Y’all. I never thought I’d write a post in favor of Redneck Reality Television. But.
“So, I have a friend who is critiquing Duck Dynasty for being misogynist toward the women in the show. I don’t get it. What do you all think?”
Thus began a text from my dad to me and my sister at 9:00 Monday morning. Totally normal.
But seriously. Let’s talk about this show.
I don’t want to spend lots of space, time and words defending the show or waxing philosophical about the intricacies at what is, at base, a form of entertainment. And a wildly popular form at that.
First, I am not “Duck Dynasty’s” target audience. I do not hunt or fish. I do not want to hunt or fish. The idea of hunting and fishing sounds worse than boring. I could think of lots of other places to spend money than a Bass Pro Shop. I have never (to my knowledge) eaten squirrel or frog meat. Though, I have eaten deer and I love catfish, to be fair. But squirrel and frog? I’d have to lose a very bad bet. I do not love the idea of living off the grid in a small town in the south with high levels of mosquitos and humidity.
Second, I generally do not like the idea of spectacle, or putting people into the spotlight only to make them the unknowing butt of a joke. MTV does this a lot, and most recently spotlighting West Virginia “hillbillies.” Slate ran an excellent piece linking ‘reality’ television, exploitation and entertainment, which I highly recommend. But that is not what is going on in Duck Dynasty. The Robertson family are not poor, or suffering, and are certainly not the butt of anyone’s joke. If they are, they are in on the punch-line.
That said, the show is one of the funniest things on television. The family members – especially the men – are hilarious to watch, as they interact in the Duck Commander office, hidden in the swamp on a hunt, or around the family kitchen. Yes, they are caricatures in many ways (thanks, of course to clever Hollywood editing), but there is a sense that, even with the edit-driven 20-minute plotlines, these people are real people. I also get the sense that they didn’t agree to do the show because they want to be famous or garner attention for attention’s sake (watch any episode where Phil, the family patriarch, is featured, and you’ll understand this). What you see is a family committed to one another. You also watch a family full of really funny people. Call me naïve (you wouldn’t be the first one), but when I watch the show, I believe that an overwhelming majority of the conversations, antics, and stunts filmed would happen with or without cameras present.
Back to the text my dad sent. He was curious what my sister and I thought about whether the show is misogynistic. I don’t think it is. Do the women on the show “work”? You know, I actually don’t know. Korie, Willie’s wife, helps him run the family business. Miss Kay, Phil’s wife, has made cooking DVDs, and works by feeding her family every day. The show portrays a fairly stereotypical Southern, suburban dynamic between men and women. The men make the money (thanks to the family dynasty), hunt and fish. The women cook and take care of the kids. Is that misogynistic? No. It’s not really even anti-feminist. I have never gotten the sense that the men expect the women in their lives to cater to them, and the women are absolutely not submissive, deferential spouses and mothers.
The Robertson family gathers for a family dinner – brothers, wives, kids, extended family, even neighbors on occasion – at the end of each episode. Patriarch Phil offers a prayer. At first I wasn’t so sure about this – it struck me as run-of-the-mill, white, suburban piety (to offer an honest, albeit elitist critique). But the more I watched, the more it became abundantly clear that the family meals and Phil’s prayers were authentic expressions of the deep family bond they share, and a faith rooted in gratitude and relationship.
So here’s the thing: Do I share a theology with the Robertson family? Probably not on everything, but we clearly share faith in the same God.
Will I ever hunt or fish? Probably not, but I do respect and appreciate people who can engage in a reciprocal and grateful relationship with the earth.
Do I love being in the humid south being bit by mosquitoes? Not too much. Yeah, that I can’t understand.
That said, for all its humor and ridiculousness, and entertainment value – and there is a lot of it – Duck Dynasty has encouraged me to be more open to a lifestyle that I am much more inclined to write off with a hefty dose of elitism. I laugh so hard my sides hurt, but I also recognize love and respect and humor and faith in ways that don’t look like me and I am challenged to appreciate and honor that.