Why ‘Duck Dynasty’ was the Biggest Story of the Week

Phil Robertson’s firing from A&E found emotional resonance by confirming liberals’ and conservatives’ worst suspicions of the other side.

(L-R) Willie Robertson, Phil Robertson and Si Robertson of Duck Dynasty attend the A+E Networks 2012 Upfront at Lincoln Center on May 9, 2012 in New York City.
National Journal
Alex Seitz-Wald
Dec. 21, 2013, 9:39 a.m.

If you’re con­fused how a duck-hunt­ing en­tre­pren­eur’s dis­par­aging com­ments about gay people be­came the biggest news story of the week, you’re not alone.

There were plenty of oth­er things to talk about, from Ir­an and Syr­ia, to Obama­care and the NSA, yet Duck Dyn­asty star Phil Robertson’s sus­pen­sion from A&E com­manded by far the most in­terest, as any­one who mon­it­ors traffic for news web­sites could tell you. The story has stayed atop the news rank­ing site Memeor­andum‘s lead­er­board for the past three days and ab­so­lutely dom­in­ated Google searches com­pared to oth­er stor­ies:

Why? You could blame a slow news week, our in­fatu­ation with celebrity cul­ture, the me­dia’s love of inan­ity, etc. But I’ll haz­ard an­oth­er guess: The story provided pro­found psy­cho­lo­gic­al sat­is­fac­tion for both sides in the cul­ture war by con­firm­ing deep, ugly sus­pi­cions of the oth­er side.

Take two of the most cited columns from the right and the left, which gen­er­ally en­cap­su­lated the re­sponse from either side.

Matt Lewis wrote at the con­ser­vat­ive Daily Caller that the con­tro­versy ex­posed that “there really are two Amer­icas” — a con­ser­vat­ive, rur­al, Chris­ti­an Amer­ica that feels un­der at­tack from a cos­mo­pol­it­an, blue Amer­ica.

Re­spond­ing to Lewis from the left, Busi­ness In­sider‘s Josh Barro agreed, but ad­ded that “one [Amer­ica] is bet­ter than the oth­er.” There’s the one where it’s OK to de­hu­man­ize gays as sub­hu­man and claim that blacks were hap­pi­er un­der Jim Crow than they are today, as Robertson sug­ges­ted, and then there’s the bet­ter one where it’s not OK to say those things, Barro ar­gues.

Each column eli­cited a chor­us of “amens” from their re­spect­ive side, and therein lies the ap­peal of the Robertson saga.

For urb­an lib­er­als, it’s hard to find a more car­toon­ishly dis­tilled ste­reo­type of the Amer­ic­an South and mod­ern con­ser­vat­ive mas­culin­ity than Phil Robertson, with his ZZ Top beard, cam­ou­flage everything, and molasses Louisi­ana drawl. So Robertson’s com­ments were seem­ingly con­firm­a­tion of the urb­an lib­er­al’s worst sus­pi­cions about South­ern White con­ser­vat­ives: They really are all as big­oted as I thought!

Of course that’s not en­tirely true, but it’s much easi­er to think of the oth­er side as a car­toon than as a com­plex, nu­anced hu­man, so this kind of ap­par­ent con­firm­a­tion provides deep sat­is­fac­tion that the way you think you un­der­stand the world is ac­tu­ally true and has been all along.

For con­ser­vat­ives, it’s the in­verse. A&E’s (read: the lib­er­al me­dia) de­cision to fire Robertson and the Left’s glee at his re­mov­al is con­firm­a­tion that your world and everything you hold dear really is un­der at­tack. Urb­an lib­er­als really do hate my Chris­ti­an, tra­di­tion­al, rur­al val­ues. This coun­try really is slip­ping away.

As Lewis wrote, the Right sees it as “an at­tack on ‘un­soph­ist­ic­ated’ coun­try folks as much as it is an at­tack on or­tho­dox Chris­tian­ity.” Amer­ica is be­com­ing a coun­try con­ser­vat­ives no longer re­cog­nize, and when a guy like Robertson gets fired for es­pous­ing a deeply held re­li­gious be­lief — a view shared, by the way, by al­most half of Amer­ic­ans — that is ter­ri­fy­ing. Mark Steyn wrote Fri­day in the Na­tion­al Re­view that the fir­ing pres­ages an “age of in­tol­er­ance” against Chris­ti­ans.

Of course, both sides’ re­duc­tion­ist views are in­com­plete. But the sat­is­fac­tion of feel­ing like you were just giv­en li­cense to con­tin­ue hold­ing that in­com­plete view — and to re­main in­side your com­fort­able bubble — is what drove so many clicks and Tweets and com­ments on the Robertson story.

It’s li­cense to con­tin­ue mis­un­der­stand­ing the oth­er side.

{{ BIZOBJ (video: 4636) }}

What We're Following See More »
ANOTHER MEETING WITH PRIEBUS
Trump to Meet with Ryan, Leadership Next Week
6 minutes ago
THE LATEST

A day after saying he could not yet support Donald Trump's presidential bid, House Speaker Paul Ryan has invited the billionaire to a meeting in Washington next week with House leadership. Ryan and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus will also meet separately with Trump. 

Source:
‘EXACTING STANDARDS’
Obama on Trump: ‘This Is a Really Serious Job’
24 minutes ago
THE DETAILS

"President Obama used the White House podium on Friday to dismiss Donald Trump as an unserious candidate to succeed him, and said leading the country isn't a job that's suited to reality show antics." At a briefing with reporters, the president said, "I just want to emphasize the degree to which we are in serious times and this is a really serious job. This is not entertainment. This is not a reality show. This is a contest for the presidency of the United States. And what that means is that every candidate, every nominee needs to be subject to exacting standards and genuine scrutiny."

Source:
MORE EXECUTIVE ORDERS
Panama Papers Spur White House to Crack Down on Evasion
2 hours ago
THE DETAILS

In the The White House on Thursday night unveiled a series of executive actions to combat money laundering—"among the most comprehensive response yet to the Panama Papers revelations." The president's orders will tighten transparency rules, close loopholes that allow "foreigners to hide financial activity behind anonymous entities in the U.S., and demand stricter “customer due diligence” rules for banks.

Source:
THE QUESTION
Who’s #NeverTrump Courting as Possible Candidates
2 hours ago
THE ANSWER

The #NeverTrump movement is now mulling the idea of recruiting a candidate to run as an independent or under a third-party banner. But who might it be? The Hill offers a preliminary list.

  • Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE)
  • Mitt Romney
  • 2012 (and perhaps 2016) Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson
  • Former Marine Gen. John Kelly
  • Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI)
  • Former Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK)
  • South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley
  • Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)
Source:
362,000 JOBS ADDED
‘Mildly Disappointing’ Jobs Report
3 hours ago
THE DETAILS

The U.S. economy added 160,000 jobs in April, a "mildly disappointing" result relative to the 200,000 expected, according to the New York Times' Neil Irwin. On the plus side, hourly earnings were up 2.5% from a year ago. But on the other hand, "the labor force shrank by 362,000 people and the labor force participation rate fell by 0.2 percentage points."

Source:
×