Meanwhile, with intermittent success, the women enlist their husbands to prepare an outdoor church for the wedding. Moving the pews, the boys keep taking breaks to rest; one complains, “I can’t feel my hands.” When one of the women asks for a volunteer, Willie warns, “Never volunteer for anything when you don’t know what it is. Didn’t you see The Hunger Games?”
Eventually, though, everything comes together, and, in a ceremony both humble and reverent, Phil and Kay renew their vows before God, nature, and their extended family.
Duck Dynasty appeals to audiences for several reasons. The characters are quite entertaining: The deadpan humor is on target more often than not, and sometimes the show is laugh-out-loud funny. And there is the deeper appeal of the show’s humble celebration of family and faith. As one brother comments, “Only three things matter: God, family, ducks.”
As a society, we are well down the road toward the desacralization of marriage, which is in danger of becoming nothing more than a contractual arrangement covered by a veneer of romantic affection. How far we’ve fallen is evident from the popularity of shows such as The Bachelor
and The Bachelorette
, which apparently represent contemporary romantic courtship. But, the prospect of celebrity and financial gain aside, what self-respecting man or woman would continue to date someone who was simultaneously making out with three or four other prospects?
Most episodes of Duck Dynasty end with the entire family, three generations, gathered around a dinner table as Phil offers grace, most often thanking God for the gifts of place, family, and food — some of the latter having been gathered (that is, hunted) from what one character calls “God’s grocery store.”
These are real men, but they are not super macho men, as some superficial reviews have claimed. How macho, after all, can duck hunters be?
Much of the humor in the show comes from situations in which big, burly guys end up afraid or wimpy. Some of them are unable, for example, to remain outdoors camping all night on the eve of duck season because of a lack of good food and the threat of mosquitoes. In the season premiere, Jep is reduced to blubbering while watching his parents renew their vows, as his brother Jase scolds, “Keep it together.”
The female characters temper the masculinity of the show. The women of Duck Dynasty are not the crude, physically unseemly women of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, nor are they the “real housewives” of New Jersey or Atlanta, whose lives are a soul-sapping cocktail, equal parts vanity and misery. They are attractive, articulate, and tough, with manifest affection for their husbands and children.
When the men need instruction, sometimes the women intervene directly; other times they let them figure things out on their own. In one episode, Willie, acting on the protective impulses of a father, takes his daughter shopping for a less sexy dress than the one she was planning to wear to an event. Claiming he has his “finger on the pulse of the fashion industry,” he rejects one dress after another, observing of one, “There’s no top; it’s halfway done. We need full coverage.” As the unacceptable dresses pile up on the floor, Willie asks his daughter, “Do you know what a burka is?”
Coming to the rescue of his flustered nephew, Si (who has spent his time in the clothing store flirting with and dismembering a mannequin and trying on outfits that make him look like a “Cajun pimp”) tells Willie, “You’re overbearing. Your girl has turned into a beautiful young woman before your eyes, and you’re not handling it very well.”
The episode ends the way the classic American sitcom used to end, with the family members reaffirming their love for one another, forgiving minor transgressions, and imparting modest lessons to one another and the viewers alike. That’s more than a minuscule achievement in the world of American popular culture.
— Thomas Hibbs is dean of the Honors College at Baylor University. An updated and expanded version of his book Shows about Nothing was published last year by Baylor University Press.