The Christian outrage over A&E’s dust-up with Phil Robertson missed an opportunity to protest the media’s portrayal of Christians as freaks.
I am not saying that Phil Robertson and the Duck Dynasty cast are freaks, despite their ZZ Top beards and relentless camo attire. What I am saying is that Duck Dynasty is just another media portrayal of Christians as bizarre, redneck, and unsophisticated. Duck Dynasty is the reality TV version of The Beverly Hillbillies, but with Bible verses and a prayer.
Remember Jed, the “poor mountaineer who barely kept his family fed?” The Beverly Hillbillies was a hit show in the 1960s. The storyline about poor, unsophisticated Kentuckians who discovered oil, became fabulously rich, and moved to Beverly Hills was popular because it tapped into everybody’s dream of getting rich overnight. The innocent haplessness of Jed, Elly Mae, Jethro, and Granny entertained a generation of Americans who chuckled at their ignorance and homespun worldview.
Enter the Robertson family, poor Louisianans who made millions designing and selling duck calls to hunters. The Robertsons are the 21st century’s Clampetts, but with a “heapin’ helpin’” of Christian faith thrown in for good measure.
Unlike the 1960s when The Beverly Hillbillies aired, it is perfectly fine today for the entertainment media to portray Christians as ignorant, unsophisticated, and odd. Even the GQ article that spawned the recent controversy features a self-identified elitist New York reporter interviewing the Southern redneck Robertsons.
Of course, the Robertsons themselves are in on the gag. Their motivation for appearing on a reality TV show, other than possibly fame and money, may be a sincere attempt to share their faith with their viewing audience. A&E’s motives, on the other hand, might tend to run toward ratings and advertising dollars. That’s what networks do. However, Christians don’t have to be witting pawns in the media’s game, and the rest of us don’t have to watch it with a wink and a nod.
What we as Christians should be protesting is not Phil Robertson’s free speech rights, but the portrayal of Christians as modern-day freaks, put on display for entertainment and amusement. For that, both A&E and the Robertsons deserve our ire.
Of course, since Duck Dynasty is the most popular show on TV, I may be in the minority on this. If so, Phil and I share one quality in common — we’re both convinced we’re right.