Duck Dynasty: We’ve Been Had

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I think we’ve all been had. Phil Robertson of A&E’s “Duck Dynasty” made headlines—almost inexplicably, if you think about it—for making somewhat racist and decidedly anti-gay (also anti-adulterer, which no one seems to mind) statements. He was immediately denounced and suspended by the network, which brought on an outpouring of backlash from the huge following of the show. Last August, the most recent season premiere of the show shattered cable records by garnering almost 12 million viewers, the highest ever for a “nonfiction series” on cable. This story was soon everywhere on the internet and cable news. I even jumped into the fray myself, both out of a desire to benefit from the high interest in the topic and to a genuine concern that society is becoming far too hostile towards singular moments of perceived intolerance.

The bad thing about trying to strike while the story is viral is that it leaves little time for thoughtfulness. This is the third such situation involving “bad” comments from people in the public sphere this month (Alec Baldwin and Martin Bashir both lost gigs at MSNBC). In fact, even while this story was unfolding a woman in public relations (but not a public figure) lost her job while flying to South Africa, all because of a tweet. The interest in this story goes beyond some 21st century Jed Clampett..

Then some developments caught my eye. First, a video of Clampett—I mean, Robertson – surfaced online from 2010 in which he said equally inflammatory things about homosexuality, this time from an actual pulpit. It also seems that A&E knew about his feelings and warned the family not to say too much about controversial issues. Finally, Entertainment Weekly reported that the new episodes already shot will still feature the suspended Robertson. And that’s when I decided that A&E might have pulled an incredible marketing move on us.

As I mentioned earlier, this isn’t even the first case this month where someone’s job was on-the-line over unpopular (and, in my opinion, stupidly wrong) statements. Has society and the media’s response to this become such as certainty that they are able to manipulate it? Is actual reality starting to resemble scripted reality? This many sound like a conspiracy theory and I admit I have no evidence to really back it up. Still, that doesn’t mean I’m wrong, either.

So let’s say that A&E expected there to be some kind of backlash against any one of the elder Robertson’s simplistic generalizations of complex societal issues. Given that the audience of the show rivals the fandom of any show currently on cable (mostly because of their “Christian values”) the A&E folk decide to split the difference. Knowing that the Robertson’s fans are most likely going to rally to his support, they immediately issue a harsh response, in order to save face for those offended by Robertson’s views.

The “Duck Dynasty” faithful did not disappoint. At least one of the Facebook pages calling for an A&E boycott until Robertson is reinstated gained a million followers in less than 24 hours, according to my conservative uncle who monitored and reported on it throughout the day. At that point A&E leaks the story to EW that the footage already shot will remain intact. Phil will be in the new season, so boycotters will most likely tune in. Effectively, the only “suspension” in effect applies to footage shot after the news broke, as if when people learned about the comments somehow mattered? The show must go on.

Eventually though, there will be some kind of mea culpa on behalf of both A&E and the Robertsons. One which, if my line of thinking is correct, will coincide with the cliff-hangery finale of the current season. The episode may feature Phil just off-screen, perhaps hidden behind a heavy wooden door in a dark room like a prisoner or an apostle in hiding. Other family members* will be seen relaying messages to and from him, while the rest of them cast concerned looks out of the corners of their eyes. The music will be suspenseful. They may tell us the future of the show at the end, if the story leaks to the media before airdate. But if they’re really lucky, they may leave the answer until the next season (IF THERE EVEN IS ONE?????).

Hell, A&E might even somehow spin this into a new show in which A&E “stars” live in a house with people from all different backgrounds and have to participate in sensitivity challenges. “We’re all equal, but only the most equal can survive being voted out of Tolerance House!”

I admit, this is all just speculation. I have no way of knowing if what I am suggesting even makes sense from the perspective of someone in show business. Still, if it turned out that this is exactly what does happen—it will be the first interesting thing that’s ever happened on that show.

*I just realized I don’t know any of their names and out of principle refuse to look any of them up. 

(Flickr image by JeepersMedia)

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