Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Why I Secretly Kind of Hate A&E's Duck Dynasty

I fell in love with A&E's Duck Dynasty when I had to fact-check a claim made by the family patriarch - a man passionate about duck hunting, mostly retired, now - that he had given up a promising football career - to launch Duck Commander. (Spoiler alert: it's true. Terry Bradshaw was Phil Robertson's second string at LSU).

It's a combination of Good Values and comedy as sweet as Si's iced tea. Almost. Everyone knows someone like these characters - that lady at church that's always insisting you go get another plate of food; that woman at the PTA you'll never measure up to; the weird uncle; the boss trying in vain to wield his non-existent power - all wrapped up in humor, both dry and wet, and love for the members of one's own family.

I suggested insisted my parents watch an episode while we were visiting. My dad could relate to all the hunting references, and they could both relate to the references to life in the south. We excitedly bickered over which episode was the best, and landed on the one about the radio show, where Willie takes himself too seriously, and is ruthlessly ridiculed for his (truthfully non-existent) ineptitude when it comes to hunting.

It struck me as I watched Daddy, obviously not loving this show: he doesn't like it for the same reason he didn't like the Berenstain Bears: the stereotypes.* Papa bear is big and friendly and jolly and ridiculously foolish; a lot like Willie Robertson, the ineffectual boss. Mama bear is almost flawless - she's well-kempt, loves her family fiercely, and she's hard-working around the home; a lot like Miss Kay. Korie is Sister Bear - a little air-headed, but smart, good at keeping folks in line, and good at putting on the charm when she needs to. Brother Bear is played by Jace - he's always pushing his sibling's buttons, he's a cut-up, maybe more than a little arrogant, but deep down, he really cares. (Full disclosure: there's an alternate reality in which I'm married to Jace Robertson. Le sigh.)

In Duck Dynasty, you'll hear some reference to manhood being beard-dependant (or even tied to beard length) in almost every episode: Real men - men who are unafraid of a challenge, men who can hunt, men who aren't squeamish or lazy or who enjoy too much luxury - those men have beards. Real women cook or sew (not Korie. But then, she has her looks) and aren't squeamish, either. Real women don't hunt (they tried to get them to do so, once) and don't get dirty; their hair and makeup are always stylish and flawless.

Did you gals hear that? If you look that good, you don't have to cook or sew unless you want to. Aren't we the lucky ones?

I still like love that the family has minor disagreements, but not protracted arguments, and that they come together over a feast and a prayer at the end of each show. It doesn't bother me when A&E leaves "Jesus" in the prayer, and it doesn't bother me when they take it out.

I even kind of like the exploration of the conflict between old values ("pioneer" living; hard work; a nature-focused lifestyle) and the new reality (How do the old values fit into a luxurious life? How can we hold onto our humble origins while expanding our wealth and ensuring our children's future?).

But I hate the stereotypes about gender, and I hate the stereotypes about the south (chiefly, that the south is full of rednecks who only care about things they can blow-up, shoot, shoot at, or eat).

Duck Dynasty has mad jokes (the bit where Si does Chewbacca had us all on the floor). It has some good values (loyalty to family - including family you choose, not just the one you're born into - and enjoying the great outdoors and hard work and good food). The characters allow surprising glimpses of their hidden depth (the "old, stupid one," Si, gets caught making pop culture references all the time, and even though Phil seems mostly to enjoy his retirement, you do get the impression that he worked really hard to get there).

I'm just not sure I can sit back and enjoy it like I did before I looked closer, and that's too bad.

* This part might not actually be true - I know why Daddy doesn't like the Bears, but he might have much different reasons for not liking Duck Dynasty.