Please allow me to clear the air… of gun smoke and duck feathers…
It would be hard to exaggerate the success of A&E’s Duck Dynasty and the seemingly boundless merchandising blitz which has followed the cable TV show as it soared to fame on riparian wings. All that DD regalia, posters, and plastic-ware making its way to the suburbs–to be snatched up by yuppies?
Phil Robertson couldn’t have dreamed it, wouldn’t have.
However, along the way Bible-waving and back pew-warming Christians alike have gotten caught up in a flock of heated discussions among themselves and with non-believers about whether Duck Commander Phil is a good role model and whether we should applaud or boo his direct-to-the-solar plexus, down-homey style of wit and simple life lessons, both on and off screen.
Let’s not make them out to be more than men. If you’re looking for a paragon of human living, you have it… in our Lord Jesus Christ and the four gospel accounts of his model physical and spiritual life. And if you still want a TV show to further inspire you, watch that other Robertson’s The 700 Club (nonfiction).
Moreover, here are some things I don’t think Jesus would have done, even if he’d had his own reality TV program.
- He wouldn’t have lied (a staple in numerous DD storylines).
- He wouldn’t have broken the law (put in some DD episodes, just for laughs?).
- He wouldn’t have been contentious just for kicks (a dietary staple on DD, along with beef jerfy and black coffee).
Still… some ecstatically tout Willie’s dad and his counter-social homilies (Notice, I didn’t say anti-social) as what TV ‘art to be’ and give the show far too much credibility than sanity should justify, while others bemoan the right-wing conservative voices of a few multimillionaire duck hunters who just want to have fun and spread the gospel message on the second cable tier via A&E. Have we no room left now for some down-home preaching and cooking, after enduring the Kardashian
dynasty for so long?
Why have some Christians gotten more than a little quacked up over this?
After waiting so long for anything wholesome to watch on TV and eager to talk to somebody at church about what you saw last night, it’s hard not to get enthusiastic about this generally good hearted, G-rated TV show.
But it is just a show, right? C’mon, say it with me… It is just a TV show. Now that was easy, right?
So… shouldn’t I be saying something all pithy and academic about now?
I’m glad you asked! (I’ll take a quack at it.)
In their intriguing study, Nabi and Clark (2008) found that “negatively reinforced behaviors on TV may be modeled anyway” (p. 407), that is, despite, and perhaps even because they are negatively modeled. And a plethora of mass communication research on everything from sitcoms to movies to TV ads and even the so-called reality of news violence has bolstered our understanding over the decades that there is something inherently attractive and, unfortunately, more memorable about negative portrayals than positive ones (be it strong/suggestive dialogue, anti-social behavior, immoral lifestyles, physical conflict/injury, and even damage to property).
Pointing to Social Cognitive theory (SCT), Nabi and Clark remind us that “vicarious learning” (p. 409) is indeed prevalent among TV audiences. Echoing Kellner’s (1980) work, in which he warns that “[TV's] imagery is. . . prescriptive as well as descriptive,” (p. 5), Nabi and Clark’s research help us understand that what we view may ultimately become a guide for our own behavior thereafter. They point to Bandura (2002) whose seminal work with children and violent behavior goes back to the 1960s (see “Bobo doll study“). In more recent studies, Bandura has explained in detail that four process guide how one’s “observational learning” and subsequent behavior are linked. And here I’ll succinctly apply it to DD fandom:
Bandura’s (2002) four processes are, in order:
- attention (watching the TV show with your undivided)
- retention (sharing it with friends and watching the reruns)
- production (doing as they do)
- motivational (why you like them)
By now you’ve surely convinced yourselves of some things I’ll need to clear up. No harm, no… foul. But let me get them off my bill :
- So you’re anti-Phil Robertson? On the contrary, I sincerely admire his pluck in standing up for Biblical principles and against unrighteousness. I’m grateful for his mealtime prayer at each show’s conclusion, invoking the name of our Dear Lord Jesus. He is not, however, my idol.
- So you hate Duck Dynasty? No, I’m not down on the Duck Commanders. Several episodes I’ve seen multiple times, and I look forward to more this year! But as a mass media academic, I enjoy taking some shots at it!
- So you think merchandising is un-American? (Do you even know me? I’m thinking about getting someone a Valentine’s candy box with the Duck Commander and crews’ pictures on it. It don’t get more redneck, southern, all-American, Walmart than that, Jack!)