Media / Television

tv’s millionaire redneck family may not be so problematic after all

A&E’s newest foray into reality television— Duck Dynasty— follows the Robertson family of “millionaire rednecks” residing in West Monroe, Louisiana. On Duck Dynasty, the men all wear beards and the women are almost always seen in the kitchen, cooking of course. It goes without saying that everyone who appears on the show is white. The family seems to be aware of their antiquated ways—Miss Kay the grandmother/family matriarch describes her role as akin to the cave woman. This show should be problematic on so many levels, but here’s the thing: it’s not so problematic after all. Yes, the patriarch of the family says that its hard to find a woman who both carries a Bible and cooks these days, and yes, they really do shoot everything. Well, except for people as far as I can tell. They eat squirrel brains, they blow things up, they drive ridiculous gas guzzling trucks, they wear camo-something every second of every day. They live up to a lot of redneck stereotypes, but they do this with self-awareness. Also, I should point out that the show is “guided reality”. In other words: those explosions, gun shots, and brotherly competitions are thrown in there for our viewing pleasure.

The family recently became millionaires off duck calls. Despite their business Duck Commander’s success, Phil and Miss Kay (CEO Willie’s parents) chooses to live pretty simply. That is, everyone except for Willie lives simply. Willie and his wife live in a mansion with their children. Willie’s father, the family patriarch Phil, calls all of his “grandbabies” yuppies. This juxtaposition of life on the land with the twenty first century makes the show interesting. Phil tries to educate his grandchildren in the ways of manual labor, hunting, and nature and meanwhile the family interacts with the encroaching world of technology, materialism, consumerism, and social stigmas. They exist in sort of a weird space. The only reason they have a television show is because of the social cache of being millionaires, but not just any millionaires—“redneck” millionaires. (I use the word “redneck”, because that’s how they describe themselves.) The financial success of the family business supports the family’s antics on the show. The business remains un-industrialized. There are no assembly lines and limited machinery at the Duck Commander headquarters. The duck calls are handmade in a small room by a a handful of bearded men. Camera shots of Willie’s mansion, private helicopter, and golf country club intermingle with shots of squirrels cooking, beavers, ducks, snakes, mud, and family dinners. iPhones and Macbook Pros exist alongside guns, four-wheelers, mason jars, iced tea, and goats. It seems to me like Phil is fighting a losing battle. Although the sons seem to be enmeshed in the whole “man in the woods lifestyle”, the yuppie grandkids seem to live more in the twenty first century. However, fourteen year old Sadie’s boyfriend, who also happens to be the quarterback, is proficient with guns, ammo, the word “sir”, camo, and he can shoot a snake into pieces in under 3 seconds. Sadie’s dad Willie approves.

Overall, the role of women on this show, at first, seems deeply problematic, but Miss Kay wields just as much influence and power as her husband Phil. There is a patriarch and a matriarch in this family. Something about this show draws you in—it might be the awesome camera shots of things like explosions, frogs jumping, or Miss Kay’s biscuits rising in the oven. This show plays into a lot of classical American values like: the importance of family, religion, and hunting. At the same time, it exposes a highly criticized and ridiculed region and culture of the USA. Oftentimes targeted for racism, sexism, and ignorance in general—rednecks generally have a bad reputation. But these things don’t seem to encroach on the Robertson’s lives, at least not on the show. Can you imagine educated rednecks? That’s sort of the Robertson family. It’s hard to tell if this family succumbs to any classification as simple as “redneck” or even “millionaire”, but it’s clear that Phil and Miss Kay actively subvert the stereotypes of both of these terms through their unique lifestyle. They do not live in the same way as bourgeois America, despite the financial means to live this way. And they live in the same way as most rednecks, except without the struggles of poverty and a lack of education. For some reason, the producers chose to make Willie the center of the show. Willie seems to have transitioned away from the “old way” of doing things more than the others, and this tension between the old and the new keeps the show interesting. Generally, each spat ends in a victory for the “old way” and an acknowledgment that this family must preserve their way of life so that it doesn’t go extinct in a modern world.

Money corrupts, so does power. I’m not sure what these corrupting influences mean for this family. For now, this family exhibits intelligence, wit, and prosperity that defy our standard definitions of success and intelligence. There is no pettiness here like on most reality shows. The brothers squabble, but it’s humorous and physical, not petty and mean. People’s movements and relations to one another seem loosely defined on the show. Obviously the family operates differently in real life than they do on the show, but the show raises interesting questions about the nature of family, society, gender roles, and wealth in America. I’m waiting for some secret to emerge—like that the wives really hate each other, or that they fight about money. I look for signs of animosity or bad feelings or evidence that they are motivated by money or stardom. But so far, there’s none of that. What we’re seeing, maybe for the first time, is a loving family on reality television. A caring, devoted, resourceful, and genuine family. The show has no need for the drama of most reality TV, because the redneck elements add enough interest, humor, and plot points to keep the show moving. Episodes center around issues like beaver dams or frog legs—hunting, not drama. The show and this family give us an alternative lifestyle—one that emphasizes living off the land, local foods, interdependence, and land preservation. The show works because each episode ends in the same way: with the family at the dinner table. The viewer knows that at the end of the day/episode the family hunts, cooks, prays, eats. In that order.

