Duck Dynasty is sort-of a reality-TV show. I generally hate reality-TV. People are just like electrons. They change their behavior when they know they’re being watched. So there is no such thing as a reality show that actually has the capacity to capture reality. But my daughter watches reality-TV. Sometimes. I hope not too often, but she’s fifteen, and the extent of my parenting for a teenager is generally just watchful neglect. I know she actually keeps up with the Kardashians, and their androgynous friend, Bruce Jenner, because she knows all about Lamar Odom’s travails, which I found out during the Mavericks/Thunder playoff series.
To her credit, she also loves watching NBA basketball with me. Especially when the Celtics are playing. Every time she sees Rondo on the court, she squeals, “He’s so cute!” I figure that’s probably true, and also that he’s got beautiful muscles like she claims, but what I love about Rondo is the way he plays basketball. And I love the somewhat father-prodigal son relationship he has with Doc Rivers. And the way his mentor, Kevin Garnett shows him how to be the team’s floor leader. But I love KG. My heart squeals a bit when I see him trounce down the court like a Zulu warrior going to battle. His response during a post-game interview that he “…takes great pride in his craft” maybe didn’t seem like much to most people, but to me, it pretty much sums up the reason watching Kevin Garnett play basketball is so much fun. He brings it every night. He doesn’t talk about his talents and where he might take them. He talks about his “craft” and how he works hard at perfecting it. What a lesson for the youngsters.
Political pundits always talk about whether or not candidates are the sort of person voters would like to have a beer with. But really now, who in the world would want to drink beer with any politician, and particularly the two guys running for President? Is there any possible way that either of them would say anything truthful during the course of drinking a few beers? Both men seem to have become the political persona they’re trying to project, which is to say, both of them seem hollow at the core, incapable of saying anything, burdened as they are with a highly nurtured instinct to always take careful measure of the political calculus, truthful at all, not even after loosening up over a few adult beverages. I’m pretty sure neither of these two guys would ever reveal anything of their true selves to anyone except their closest confidantes, and I’m not even sure they have any real confidantes, or even know themselves well enough that they could reveal to anyone else who or what they really are. What a sad and hollow way to live, no matter how superficially successful one might otherwise be.
But I would like to have a few beers with Kevin Garnett. I’d like to look into that at times scary visage of his and figure out what it is that makes him tick. What is behind the intensity he brings to the game? It’d be easy to say he’s just another angry black man. But that would be a lazy cop-out, stereotypically stereotyping someone without really thinking. The passions that drive any man shouldn’t be used to pigeon-hole and stereotype him, but especially not one as extraordinarily passionate and gifted as is Kevin Garnett. I’d like to know how, after seventeen years of hustling, play after play up and down the court, he still manages to bring it every last minute he plays. I have a tough time bringing it for a whole day at a time. How does Garnett do it? I think Garnett, unlike the two presidential candidates, knows enough of himself to know what drives him, and I think he’d be open enough to share the secrets of his motivation (perhaps a future career when he hangs up the sneakers?), which is why I’d like to have a beer with him. If the pundits are correct, and the determining criteria for deciding upon a presidential candidate is whether or not I’d like to drink a beer with them, then Kevin’s my candidate. KG for President.
The whole Celtics basketball team amazed and inspired me this season. They really shouldn’t have made it as far as they did. The team’s toughness and competitive spirit bear the stamp of Doc River’s coaching, Garnett’s leadership and basketball aptitude, Rondo’s cerebral brilliance on the court, Ray Allen’s steadiness, Paul Pierce’s ice-cold veins, and the whole cast of supporting characters playing above and beyond the level that could be reasonably expected if ability were the lone predicting factor. It was a great season, but now that the Celtics are through and the young guns of the Heat and Thunder are shooting it out at the OK corral, I had to find another diversion.
Duck Dynasty just makes me laugh. Seriously, I can’t watch the show without a smile on my face.
The show follows the more or less daily life of a family living in West Monroe, Louisiana (I lived part-time in Monroe, Louisiana while I was in law school and my wife was working for International Paper’s mill in Bastrop) who has made a fortune with their family business of making duck calls (their primary business is called “Duck Commander”, though they also have an outfit call “Buck Commander”). The Robertson family men look as if they all lost their razors and clippers in the early eighties, sporting beards nearly down to their bellies, and hair to their shoulders. The Robertson women are decidedly less feral looking. They are all quite attractive, proving once and for all that love is blind, or at least doesn’t mind (perhaps prefers?), an itchy, ticklish beard. Or, that some women like the mountain man look. Or, that women will tolerate anything so long as there’s enough money at stake.
