It’s a family reality show that should not have happened, according to probability. It would be hard sell, you see: A show about a duck call warehouse—no. A show about a family that wears camo and beards all the time—no. A show about a family that celebrates their faith and eats good food—no. Producers might give such a family a 20-minute spot on some show about America’s unique families. They look like Tolkien characters given rifles and Southern accents. And yet someone saw the potential in giving the Robertson clan their own show.
Some people can’t tell a difference between Duck Dynasty and Honey Boo Boo, and merely see just another television show with a bunch of rednecks that embarrass America, or something. On the surface, there is a lot for people to object to: They enjoy killing critters a little excessively, are very opinionated, aren’t sensitive to dietary restrictions or metrosexual styles of dress, and despite their wealth they demanded over $200,000 per episode for their fourth season.
But this family has something that, although not unheard of, is rare in reality television. You don’t see a dysfunctional family, or a family warped by their new fame. You see a family that is very close and dedicated to being good, blessed with the opportunity to play around with being on a TV show.
Sure, the episodes and scenes are scripted—Willie would never really consider leaving the family business and go to a team building camp to discover the answer—but reality television has to be scripted, rehearsed and edited, with lines fed to the cast, some scenes shot over again, and effects and noises amping up the shots in postproduction. But it’s very easy to see the family underlying all the silly antics of an episode. There has to be drama, which means there has to be conflict, but at the end of an episode nobody is fuming or crying because their relationship is falling apart and allowing cameras to exploit it on TV. The family only allows the camera to peek into their shenanigans, their oddball chemistry, and their family-centered, faith-focused special occasions.
As “Hollyweirded” as a show has to be, you can tell these characters are real. The scenes structured around their natural rhythms of life, with some scripted catalysts thrown in. Although Willie wouldn’t likely leave the family business in the first season finale, he does have some real concerns about the work habits and future of the company, and he allows the contrived drama to address those concerns in an appropriate way, not just for his family, but for viewers. I like to imagine that if the family began dealing with real painful tension that threatened the fabric of their relationships, they would call off the show, and call on God in prayer.
Although people who haven’t seen the show assume the Robertsons are a bunch of redneck dummies that we don’t need on TV, the Robertsons—well, they are rednecks. They wear camo, hunt, camp, and blow things up. But they aren’t ignorant, nor are they self-destructive. Though duck call makers whose favorite past time is hunting in the woods, they are also eloquent, well-versed, and clever.
“That plump woman they call your mother will be my sleeping bag, the one from whose loins you burst forth,” Phil says on one occasion, as if quoting a line from a Shakespeare play. These quips are balanced with the simple proverbs (some of them nonsensical) they spit as effortlessly as sunflower seeds, mostly from Uncle Si: “Hey, America, everybody is in too big a rush. Lay back, take a sip of tea, mow a little grass. Then if you get tired, take a nap.” They understand one another’s language and way of coming and going. Says Jase, “The word ‘hey‘ is woven into the very fabric of Uncle Si’s being.”
Much of the wisdom comes not from the family itself, but from the scriptures they study. They’re so clever they even manage to include sexual humor and keep it G-rated. The problem these days isn’t too much sex on TV, it’s too much profaned sex on TV. So although you may shudder to imagine it, and you shouldn’t, Phil and Kay demonstrate the matrimonial flirtations that lead to their undefiled bedtime bliss. While Kay prepares a meal in the kitchen Phil’s beard and glasses hover over his Bible like an old Rabbi meditating the Torah: “1 Corinthians 7:3-13, ‘the husband shall not deprive his wife.’ He’s talkin’ about sex.” She convinces him to take a bath, and he does. They go upstairs, and the camera cuts off, as it should.
One reason we need the Robertsons is that they show us a great role model family—not the model family, or a fake and uninspiring model family like some bland Leave It To Beaver family, but a family that despite its quirks is downright wholesome and loving, a family that doesn’t fit a white-pickett-fence mold of being happy happy happy, and doesn’t have to. They sit down at the table to eat and pray together, and few families do that today.
Phil, the “patriarch” of the family, has a history of speaking and preaching that all started when he pulled out a Bible one day at a duck hunting seminar. He has no fear of preaching to others, and has tried to take advantage of the spotlight in order to help the message of the Gospel reach people, rather than gain all the glory for himself and his family. In fact, the family makes many more references to their faith during filming that don’t make it on the show. The producers are well trained in Hollywood style, and that style doesn’t fit with deep, spiritual meaning. Despite Hollywood’s allergy against religion, the producers do show the family eating and praying at the end of episodes, and even show some scenes of Phil preaching to the White’s Ferry Road Church of Christ.
And things are looking up. Duck Dynasty is continually growing in popularity, while shows like American Idol are dropping. And although the show can only give you a dose of spirituality amidst the entertainment, it raises awareness of the spiritually enriching messages the family extends outside the show. It has become a very strong beacon of happy and healthy family in the television world.
Yes, we need more television that educates people about the world, about science and history and culture and politics. We need more television with complex storylines and character development. But we also need more exposure to real, healthy, loving families and communities that say and do wholesome things, more people to model a good, fun life worth living, more entertainment in which there are no tense emotional stakes, but only a good time had by all, with some shenanigans thrown in. Duck Dynasty is one show that gives us more of that.
Phil Robertson on his conversion story