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Monday, December 5, 2016

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 AM. 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.

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