If you’d kept a curious but unattentive eye on social (and national) media for the past few days, you’d think some grievous, enormous, inconceivable terror had descended on our country. You’d think Americans had finally, for the first time, looked evil in the face. You’d think another Kennedy got assassinated. But you would be wrong. Our country is facing the equivalent of nationwide simultaneous cardiac arrest because some guy who for some reason got inexplicably famous for shooting ducks said something his bosses found distasteful about the sex appeal of men’s anuses.
It makes absolutely zero sense to me, but a huge number of Americans love reality TV shows. However, a huge number of Americans are also conservative Christians who don’t love, for example, fist-pumping, anal bleaching, and illegitimate-child-bearing. The Venn diagram of these two groups has a lot of overlap, which is problematic for those in the intersection. Enter Duck Dynasty, a magically lucrative institution that simultaneously 1) is a reality show and 2) features conservative Christians. It was a money-printing machine for A&E until — who could have predicted? — one of its redneck stars did something one may have expected a redneck to do and our nation faced its greatest peril since, say, the Cold War. Has Western civilization ever confronted such an existential imperilment as the suspension of man-on-man-sex-eschewing Phil Robertson? A pretty big sector of the Internet submits that it has not.
Let’s take a close look at one episode just to parse this. “O Little Town of West Monroe” was aired earlier this month, and watching it is like getting poked in the eyeballs. It features hilarious punchlines like “Yup. That just happened” and “I’m a loose cannon, a maverick. I shoot from the hip. Two hips” and “We go through boats like Sy goes through teeth” and “What part of whispering are y’all not getting?” A veritable treasure trove of zingy zing-zingers.
The storyline of the episode, as it were, is about Duck Dynasty’s Christmas pageant and the efforts of Phil Robertson of anal-sensation-theoreticizing fame to catch a wild hog that the family can eat for dinner. Here are some of the ostensibly funny parts: There’s a protracted argument between characters about whether it’s called frankincense or Franken scent. There’s a repeated gag (gag in scare quotes) where the character Jase refers to himself as “Cut to the chase Jase,” and it’s not that funny the first time, and it becomes decreasingly amusing over the course of the approximately 45-minute episode until when he says it for the last time you want to just rub shampoo in your eyes and pretend television had never been created. There’s a lot of high-larious stuff like that. Oh, and the worst part is that there’s this twangy guitar music that plays right after any character says something you’re supposed to think is funny; it’s like a laugh track, but, astoundingly, is even more obnoxious.
Oh, I almost forgot, there’s also this protracted subplot about the character Jep who plays the innkeeper in the Nativity play and so has only one line but is worried he won’t remember it. Oh no! Will he remember his line? Or will he forget it? What will happen? So much suspense! Riveting stuff. It’s very weird to me that people find this kind of thing funny. It’s just really weird.
If there’s anything worthwhile in Duck Dynasty, it’s that it’s maybe — maybe — an indictment of watching reality TV on your couch all day (slack-jawed, glaze-eyed, sponge-spined, in an effort to bring your prefrontal-cortex activity to the lowest discernible level) instead of, say, walking around outside or talking to your family members or making up a bizarro nickname for yourself and repeating it over and over to random people who you delusionally assume will find it funny.
Anyway, it’s curious that our country is having a collective aneurysm over the possibility that we might lose this national treasure. I say, good riddance. Boycott A&E, suspend Phil Robertson, and maybe — crazy idea! — maybe go shoot an actual duck.
— Betsy Woodruff is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.