Duck, duck, ghost: Media miss faith angle on ‘Duck Dynasty’

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Do you speak duck?

Last Wednesday night, the Season 3 premiere of A&E’s “Duck Dynasty” delivered 8.6 million viewers, beating Fox’s “American Idol” and ABC’s “Modern Family” in the important 18- to 49-year-olds demographic.

In a featured titled “Faith, family and ducks,” I profiled the Robertson family for The Christian Chronicle this past fall:

WEST MONROE, La. — Hollywood, meet the real Robertsons.

A&E’s hit reality series “Duck Dynasty” has made celebrities out of Duck Commander Phil Robertson, his wife Kay and their bearded, camo-clad sons Willie, Jase and Jeptha, not to mention “Uncle Si,” Phil’s younger brother.

As the network portrays it, the series — whose Season 1 finale drew 2.6 million viewers — follows a Louisiana bayou family living the American dream as they operate a thriving duck call and decoy business while staying true to their family values.

For the Robertsons, those values relate to the grace and salvation found in Jesus.

But for the show’s producers, the family’s strong Christian faith seems to be an uncomfortable storyline — one frequently chopped in the editing room.

“They pretty much cut out most of the spiritual things,” Phil Robertson, a one-time honky-tonk operator who gave up his heathen lifestyle in the 1970s, told The Christian Chronicle. “We say them, but they just don’t run them on the show.

“Hollywood has run upon the kingdom of God, and there’s a rub there,” said the Duck Commander, a tenacious personal evangelist who has brought hundreds of souls to new life in the Ouachita River. “Well, we have to be as harmless as a dove and as shrewd as a snake in the way we deal with them.”

The entire Robertson family is active with the White’s Ferry Road Church of Christ, which meets just a few miles from the Duck Commander/Buck Commander warehouse in this northeast Louisiana town of 13,000.

In advance of last week’s season premiere, “Duck Dynasty” got some free publicity: Singer and animal rights activist Morrissey canceled an appearance on ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” because the Robertsons were scheduled on the same night.

From The Associated Press:

Morrissey says he can’t perform on a show with what he called people who “amount to animal serial killers.”

Phil, Si, Willie and Jase Robertson appeared on Kimmel’s show as scheduled and joked about Morrissey’s absence. But Phil Robertson’s comments also reflected his faith.

“Whoever he is, we love him as our neighbor, hey!” Phil Robertson told Kimmel. The patriarch of the Robertson family also offered to have a Bible study with Morrissey (as you can see in the above video).

Surprisingly enough (or not), the Bible statement — unlike the animal rights issue — did not make it into the mainstream media reports that I read.

Back in October, The New York Times featured the Robertsons and hinted at their faith:

WEST MONROE, La. — The moments before a religious service begins are generally ones of quiet reflection for the congregants, but on a recent Sunday at White’s Ferry Road Church of Christ here something incongruous was going on two-thirds of the way back in the spacious hall.

Parishioners were walking up to perhaps the scruffiest, most disheveled-looking man in the church as he sat in his pew, offering a greeting and making a request. They were asking him to autograph copies of his biography.

The man was Phil Robertson, who along with his heavily bearded sons is famous in this part of Louisiana and, increasingly, all over the country. The Robertson family’s duck-call-making business, Duck Commander, has been an evolving media phenomenon, beginning years ago with videos aimed at hunters, then becoming the subject of a show on the Outdoor Channel and last March moving up to the much bigger stage of A&E.

But the church made only a cameo appearance in the story, as the Times failed to delve into the Robertsons’ faith and its role in their lives — and their show.

This week, AP television writer Frazier Moore wrote a column attempting to explain the secret behind the success of “Duck Dynasty”:

NEW YORK (AP) — When “Duck Dynasty” returned for its third season last week, it was greeted by an audience of 8.6 million viewers. Pretty good for an A&E reality series about bearded bayou brethren who manufacture duck calls and love to go bird hunting.

Except that’s not what “Duck Dynasty” really is. Viewers who have ducked this show thus far, assuming it’s just another mocking redneck display on the order of “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,” have it all wrong. And they’re missing out.

Nor, by the way, is this a show that has much to do with the duck-call business (life has many distractions for the Robertson clan), nor is it a show that dwells on people killing animals (are you listening, Morrissey?).

Keep reading, and Frazier describes “Duck Dynasty” as a “warm and witty family show” featuring a “comfortably eccentric and engaging brood.” The Robertsons are “true-to-life” with a “star quality they exhibit just being themselves” that “couldn’t be faked.”

But — surprise, surprise — there’s no mention of the family prayer at the end of each episode. No mention of Phil Robertson quoting Bible verses. No mention of faith at all.

Duck, duck, ghost, anyone?

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • http://www.authenticbioethics.blogspot.com AuthenticBioethics

    I don’t watch much TV – we have one, but only for well chosen DVDs of movies and certain TV shows – and I probably would’t be much interested in this one either. But from a journalistic point of view, the allure of the show really cannot be the religious life of the Robertsons if the show doesn’t show it. Unless, that is, the religious perspective is being picked up through other avenues than the show itself and is driving its popularity. Now that would make an interesting story. I find it interesting from a marketing perspective. Also, an “untold story” story could be interesting in the MSM just as it is in the Christian media.

    • Bobby Ross Jr.

      I think it’s fair to say that the allure isn’t entirely the religious life of the Robertsons. But one of the leading things that viewers (the core audience) say they appreciate is the family prayer at the end of each episode. And other elements of the family’s religious life have come into play, such as Phil Robertson studying his Bible in preparation for “Duck Commander Sunday” and the family members designing a float for an annual event at their church. Then again, I think other avenues (such as appearances at churches and Christian universities) are helping drive the popularity.

      • Nathan

        Yes I agree. I watch the show and I do appreciate the prayer at the end of the show. Also, it is a show I can sit down and watch with my family and not have to worry about the content. Unfortunately you cannot say the same about the commercials during the show, thank GOD for DVR!

        • Bobby Ross Jr.

          I’m so spoiled by DVR that I don’t guess I’ve seen any of the commercials to know what you’re talking about. :-)

          • http://www.authenticbioethics.blogspot.com AuthenticBioethics

            Like I said, I’ve never actually seen the show, or the commercials for that matter, so I gotta trust you gentlemen on both counts.


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