Reality television is our culture’s pervasive oxymoron. Airwaves and satellite systems are so rife with pre-planned “spontaneity” that one begins to wonder just what is real these days.
The proliferation of this genre is, like most of television, motivated by commerce. The shows are relatively cheap to produce and therefore can “narrow-cast” to smaller audiences and still pull a profit for the companies that put them on.
As a great radio comedian of a different time once said, “imitation is the sincerest form of television” and that sums up the reason there seem to be three dozen shows all about people living in the wild frontier of Alaska.
Every now and then a show comes along that captures the culture’s attention, and produces epic ratings and generates a substantial bump in the pop culture line chart, setting itself apart from the rest. Such is the case of the show “Duck Dynasty.”
To the uninitiated, the show revolves around a family business of duck call makers in a small town in Louisiana. There are extended family members and employees who are treated much more like family members than employees.
The show is contrived in many ways and it follows the template of many “reality” shows that have come before and will be the blueprint for most of the “reality” shows that will come after.
But what sets “Duck Dynasty” apart for me is not the controversy earlier this year surrounding patriarch Phil Robertson. Controversy is the coin of the realm for most reality television and the temporary “suspension” of Phil Robertson was short lived and frankly not of great interest to me.
What I do find most interesting about this show and what makes me watch despite the sometimes clumsy artifice they employ to create a storyline for their episodes, is the family’s faith — a cornerstone of the show.
Now Phil Robertson and I probably do not have the exact same understanding of the faith and I would probably get my hair singed if I heard what he really thinks about Catholics. That doesn’t interest me either.
The Robertson clan is committed to a belief that God so loved the world he sent his only begotten Son to redeem it through his death and resurrection — hard for me to pick a bone with that.
This walk in faith has been a journey for the Robertsons. This is where I think the “Duck Dynasty” story gets compelling. By his own admission and public knowledge, Phil Robertson was not always so godly. In fact, it’s safe to say he was a hell raiser.
His early married life was one of violence, drugs, alcohol and abuse. The bearer of the brunt of this disaster was his wife, Miss Kay. The hellacious roller coaster ride that Phil Robertson put his wife and young children on during his long dark night of the soul would have sent many other women packing.
In a way it did. To maintain her own dignity and for her sanity and safety, Miss Kay did move away from her husband…But she did not divorce him. She must have suffered greatly.
Why on earth did she not divorce her dangerous and cruel husband? Miss Kay’s understanding of marriage is different from the prevailing winds of today.
She believes marriage is a vow she, Miss Kay, made to her husband before God. That Phil in his wanderings failed to live up to his vows had little to do with the promise Miss Kay made.
And through her prayer and her strength and her courage, her wayward husband saw the light…literally. He begged for forgiveness and it was granted, he asked his wife how he could change and be a real husband and a real father, and she tilted him toward his relationship with the Lord.
The rest, as they say, is history. Phil’s duck calls and the ensuing television show about his family has made them millions of dollars, but what makes this television family real, what makes it noticeable is not the money or the contrived situations they get themselves involved in on a weekly basis.
It is the simple story of sin and salvation and love — the love of a woman who would not be moved from her promise and the love of God, as administered by his most loving Son, which offers redemption to us all.
Phil Robertson, imperfect as he is, takes his place at the head of show ending dinner table and humbly thanks God for his graces. The stalwart Miss Kay, who remained married to a man during the worst part of the better or worse vows, personifies that grace.
It doesn’t get much more real than that.