Let Rednecks be Rednecks: A Gay Man's Defense of Phil Robertson
In the four seasons that Duck Dynasty has been on the air, if anyone thought the Robertsons were not homophobes and misogynists, then they haven't been watching closely. Phil's wife Kay is a good-natured dingbat, blowing flour-covered kisses and staring with Nancy Regan eyes at the bearded specter of her camo-covered man. During her wedding renewal ceremony, the former 16 year old bride says to Phil, "I loved you when we were poor and not so nice."
It doesn't take much to imagine how "not so nice" the reformed alcoholic used to be. In an interview with The 700 Club the couple confessed that before he found Jesus, Robertson kicked Kay and his three sons out of the house so he could pursue sex, drugs and rock and roll. On the show, he often looks ready to slap Kay just to stop her constant "chatter." He shoots daggers when he finds his young granddaughters texting on their cell phones. Money, fame and a constant camera crew might have softened his redneck heart, but they haven't changed his beliefs. When an ostensibly gay city photographer comes to take their "portrait," Phil seethes with barely concealed disgust.
It's all funny and makes for great TV. The show's popularity rests on a crisis of masculinity in American culture: the modern question of what it means to be a man in light of urbanity, feminism and metrosexuality. Underneath lies a thinly veiled homophobia and misogyny. Duck Dynasty has created a comic situation in which the straight white male can be the butt of the jokes but keep his ego intact. He remains victorious and proud of his oafish, lazy and slovenly ways because his woman adores him and he is ultimately successful: he brings home the bacon. Either by hunting for it in the woods, or selling it to corporate America.
This is an important, and I would say, almost necessary counterpoint to the male-bashing that goes on in mainstream media. We need a place where these tensions in our society can be examined and laughed at. But make no mistake, the subtext of what we're laughing at is homophobia and misogyny. We shouldn't be surprised when Robertson states it bluntly. Nor should he be punished for expressing openly what the show has been suggesting covertly.
Phil Robertson is the modern day Archie Bunker. He should make us uncomfortable. We should be disturbed by the show's narrow gender views, flagrant gun worship and open hatred of anything refined and cultured. This doesn't mean that it's not entertaining or relevant. It's funny precisely because it challenges some of our sacred beliefs and relevant because it confronts our opposing ideals of masculinity.
In a free society, it's constructive to make room for racism, misogyny and homophobia, even in the sacred realm of television: to question it, study it, and to release our tensions and laugh at it.
Martin Cloutier teaches Creative Writing at Brooklyn College. He has been published in Post Road, Tampa Review, Shenandoah, New English Review, Natural Bridge, Story Quarterly, SmokeLong Quarterly, The Bryant Literary Review, The Portland Review, Bombay Gin and The Southeast Review.