The surprise should be how liberals dismissed the rise of Duck Dynasty until this fall, when it was too late to stem the show’s popularity. Once it became evident that this family held so much influence, the left suddenly realized they faced the first threat to their decades-long monopoly on popular culture.
Anyone familiar with the show knows Phil Robertson, the philosophical patriarch of the Monroe, La. family, always says exactly what he thinks. Due to the popularity of their Duck Commander duck-call whistles and his football prowess while a student at LA Tech, Robertson regularly speaks at hunting and fishing events, and videos of his on Creationism, American Exceptionalism and abortion are available on YouTube.
There is no way that A&E decision makers weren’t aware of his views, nor is it likely that these comments came as a surprise to groups like GLAAD and Human Rights Campaign.
Between their record-setting season 4 premiere in August, the success of their influence in the election of Vance McAllister in Louisiana’s 5th Congressional District and their domination of popular culture, as seen by having a top Halloween costume for 2013, it’s clear the Robertsons won over America before the liberals were able to undermine their potential their success.
With an average of 13.3 million viewers per new episode, this was the year of beards and camo. While “redneck” culture is currently trendy on cable networks, Duck Dynasty grew even larger. In one year, A&E’s viewership is up 10%, and Duck Dynasty was the top 3 show on television among all categories according to Nielsen ratings released on Thursday.
For the first time in reality TV history, the Christian characters are cool – or at least worth watching. If the Robertsons broke the “Christian” ceiling in reality TV, will others follow?
Lessons in Entertainment
Before Duck Dynasty, attempts to infiltrate reality TV failed on the right because the focus was on “infiltrating” rather than producing good entertainment. With a grasp of pop culture and capitalism that puts Kris Kardashian to shame, the Robertsons are the first conservative family to understand how reality TV works.
The emphasis on family, faith, God and guns isn’t subtle, but in general, they don’t use an “in-your-face” attitude that reality TV has associated with most Evangelicals, such as the Duggar family on 20 Kids and County or the pointed political snark seen in Sarah Palin’s America.
At its core, Duck Dynasty is a show about family, faith and the American Dream. The show combines the nostalgia of Father Knows Best with the humor of Jackass. Each episode ends with the family gathering in Phil and Miss Kay’s double-wide as Willie, the CEO of Duck Commander, narrates in the same style as John Boy from The Waltons. Most shockingly, Phil ends each episode with prayer, which has been a known point of contention with A&E since the show debuted in 2012.
In just four years, the Robertsons have gone from hosting a hunting and fishing show on the Outdoor Channel to starring in the most popular reality TV show in history. This astonishing growth – and their ability to merchandise practically any product sold at Wal-Mart – demonstrates how the show’s primary focus on humor combined with their beards, camo, and frat boy antics can push messages supporting traditional marriage, church, masculinity, and gun rights.
The appeal of the show comes from the surprising normalcy and likability of the family. The men might dress like the cast of Easy Rider, hunt almost daily, and make millions in their business, but the show emphasizes the Real America part of their lives rather than only focusing on the cast as developing celebrities. The conflicts on the show emerge from issues average Americans face: helping your parents with their will, teaching your kids to drive, losing weight for your high school reunion, sibling rivalry among brothers, and struggling to find the right Christmas present for your wife. Ask any fan why they love the show, and you’re likely to hear, “The Robertsons remind me of my own family.”
This is the odd thing about current reactions to the show from those who don’t typically watch it. While the Duggars preach and Sarah Palin shoots in the wilds of Alaska, their actions seem calculated to make a political or religious point. By comparison, the Robertson’s Christian faith is just one component of the show. Like many Americans, the lives of the Robertsons revolve around their church, kids’ activities, work and family get-togethers. Because of their honesty about struggles with alcoholism, drugs and overcoming poverty, the Robertsons demonstrate that it is possible to have a close, traditional family unit in modern times without relying on government handouts.
The threat of the Robertsons isn’t in Phil’s politically incorrect comments. The threat is that this family has figured out how right-wing politics and Evangelical Christianity can influence pop culture without being the punch line or the bad guy. While the left has spent decades making conservatives look like idiots and Christians look like bigots, Duck Dynasty reminds average Americans that these views are mainstream. The left is alerted but will those on the right take advantage of what the Robertsons have created?