All Ducked Up: Reality TV, Not So Real

Phil Robertson, the patriarch of the inexplicably successful reality show on A&E, Duck Dynasty, has been suspended from appearing on camera for an unspecified time, after an interview was published in GQ in which he compared homosexuality to bestiality, and opined that homosexuality was “not logical” because, among other things, “It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus.”

Although his anti-gay comments have drawn much of the attention, there were several other doozies in the interview, particularly on race:

I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field…. They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!… Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.

and his perceived supremacy of Christianity:

All you have to do is look at any society where there is no Jesus. I’ll give you four: Nazis, no Jesus. Look at their record. Uh, Shintos? They started this thing in Pearl Harbor. Any Jesus among them? None. Communists? None. Islamists? Zero. That’s eighty years of ideologies that have popped up where no Jesus was allowed among those four groups. Just look at the records as far as murder goes among those four groups.

This, of course, is the unvarnished Robertson. While he’s managed, somehow, despite the excessive media attention he’s received, to keep his homophobia hidden from public view until now, his conservative religious views have been no secret. “Without Jesus, evil always reigns,” he recently told an audience of college students.

A&E, now attempting to distance itself from Robertson’s ugly views (“We are extremely disappointed to have read Phil Robertson’s comments in GQ, which are based on his own personal beliefs and not reflected in the series Duck Dynasty,” says a statement from the network that was sent to PEOPLE. “His personal views in no way reflect those of A&E Networks, who have always been strong supporters and champions of the LGBT community. The network has placed Phil under hiatus from filming indefinitely.” ) , has been complicit in presenting a sanitized view of Robertson. The Robertsons even have complained of the network’s editing out of religious references, apparently to make the Robertsons more appealing to a broader audience.

The network of course has an interest in portraying the Robertsons as apolitical, all-American, regular folk, similar to TLC’s treatment of the anti-contraception Duggars as mainstream Christians. After the new season of Duck Dynasty premiered in August to a record 11.8 million viewers, an A&E executive told Entertainment Weekly, “Thanks to its authentic and engaging characters Duck Dynasty has become more than just a reality show, it is a cultural phenomenon.”

Well, engaging, yes (to its massive audience, at least), but authentic, no. And why? Because A&E erased what is “authentic” about the Robertsons. As a Washington Post profile, published at the height of Duck Dynasty media frenzy this summer, noted, “Beyond Phil’s continual celebration of women who know how to cook and carry the Bible, ‘Duck Dynasty’ is resolutely nonpolitical. We have no idea how the Robertsons feel about gay marriage or civil rights or the Obama administration. Their heated opinions are reserved for pesky neighbors who challenge them to lawn-mower races.”