Duck Dynasty and The Beverly Hillbillies

imgresThe 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.

12 thoughts on “Duck Dynasty and The Beverly Hillbillies”

  1. Let’s qualify your claim a bit, Chuck. By “Christians” I think it would be more accurate to characterize the Robertson clan as southern, evangelical, fundamentalist, nouveau riche, capitalist Christians. And to claim that the media is portraying them as “freaks” seems rather forced, to me. I’ve watched “Duck Dynasty” a few times and what strikes me is that the Robertsons come across as homespun, cultural conservatives with considerable business savvy. Whereas the Clampett’s came to their wealth by sheer luck, the Robertsons built a small business empire through a combination of skilled workmanship and solid entrepeneurial sensibilities, which is about as “American dream” as you can get. The humor in the Beverly Hillbillies comes from literally transplanting a backwoods family into the heart of Hollywood excess, then exploiting the “babes-in-the-woods” comic potential of that setting. A&E does things differently, letting viewers watch the Robertsons in their native environment, where they’re comfortable and at home. Ultimately, what got Phil Robertson in trouble was the fact that he articulated views commonly held among people like him (see lengthy definition above) but which are not quite so widely held by A&E executives and the marketing executives of the show’s corporate sponsors. To be fair, this tempest in a teapot has occurred solely because “Duck Dynasty” is a popular and lucrative TV show, not because anyone is surprised that Phil Robertson prefers vaginas to anuses (“Deliverance” stereotypes notwithstanding) and finds homosexuality to be sinful. What surprised people is that a savvy businessman like Mr. Robertson didn’t anticipate that sharing his opinions might have negative business consequences. And if some people find his remarks about homosexuality and happy black folk to be representative of a southern, evangelical, fundamentalist, red neck Christian mindset, it’s because they are. But I doubt that anyone would confuse Mr. Robertson’s brand of Christianity with your garden variety Episcopelian, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Catholic, etc.Christianity. In short, the Robertsons aren’t on TV to portray Christians as freaks, but because the Robertsons are, themselves, idiosyncratic in the extreme. IMHO, of course.

    1. I realize the comparison to the Beverly Hillbillies doesn’t hold up completely, but I still think in some way the similarities are part of the mix that makes Duck Dynasty popular.

      And idiosyncratic and freaky are very close in my lexicon. Thanks for your comment on what is indeed the scandal du jour.

    2. Guy Rittger: “By “Christians” I think it would be more accurate to characterize the Robertson clan as southern, evangelical, fundamentalist, nouveau riche, capitalist Christians. ” No, I think the Robertsons ARE being portrayed as Christian freaks, just as Chuck says. 1.4 million Christians have apparently signed a petition to get him reinstated on the show. To television, ALL Christians are freaks. Just some are bigger freaks than others. And I’m generally OK with that. If we truly follow Christ and his teachings, we ARE and SHOULD BE freaks by the world’s standards.

      And the Robertsons DID build a small business empire. But IMO, that’s really where the differences with the Clampetts ends. The show is a contrived piece of entertainment, edited as A&E sees fit and written by A&E. Although they don’t typically place the words in the actors’ mouths, they DO write different scenarios for the family to follow. Going squirrel hunting on this episode? A&E told them to.

  2. “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.”

    I disagree with that. Christians are called to be the modern-day freaks by being so vastly different from others. Unfortunately, we’ve become the freaks for all the wrong reasons. Phil Robertson’s free speech rights end where they trample on mine. Just the same as Chuck, you have the right to swing your arms wildly around as you see fit. But that right ends just before contact with my nose. What we as Christians should be protesting are the comments that Robertson said. And anybody else like him. But unfortunately, most of it’s ingrained in the “Christian culture” so deeply its almost entirely the reason people are falling away from the church. We’re seen as bigots and intolerant people who have been nice enough to give ourselves a label so it’s more convenient for others to hate. And before someone says “I’m just following the bible and it says that homosexuality is a sin, and I’d rather be right before God than before man”, you should think twice about that statement. Picking on people who are unlike you is not following 50% of the 2 Commandments that Jesus left for us: “love your neighbour as yourself”. So by doing so, you ARE NOT right before God.

