On a Kansas visit a few years ago my husband Jack joined some friends to go hunting. They introduced him to their friend, Willie Robertson, a guy with now-familiar long hair, beard and bandana and an easy-going smile. While they were all out hunting, my friend Patty told me stories she’d heard from her son who had been down to Louisiana to go duck hunting with Willie and his Dad, both guides.
Her son had heard that these men were excellent guides, but out in the dark woods with all the long hair and beards and shot guns he felt just a tiny bit nervous. It didn’t help that they were kind of quiet. But once they warmed up to each other their guides told the most amazing stories. Stories of how Willie’s Dad would boldly tell his duck-hunting clients about Jesus, and had baptized hundreds right there in the river beside the duck blind.
Eventually Willie and his sons started an outdoors TV show about ducks and then joined forces with our friend’s son to start an outdoors TV show about bucks. They’ve partnered together in person to share their love of the outdoors and the good news about Jesus with thousands.
Now, even when Phil was sure that it would be an utter disaster, The Robertsons have made a smash hit out of Duck Dynasty. When the A&E producers first pitched the idea for the show to him he responded, “You know you’re dealing with a bunch of rednecks who duck hunt. For the life of me, do you really think this is going to work?”
“Ozzy Osbourne made it,” they told me.
What compels 11 million Americans to turn in to a weekly show featuring a very functional family with ZZ Top-looking men who hand make duck calls for a living and go duck hunting with big peach-colored poodle retrievers?
In our postmodern culture that so appreciates ironic juxtaposition the Robertsons hit lots of home runs with situations that juxtapose their redneck appearance and wileyness with peach-colored retrieving poodles and little granddaughters going fishing in their pretty pink goulashes and hair bows. Just the visual image of the long-haired, bearded rednecks as strong, wholesome, savvy, fun-loving men who are good dads, husbands and sons is rich with ironic potential. And the Robertsons pull it off with great humor and wit. You couldn’t script a show with a better comedic cast.
Additionally, “The Robertsons represent a lot things we as Americans cherish,” David McKillop, the general manager and executive vice president of the network, told the New York Times. “Self-made wealth, independence, and three generations living together.” Here is a family living the American dream, climbing the ladder of accomplishment and success yet remaining largely unaffected by it. And remaining loyal to each other and to God.
Most of the time we see the media mocking and marginalizing anyone with a Christian message and worldview. Christians are negatively portrayed as backwoods rednecks lacking the acuity to contribute much of value in today’s culture led by media-savvy, university-educated, postmodern elites. Now those very elites are stunned, but applauding this family of bonafide backwoods rednecks who pray together at the end of each show and are quick to tell any interviewer that they attribute their success and happiness to “faith, family and ducks—in that order.”
Are the Robertsons reinforcing the backwoods redneck stereotypes of Christians? Maybe for the really jaded. But for many others it seems to be busting the stereotypes as well. Here are redneck self-avowed Christians who are really cool. Most of the interviews I’ve seen and heard (and with the launch of season four they are legion) treat Phil and uncle Si and the boys with admiration and deference reserved for really hot media stars. They seem genuinely attracted to their comedic talent, their success, and although they might not be able to put their finger on it, the deep, authentic love they have for one another.
“I think what separates the Robertsons from a lot of other families,” Phil says, “is our faith in God and our love for each other. It’s unconditional and it has been that way for as long as I can remember.” The authenticity of that love fairly glows on the screen. And it’s very attractive. Even though they have honed their constant heckling of one another into a fine art, it’s never shaming or dishonoring. It’s not dark or cynical or politically correct. They all give as good as they get.
And the husbands love and enjoy their wives and vice-versa. On each show the kids are nurtured in a circle of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins that gather together for home-cooked meals by Mama Kay. This resonates with our image-bearing nature. God made us to want to be known and cherished and celebrated in loving community.
The Duck Dynasty phenom is yet another instance of our great God scanning the earth and giving strong support to shepherd boys, tax collectors, Canadian pig farmer’s wives (Ann Voskamp) and backwoods rednecks whose hearts are wholly devoted to him, exalting them into places of great honor and influence. (2 Chron 16:9) And Phil Robertson is thrilled with the opportunities.
In his new book, “Happy, Happy, Happy” Phil writes, “Since I turned the reins of the company over to my sons, I keep busy with hunting and fishing and speaking engagements. God provided those. The appearances give me an opportunity to preach the gospel, which I feel compelled to do. I’ve also had a chance to learn from all the people I’ve met—and the chance to travel all over the country. I hope I’ve helped those who have heard the gospel.”