I love the TV show, Duck Dynasty. I like the Robertsons, or at least, how they appear on the show. I have a big, kookie family who all tease each other mercilessly, but who like to sit down at the dinner table together and who get sappy about their spouses, so I relate to the way the Robertsons are portrayed. And I love having something I can talk to a wide swath of my family about—from the folks who think that the only reason Republicans don't like Obama is because they're racists and Obama's black to the ones who have their signed pictures of George and Laura Bush hanging in prominent places in their house and who remind me regularly that they love me even though I'm a "communist."
I have friends, many friends, who have questioned my love of Duck Dynasty. Why would I watch a show about a bunch of backwoods rednecks? Don't I know what that means about who they are?
But the thing is, I really didn't. I know it's stupid of me, but, I mean, look at Honey Boo Boo's family—they're also presented as backwoods rednecks a viewer like me shouldn't have anything in common with and they're a genuinely loving and accepting family and progressive on gay issues. So, why couldn't there be a family of Louisiana conservative Christian duck hunters who felt like "The ways of the world are not my ways, but I don't give a shit if they're your ways?"
Of course, that's now how it turned out. Phil Robertson, the patriarch (as Sarah Pailin calls him) of the clan cares a lot about what the rest of us are doing and he told Drew Magary at GQ all about it. A sample:
It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.”
“I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I'm with the blacks, because we're white trash. We're going across the field.... They're singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!... Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”
Or his belief that Muslims don't know Jesus, but need to (note: Muslims regard Jesus very highly). And just on and on, being exactly the type of person everyone told me he must be. Which is disappointing, because it ruins the show for me.
But Phil Robertson is who Phil Robertson is. Magary even says, "there are more things Phil would like to say—'controversial' things, as he puts it to me—that don’t make the cut."
This means that A&E knew all along that this is who Phil Robertson was. They have hours of him spouting this kind of stuff on tape. They're acting surprised now, but they knew, they knew all along. And, knowing what they did about Robertson, what they chose to do was to sell a version of him that would fill two white fantasies—it would give white folks like Robertson enough to let them think they were seeing someone on TV like themselves, which he then paired with live appearances where he could be more free to say what he wanted, and it gave white folks like me a fantasy where we could believe that the very kinds of white people (people like the ones we sit down to holiday meals with) who we expect to be running around spouting bigoted nonsense don't. A&E sold us the hope that we could find common ground with our more conservative friends and family, all bonding over the Robertsons, who seemed to carry on how we wished our more conservative friends and family would (instead of carrying on how they actually do).
And now A&E has both groups mad at them. As Alyssa Rosenberg points out over at Think Progress:
Duck Dynasty does prove that there’s a definitive market for Christian figures in reality television. But the backlash to Robertson’s remarks does suggest that the market is limited to certain professions of Godliness, rather than to Phil Robertson’s entire theological or political program. And the fact that A&E is willing to respond to GLAAD and other organizations does demonstrate that it prioritizes some consumers over others, and that it’s more interested in being seen as compliant with some norms than others. That’s a fairly definitive valuation of Christian consumers’ worth to mass media.
In other words, A&E knew that the value in Duck Dynasty was, in part, in appealing to more than just people like the Robertsons. And now they've lost the wider audience and pissed off the narrower one.
And just in time for Christmas, when we all have to sit down together in front of the television in order to keep from fighting, Duck Dynasty has become too controversial for safe viewing. My god, American Pickers, I am begging you, please keep your opinions on everything to yourself until after the new year, just to help keep the peace here in the heartland.