see viewing for those sick of the pervasive sex, violence and language in media as well as that very large group of people who felt America was losing its faith in god.
Even its patriarch’s story is one that it doesn’t take a backwoods redneck to appreciate. Phil Robertson was a quarterback at Louisiana Tech, where he played ahead of future NFL Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw. Robertson then struggled with alcoholism and drug abuse. He sobered up, reconnected with his faith, designed a world-class duck call and would go on to worldwide celebrity. This week the idyllic story took a weird turn.
I won’t dwell on his words, because other outlets have done and will continue to do it exhaustively. Phil Robertson, in a recently released profile with GQ, made some very controversial comments about his feelings about homosexuality and race. You can read the article here:
Within hours of its release the world broke into two camps, outrage and understanding. A&E, the network that airs Duck Dynasty, meanwhile suspended Phil Robertson, a man who has helped make more money for the network than Johnny Manziel has made for Texas A&M. CNN devoted much of its day to the story.
I am not going to argue for or against Robertson’s words, and I certainly will not justify them. What I will say is that Robertson is doing what we asked him to do. We gave Phil Robertson and his family a voice. We asked him to join his family, to let us into his world and to give us his view on life. If we give a man a soapbox can we yank it out from beneath him when we disagree with his views, especially when we built that soapbox ourselves? When he was just the patriarch of an unusual family with strong beliefs on faith and god, we applauded him. We lauded his views as being traditional as we watched him through a medium that is anything but. Were we asking Robertson and his family to dance for us for money? Did we expect Mr. Bojangles and suddenly got a tent-revival preacher? If we did, shame on us because we were naive. We did believe in the Robertsons because we saw the family as honest, hard-working, devout and a little fun. When the words and views are no longer cheeky, do we throw a dime in his beat-up street corner fedora, pet his mutt dog and wave a solemn goodbye to the dancing man? Maybe we do, and maybe that is what we have already begun to do.
I find it curious that a man who has been through so much and helped create a wildly successful business would be so careless around a reporter from a well-known publication. Maybe Phil Robertson had had enough. Maybe he felt it was time to say goodbye to the fuzzy TV icon we have come to know and release his true feelings, feelings I’m sure he felt his TV show had quashed from public view. Today we were given reality, at least Phil Robertson’s reality and it wasn’t filtered. Isn’t that what we’ve always wanted? Or is it?