The family patriarch, Phil, started the business years ago, and his son Willie runs it now. Willie’s brother Jase designs the duck calls, and Phil’s brother, Uncle Si, is the general gadabout, in both the business and the family’s affairs. Si spent twenty years in the Army, so has a seeming boundless supply of witticisms and stories about his days in the military. In fact, collecting humorous stories and insights about life, love, women, food, survival in the wild, and really anything else, seems to have been the whole point behind Si’s life, and particularly of his time in the Army. Si is a treasure—the type of wise, but a little bit crazy, uncle everyone wishes they had.
The show (and the family, presumably) works because everyone takes everyone else, and themselves, and the regular turns of the day, with a grain of salt. Nothing is ever too serious for the Robertson’s.
They are the antithesis of that other dynastic television family, the Ewings of the nighttime soap opera, “Dallas”, which is back on the airwaves on TNT, with J.R. and Bobby (original cast) now playing second fiddle in the diabolical scheming to their sons. (I stumbled across an episode of the new Dallas, and was shocked to see Larry Hagman is still alive after, his life having imitated his art, he required a liver transplant to replace the one he drank to death.)
I’m sure that a lot of folks tuning in to Duck Dynasty expect to see a bunch of hillbillies who happened to get rich act like morons. That’s not how it goes down. The first thing anyone should know and understand about hillbillies or rednecks or mountain/woods folks (whatever is your preferred pejorative) is that they are not stupid, especially not any of them that manage to create a business dynasty out of manufacturing and selling duck calls, and that are then smart enough to leverage that sliver of value into a reality television show about their lives. These are very smart people who play the part of the dumb redneck brilliantly, and hilariously.
I nearly fell out of my chair when watching a piece on Uncle Si and Jase out turkey hunting one afternoon, as the two tried to decide on which of the two gobblers they had lured into a field with decoys and calls each would shoot. They are sitting side-by-side facing the field in a makeshift turkey blind. (Si uses the greeting, “Hey” in just about every sentence.)
Jase: Si, I’ll tell you what, I’ll get the one on the left.
Si: Hey, the one on your left or my left?
The scene cuts to an interview of Jase describing what is going on—a common tactic of the show and the one where the Robertson’s comedic genius really shines. Jase tells the audience that Si has got himself a real…”quandary” about which bird to shoot, the pause for making you think Jase really had to dig deep to find that word. He didn’t—Jase, like all these guys, is extremely bright—which is how he instinctively understands comedic timing so well. The scene shifts back to the turkey blind.
Jase: I’ll tell you what Si, I’ll get the one on my left, and I’ll get the one on your left.
Si: Hey, that’s a good idea.
I know the hilarity doesn’t convey well in writing, but I could hardly quit laughing. The scene didn’t seem scripted, except the part where Jase identifies Si’s quandary, which is meant to be scripted. I could imagine having had just that sort of conversation with any number of my good-ol- boy buddies through the years. Si’s question is not as stupid as it sounds at first glance, and would be perfectly acceptable among the hillbilly/redneck/mountain man set, because it is providing feedback by acknowledging Jase’s proposal, which is the real point of the communication, and by clarifying, if quite poorly, what it was exactly that Jase meant. And most of the time, clarifying directional orientation is just good sense, almost automatic amongst people living close to the land.
Duck Dynasty finishes each show with the Robertson family gathered around the dining table, saying grace over the day’s kill (squirrel, turkey, rabbit…even the occasional duck, one assumes). The whole show harkens back to a simpler time, when families lived closer to each other and to the land, because they had to in order to survive. While the hunting and fishing and trapping and blowing up duck blinds and tearing down beaver dams and gathering honey and catching crawdads are all great woodsy skills and traditions, the family actually survives, and is therefore able to indulge its passion for recalling its hunter/gatherer past, on its line of duck hunting calls, which is to say, the family has built a fortune on people wishing to express their own hunter/gatherer ancestry.
Thus there is a deep strain of Romanticism in the way the Robertson family portrays, and even perhaps lives, their lives, which is surely a fair measure of the attraction folks have for the show. People look at their own lives, immersed in materialistic banalities; their fancy houses and cars; their nine to five hours of daily boredom arising from compromises made to their soul; their relentless race to acquire ever more of the accouterments of the good life, and wonder where it all went wrong, why having it all still doesn’t make them happy. The Robertson family’s way of life, contrived though its portrayal surely is (that thing about electrons and reality shows), recalls for the viewers an idealized, romanticized past—one that never really existed but that still helps them face another day grinding it out for purposes they’ve long since forgotten. Besides that, the Robertson family is just plain funny, and fun to watch.