In Defense of Duck Dynasty
I wish I could say that the recent kerfuffle over Phil Robertson’s comments regarding homosexuality and marriage were a complete surprise but I could have predicted this a year ago. Mark mentioned the controversy and the comment section of his post has demonstrated the type of measured judgement that I think we are pretty good at around the OT. Robertson, Dog the Bounty Hunter and Paula Deen are of a generation that is fading away so one assumes we will see less of this in the future (although it isn’t going to way completely as evidenced by 26 year-old NFL player Riley Cooper dropping an n-bomb recently).
The only thing I will say about these comments specifically is that the homosexual remarks, while not an opinion I share, are completely in line with Robertson’s faith and I do not believe they come from a place of malice. On race, he sounds like a lot of other older Southerners I know that have a more rosy view of Segregation. I’ve heard comments like these for my entire life with friends and family members who grew up in the South during this period. Part of me thinks that this is largely because segregation was so darn effective. My mother told me a story once about a popular amusement park that she attended growing up and never realized it was segregated until after it was de-segregated and she thought, “Oh, there weren’t black people here before.” Children have an amazing ability to overlook the obvious at times. For myself I grew up in a lily-white community, attended an all-white Catholic school and barely had any contact with blacks until high school at which time I had the opportunity to actually think about the existence of more than one race. Again, it is amazing what we ignore when it is easy to do so.
As for what this incident means for the future of Duck Dynasty, I can’t say. There is a lot of cultural pressure to put distance between these types of remarks and the channel that airs the show but the show is also wildly popular. A trip to any retail store these days will confirm this. I was recently at Walgreens and had an opportunity to purchase Duck Dynasty candy bars, bobbleheads and some kind of weird plush toys, all of which I declined. A & E is making millions off of licensing and the family is getting richer by the minute. But like all cultural phenomenons, it has to end.
For a little background regarding the Duck Commander company and its history, the basic story is pretty well known. Phil started making duck calls out of his garage, Willie took over the company and greatly increased their business and eventually they ended up on TV. But for those of us in the hunting community, this has been a process we have watched for years.
Back in the 90s hunting shows on TV were very sanitized. With the exception of a few standouts the hosts of the shows were always very clean-cut and presentable to the general public. I remember watching Ducks Unlimited in those days which was hosted by a former actor and all the cast dressed like they just stepped out of the Eddie Bauer catalog. For many of us, including a bunch of late-teen kids in Kentucky that were going into the woods in Walmart camo, there was a real disconnect. At that time Duck Commander begin producing hunting videos and we saw for the first time the Duckmen (as they were called in those days) sporting huge beards, spitting tobacco and covering their faces in black paint and we were entranced. I remember watching the videos on VHS in a friend’s basement and thinking, “This is what hunting is really like.” In those early days Phil was able to be much more outspoken about his faith. I distinctly remember one video where they finished killing a bunch of ducks and then Phil told them to pack it up because they had to get to church. That was nearly 20 years ago.
As the company grew they eventually ended up on the Outdoor Channel with a hybrid hunting/reality show. This was when other networks began to see some potential in their story. I must admit I thought that show was perfect because I wanted to see more hunting. Below is a promo video for that series.
If you watch DD today you will see very little actual hunting and to my knowledge they have never shown a duck actually being hit mid-flight. They are careful to keep that away from a public that is often squeamish about hunting. What they have instead created is a portrait of a family that is loving and committed to one another, while also a little nuts. The Robertson’s live by a motto that Phil created which is “God – Family – Ducks.” As someone who is plugged-in to the hunting community I can tell you that this has been embraced and adapted by many other hunters in the last couple of years. For many of us hunting has never just been a sport, it is a way of life. Many hunters also lean slightly to the Right and so the emphasis on God and family is popular.
The thinking among many of us is that the show will run its course, as all things do in pop-culture, and that the Robertsons will get back to just hunting, which is what they do best. They still have a popular series of pure-hunting videos that come out regularly and this is what the hunting community will continue to support regardless of this latest controversy. For that reason Duck Dynasty continues to have relevance because in the long-term they are helping to grow this outdoor calling that we love so much.
Controversies come and go. I am not convinced that Phil’s views on race extend beyond his generation. Willie’s best friend is a black man and he has an adopted mixed-race child. Those seem like good signs. If their shared faith means they all despise homosexuality then with a family as large as theirs it is very possible they will have a gay or lesbian child in the fold someday and that has an amazing way of softening bigotry among caring relatives.
In the short term I remain interested in how this will play out in the media and with the network. I will leave NPR’s Linda Holmes with the last words on this subject,
“For another, it seems vanishingly unlikely that A&E has filmed Phil for 50 episodes and didn’t know he felt this way. That makes it hard to believe the suspension is meant to send Phil off to rethink his position on gay people or learn to be more tolerant if they haven’t done so before. 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.”
Mike Dwyer is a freelance writer in Louisville, KY. He writes about culture, the outdoors and whatever else strikes his fancy. His personal site can be found at www.mikedwyerwrites.com. He is also active on Facebook and Twitter. Mike is one of several Kentucky authors featured in the book This I Believe: Kentucky.