I like Duck Dynasty. I like the show. I even liked it before it became the hot commodity that it is today. The Robertsons are my type of people, redneck people, my tribe. The first time I saw Phil Robertson pray before the meal (back in Season 1 when they were still editing out ‘in Jesus name’ at the end), I could tell the man had prayed a time or two in his life. But what I saw in the Robertsons was what I saw as common place in the Bible belt; cultural Christians.
What I don’t mean to say is that the Robertsons are not actual believers. But here is what I’ve perceived from the show: The Robertsons, although giving a hat-tip to Christianity by the closing prayer at every show and an occasional reference to their church, there is nothing inherently different from the Robertsons’ lifestyle (a better judge of faith than a testimony rehearsed for a Lifeway promo) from any neo-pagan family in the Bible Belt.
‘Duck Dynasty’ displays – as a central theme of the show – a gratuitous flaunting of wealth on the part of the show’s main character, Willy. It’s hard to believe the “down to earth” tagline in the magazines when the Robertson clan is flying into the swamp on helicopters, traveling the highway in a ridiculously expensive RV with their face plastered on the side, cruising the lake in an uber-expensive bass boat or purchasing a pair of matching four-wheelers with fancy rims (like what you see on low-riders in the city) – all of which have been highlighted in the reality show. Willy’s infatuation with all things monetary borders on a financial fetish and love of money.
Or take for example the entire episode laced with the incessant jokes about the size of Miss Kay’s breasts (probably the only term not used to refer to the woman’s chest during the episode). Is that the behavior of a godly woman or godly women? Or how about the episode in Season 1 dedicated to then 13 year-old Sadie Robertson dating? Or Grandpa Phil asking her, “How long did you make [your boyfriend] wait until he kissed you” and her response, “not long.” Which, of course, raised nothing from Grandpa Phil except an eyebrow. By the way, Sadie now has her own line of prom dresses in case you were interested (she’s had a busy summer, what with famous musicians singing at her Sweet 16 party and everything). And, of course, the consistent course-jesting (Ephesians 5:4) and bathroom humor that – to be honest – even gets a smile out of me once in a while.
Do all of these things make the Robertsons bad? No – not at all. And neither do they make a family that has seemingly lassoed the American Dream role models for Christians.
What is it about Duck Dynasty that has denominations, Christian magazines, churches and every segment of cultural Christianity clamoring to cash in on the Robertson’s popularity? For example, I was startled to see Lifeway (which is Southern Baptist) promote the Robertsons, who believe in baptismal regeneration. Theirs is not ‘faith-alone,’ but ‘faith plus baptism.’ Of course, Lifeway traded sound doctrine for profitability a long time ago. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t call the Robertsons heretics or unbelievers or insincere. However, as a Baptist, I sure would find somebody else to promote (if Jesus didn’t suffice).
To answer the aforementioned question, I doubt that it’s the pure and unadulterated Gospel that comes through the show. After all, Phil Robertson has said that the producers take out almost everything spiritual in editing. Synergism Today recently posted, “Indeed, one hears more than duck calls on the show. One hears the call of the gospel reverberating…” Really? You hear the Gospel on the show? Is that because Si never leaves without his tea glass or his Bible? The Gospel doesn’t make the editing cut – period. The Robertsons may articulate a ‘Gospel + baptism’ message in churches or other venues in their free time, but there has never been – in any form or fashion – the Gospel presented on the show.
Then what about ‘Duck Dynasty’ creates all the fixation from evangelicals?
1. Evangelicals love celebrities. We love our Tim Tebows and RGIII’s. We love our country stars that become Christian artists (until they get their third DUI). We love them. I think it’s because we don’t have very many celebrities to begin with. We feel left out of celebrity culture, and so we highly esteem Christian celebrities. And every time Disney presents one of their young stars as a “Christian teen” we fall for it hook, line and sinker until they start getting tattoos and dancing at stripper poles (remember, Brittney Spears, Jessica Simpson, Miley Cyrus, and Justin Beiber were all billed to us as ‘Christian kids’).
2. There’s a rumor out there that evangelicals are lame, boring, losers, fuddie-duddies. It makes us feel good to have somebody that’s “cool” on our team.
3. There has been a very purposeful (*ahem*) strategy the last 20 years to look at the lost world and say, “see…we’re just like you.” We want to be like the world even more than we want the world to be like us. Having ‘our people’ at the front and center of popular culture makes us feel like we’ve really achieved that.
4. We confuse the American Dream with the Gospel. The Robertsons have a pretty wives and pretty kids, lots of fancy toys, big houses and money. That’s the appeal. Oh, yeah – I forgot…they also have Jesus. There is a cold and dark place in the American soul that thinks the American Dream is a Biblical concept. The Robertsons are our apple pie. They have it all. Sure – they love the big cars, expensive houses, flaunted wealth and let their 13 year old daughters go about dating outside of their supervision, but so what? They’re Christians. They’ve got it all.
We feel like Christian celebrities are our ticket to a party in popular culture that we rarely get invited to. We have ‘ugly girl syndrome’ (forgive the expression); as evangelicals, we rarely get asked to the prom, and this is our chance.
Consider the Duggars. They are Baptists, solid believers, teach their kids work ethic, don’t fetishize money, teach courtship, and their lifestyle matches their preaching – and had a popular reality show. Most evangelicals are hesitant to be associated with the Duggars at all, like they’re the weird third-cousin at the family reunion everyone is ashamed of. Could it be that the Duggars are slightly “less cool” (and more sanctified by any discernible standards) than the Robertsons? Could it be that the world would rather have cool trucks and boats and helicopters than a house-full of godly children?
Comparison aside, I can’t help but wonder if the evangelical infatuation with ‘Duck Dynasty’ has more to do with our admiration of funny rich people who’ve achieved the American Dream than with devout believers. At the end of the day, we just don’t need celebrities. We need Jesus. And if we truly find the baptismal regeneration preaching of Phil Robertson to be more compelling and articulate than virtually any other man on earth, then let’s value Phil for his commitment to the Bible and not for his toys, wealth, or fame.
If it makes you feel any better, I think Phil might agree.
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