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 »
STAFF PICKS
What the Current Crop of Candidates Could Learn from JFK
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Much has been made of David Brooks’s recent New York Times column, in which confesses to missing already the civility and humanity of Barack Obama, compared to who might take his place. In NewYorker.com, Jeffrey Frank reminds us how critical such attributes are to foreign policy. “It’s hard to imagine Kennedy so casually referring to the leader of Russia as a gangster or a thug. For that matter, it’s hard to imagine any president comparing the Russian leader to Hitler [as] Hillary Clinton did at a private fund-raiser. … Kennedy, who always worried that miscalculation could lead to war, paid close attention to the language of diplomacy.”

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Maher Weighs in on Bernie, Trump and Palin
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

“We haven’t seen a true leftist since FDR, so many millions are coming out of the woodwork to vote for Bernie Sanders; he is the Occupy movement now come to life in the political arena.” So says Bill Maher in his Hollywood Reporter cover story (more a stream-of-consciousness riff than an essay, actually). Conservative states may never vote for a socialist in the general election, but “this stuff has never been on the table, and these voters have never been activated.” Maher saves most of his bile for Donald Trump and Sarah Palin, writing that by nominating Palin as vice president “John McCain is the one who opened the Book of the Dead and let the monsters out.” And Trump is picking up where Palin left off.

Source:
×