    And BTW, what he said (vagina/anus comment and homosexuality morphing into bestiality, et. al.) – although he put is more bluntly than many Christians from the denominations Guy Rittger listed toward the end of his reply would have – it IS unfortunately still the same belief that homosexuality is a sin. I’m not here to debate the pros or cons of whether it is or isn’t a sin; just to say that the more mainstream denominations say the same thing with other words. Jesus loves everybody, whether leper or sinner or whatever. He only kind of drew the line with the Pharisees. Still loved them – thought they were knobs.

    What we as Christians are called to do is what Jesus Himself called us to do and that is to stop verbally beating on others who are unlike us. Jesus NEVER did that (again, Pharisees aside). His was “let he who is without sin cast the first stone” and “remove the plank from your own eye before you point out the speck in your brother’s”.

    We need to spread the LOVE of Jesus and disciple people and let God convict whomever He so chooses whenever He so chooses of whatever He so chooses. That’s HIS right only. Judgement comes ONLY from Him. Lest we be guilty of spreading the nonsense that “fags rot in hell” (or the safer, more spread version that says the same thing to the LGBT community: “love the sinner, hate the sin.”) and by doing so, be responsible for an LGBT youth to turn away from Jesus. Better to have a millstone tied around our neck and be cast into the ocean.

    1. Patrick – Pretty much agree with most of your take on both the show and the misguided response of Evangelicals (not “Christians” broadly construed, but one rather large and vocal flavor for Christians) to Robertson’s ill-considered comments.

      In support of your suggestions of how Christians ought to represent their faith to the world at large, on reality TV no less, I submit for your consideration the example of Lance Nitahara, chef at a Christian camp.

      Be sure to read the comments section of both pages, and note the kind of Christian witness and the impact of that witness Chef Nitahara’s words and deeds provided to millions of viewers.

      For all we know, Chef Lance shares some Phil Robertson’s views. But that’s apparently not what he felt he needed to articulate to others. Who do you think had the more positive impact on non-Christian viewers?

    2. Nice clip. And some good comments under it. you CAN see some head scratching going on. 🙂 Thanks!

  3. I’ve been called a lot worse for expressing my beliefs in general… I don’t care! Expressed or suppressed, I believe what I believe and if you disagree…. Well so be it! Censor me, persecute me or even kill me… As a true believer, we expect this…. Hell! We welcome it! So, rant, rave or silence… The facts are: no one was surprised, no one really thinks they can change the other….. But it makes for great topical ratings for whoever decides to use this particular subject line.
    Time to move on Johnny…..

  4. The only thing I am missing in this 2013 comparison is my favorite beautiful Eli Mae!
    Those wonder shots of her by that there cement pond in her bathing suits made my teenage days!

  5. I understand you reasoning but the Robertson’s are from Louisiana. What is portrayed on Duck Dynasty is much more normal than what we have observed on our trips through Louisiana. Although on this year’s trip through Louisiana we had fewer “do they no what century it is instances.”

  6. Although I love Duck Dynasty as entertainment I would not use it for a platform for my faith. I agree with nearly everything Chuck says and would go a step further to say that indeed it’s a TV show being step up by “Hollywood”. I realize it depicts their lifestyle and obviously their views for the most part, but again it’s Hollywood and Phil used his Hollywood platform for his pulpit. What I do see is this show has transformed into the Beverly Hillbillies for real look at Ms Kay for instance all the sudden her hair is done and I’m certain she’s had Botox the show is changing before our eyes. While I do agree everyone is entitled to their own beliefs and opinions I do not agree they can force them on others, nor do I agree under the circumstances that Phil did not know exactly what he was doing when he made these statements, with that said how christain is that? Not the christain I want to be for certain! Will I watch the show yes it’s entertainment ( only) I’m not watching for my salvation!

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