Duck Dynasty controversy - Did we all get suckered in?
Did the Duck Dynasty and the A&E folks see us coming or what? For weeks, America has been consumed with the saga of head Duck Phil Robertson and the pros and cons of his right to rant and rave about homophiliacs and his experiences with neighboring African Americans, who, according to Phil, were happy as a lark in Red Neck country when he was growing up.
Now don’t take this as a knock on being a red neck. I point to mine with pride. I’m from Ferriday, Louisiana, home of Jerry Lee Louis, country music star Mickey Gilly and Reverend Jimmy Swaggart, among other notables. Ferriday is stone’s throw, metaphorically speaking, from West Monroe in Northeast Louisiana where Phil and all the Dynasty family hang out.
I bought my first duck call, a Duck Commander, from Phil, back in 1975 when I really took to duck hunting. I had a good-sized slough in the front forty of an old plantation site I had restored on Lake Concordia just across the Mississippi River from Natchez, Mississippi. In winter, ducks coming down the Mississippi River flyway flocked to that slough, and they were there for the taking. That is, if you knew how to bring them in with a duck call.
Ole’ Phil had opened up his shop in a dilapidated shed, where he spent 25 years making duck calls from Louisiana cedar trees. And make no mistake -- his duck calls were the best. If you knew how to twill your tongue as you blew into the cigar shaped wood instrument, all the while saying "hut", "quit" or "ut," you could make a variety of ducks glide right towards your decoys. Phil’s duck calls were a significant factor in making me a pretty darn good duck hunter.
And don’t be mislead. Phil ain’t no dummy. He turned down a chance to play professional football for the Washington Redskins, and holds a Masters Degree in Education. And look at him today. With or without the A&E Network, his Duck Commander Company is turning big, really big, profits. Have you checked out the products under patriarch Phil’s label at a Wal-Mart, Target, Kmart or any number of other stores nationwide?
As you would expect, there’s a large variety of hats and T-shirts carrying the Duck Dynasty label. But don’t forget the Duck Dynasty body pillows, watches, fleece throws, fleece jackets, camo jackets, pants and shirts -- the list goes on and on. A Wal-Mart salesman in New Orleans says the demand is so high that he can’t keep enough duck duds in stock. Bloomberg News reported last week that the Duck Dynasty empire amounts to some $500 million and is growing.
So it looked like the Robertson gang had their ducks in a row and the world by the tail. But in steps the Grinch at Christmastime the A&E Network. A&E is no small time operation, being partly owned by ABC. This is not their first rodeo and they knew what they were doing. They echoed the Godfather’s tactics saying it’s strictly business. “We have our standards,” they lamented, “and Phil ‘crossed the line.’ ”
Louisiana state officials were stunned. “How could they?” demanded Governor Bobby Jindal, who accused A&E of violating Robertson’s freedom of speech and his religious liberty. Jindal either ignores the fact, or isn’t aware that these freedoms, guaranteed under the Bill of Rights, are there to keep government from interfering. When the governor maintains that A&E, a private company, has no right to determine whom it can hire or fire, then it’s the state that’s interfering with the freedoms of a private contract.
Then the lieutenant governor jumped into the fray saying the state of Louisiana would find a way to keep the show on the air. The program already gets tax breaks from the Louisiana state film and television incentive program. Do we need more tax dollars flowing to the Dynasty producers?
In reality, all the hoopla is purely academic. The whole Robertson gang, including Phil, is going nowhere. And they never were. This whole controversy was, in my opinion, a sham. Each Robertson family member individually contracts with the A&E network. If the network wants to can Phil, the other family members are contractually required to carry on or be in violation of their contracts.
So despite the ruckus, Phil will be with us for the foreseeable future. The next 14 episodes are already produced and ready for viewing, so Phil is not needed to show up again for filming until April. A few weeks suspension was a mere slap on the wrist. Or was it? As I said, A&E executives are no fools. They know their audience well. So they brought Head Duck Phil “back” before he was ever really gone.
But wasn’t that the plan all along? The controversy generated a huge windfall of publicity for A&E and the Dynasty. Millions who never heard of Duck Dynasty are now tuning in to see what the fuss is all about. A&E numbers will skyrocket driving a substantial increase in advertising revenue. The Robertson’s have become even bigger mega reality stars, and the demand for their family products continues to soar.
So did Phil Robertson and Governor Jindal stir up a cultural war as some have claimed? Heck no. It’s all about making money. A&E and the Duck Dynasty gang pulled a fast one on us.
But we really shouldn’t be surprised. After all, isn’t that what Duck Dynasty is all about? Make some loud quacks and get a variety of ducks (viewers) to glide right to where you want them – then laugh all the way to the bank.
“She may be an ugly woman but she if cooks squirrel and dumplins, that's the woman you go after”
- Phil Robertson
Peace and Justice
Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at www.jimbrownusa.com.