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) }}

MOST READ
What We're Following See More »
FORMERLY THE DEPT’S TOP ATTORNEY
Transportation Sec. Names Special Adviser for Metro System
8 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has appointed a veteran legal insider with strong personal ties to the Obama administration to serve as his special adviser focused exclusively on fixing the Washington region’s troubled Metro system. Kathryn Thomson, who was expected to leave her job as the Department of Transportation’s top lawyer, instead will stay on as Foxx’s special adviser on Metro oversight." She'll start this week.

Source:
DEATH PENALTY CASE
SCOTUS Finds Racial Bias in Jury Selection
11 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"The Supreme Court on Monday ruled that prosecutors in Georgia violated the Constitution by striking every black prospective juror in a death penalty case against a black defendant. The vote was 7 to 1, with Justice Clarence Thomas dissenting. The case, Foster v. Chatman, No. 14-8349, arose from the 1987 trial of Timothy T. Foster, an African-American facing the death penalty for killing Queen Madge White, an elderly white woman, when he was 18."

Source:
RETRACTED FUNDING
Congressional Report Says NFL Tried To Influence Concussion Study
11 hours ago
THE LATEST

report from House Democrats charges that NFL officials retracted funding for a $16 million NIH study on head injuries after repeated unsuccessful attempts to direct the money away from a Boston University researcher and instead to scientists who might be more favorable to the league. Democrats have been trying to go after the NFL over its handling of concussion science, although the sport's popularity and increased lobbying presence has made that difficult. The new revelations about meddling in the NIH study should offer more ammo. 

Source:
THE QUESTION
How Much Has Trump Loaned His Campaign?
18 hours ago
THE ANSWER

"More than $43 million, although the loans are loans in name only — Trump says he has no intention of recouping the cash."

Source:
NO STAFF IN OHIO
Trump Has the Poll Numbers; Does He Have the Organization?
18 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

While Donald Trump's poll numbers are steadily climbing, he "trails far behind" Hillary Clinton "in organizing in key general-election states. Ohio ... presents both ... Trump's best opportunity to carry a big swing state and reveals his team's steep logistical challenges. After winning the GOP nomination on a tight budget with a skeletal staff ... Trump doesn't have any general-election staff in the state, and senior aides in New York and Washington haven't made contact with the state Republican Party. Efforts to recruit the state's experienced operatives who helped elect" John Kasich "have so far been unsuccessful, people familiar with the matter said." Clinton "has a small team of full-time aides in Ohio."

Source:
×