I wish I could say that Duck Dynasty is deeply-super problematic and only perpetuates stereotypes of the South and portrays subservient women, but in fact its much more complicated than that. I can only really say that the show has some problematic elements, like most television shows. My biggest complaint is about the sexist jokes, but the wives carry their own on the show and by no means play the role of the docile housewife. I’m writing this to say that sometimes the things we originally think of as deeply problematic—sometimes those same things subtly confront, subvert, and muddy our preconceived notions about people and places. Sometimes, in the most problematic of venues (in this case reality television), with some of the most frustrating elements—religion, the South, wealth—we see things in a fresh light.

13 thoughts on “tv’s millionaire redneck family may not be so problematic after all

  1. Great to see a libtard “get it” when it comes to actually witnessing family values. I am sure a non-problamatic show or situation for you is one with gays proudly displaying the queer-ness, women denying their biological purpose at all cost. Pro-abortion opinions and anything else politcally correct today’s socially engineered populations. When your world collapases, and it will, families like the Robertsons will be the survivors and leaders out of the progressive rubble.

    • I totally agree with you Fred! I am from the south and was raised to say sir and mam, to give someone my seat if there aren’t any left, to work for what I want and I’m a better person for it and expect the same from my children.

    • I happen to be a “libertard” and I’m also a redneck. You can not be a homophobe, racist biggot and still be a redneck. Hell, I love god, but I also support a woman’s right to choose, because at the end of the day her choices don’t effect me or my chances of getting into heaven. It seems to me like the conservatives are the ones who only complain, hence the fact that you are the only one complaining on these comments. :) my family is much like the robertsons, we hunt, women cook and clean (because I love cooking) BUT we don’t spew hatred at other’s choices. And I fully support everyone’s right to believe in what they want. How can you be a catholic or good Christian and not expect others to also have beliefs?

  2. Alex, really great work here at delving into some complicated subject matter– how does tradition contend with progress? what are the power structures within a large family? . I’m not much for reality television/A&E so I haven’t watched the show, but you’ve certainly peaked my interest. Way to provoke a conversation.

    Fred, I’m not sure what “proudly displaying queer-ness” means, but I’d love to see it on television.

  3. One thing that I do like about the show (and there’s a lot that I like) is that it brings a clearer definition to the label “redneck”. This family refers to themselves as rednecks and so does my family. It wasn’t until I was worked with a young black man that I found out that to many people the term “redneck” connotates racisist. I was shocked. My family isn’t racist but they sure are rednecks..lol. I was pleased to see in one episode of Duck Dynasty that the main character, Willie, adopted a baby (little Willie) who appears to be at least part black. Willie, being a proud father, said that the young man is turning out to be a real fine Robertson! These folks are good entertainment and have plenty to teach their viewers :) I’d recommended the show to anyone who like good, clean, funny entertainment

  4. It is refreshing to watch a reality show that keeps family values the center of each episode.
    Although, who really knows what the original intent of the production company executives were expecting?
    I am extremely grateful an educated, respectable, and most important loving women like myself clearly recognises my same traits in this family.
    So aside from sometimes seemingly prearranged events occurring… Inevitably, the raw funny physical and verbal reactions captured reflect the values truly known.
    So thank you for the enjoyment and I only hope that in the Robertson’s families positive dynamic off camera continues so we can be enlightened by the love of their family- in the future.
    America needs shows like this to keep us regular folks inspired.

    • Really, Fred? “Libtard”? “Liberality” means looking at all factors and effects before forming an opinion and hopefully doing so before opening your yapper. Sometines a liberal will even say, “I don’t know enough to speak to that.” I know a lot of liberal rednecks and a lot of thoughtless tenderfeet. Why insert your nastiness into an otherwise thoughtful discussion?

  5. It’s sad we live in a world where you have to qualify that it’s okay calling the Robertson’s rednecks because they call themselves that. Political correctness is the real culprit ruining America!

  6. It’s a great show but It’s not the first time we’ve seen a living family on a reality show. I think Run’s House was one of the first to show a loving & successful family on reality tv. However, this show does give a little more insight into a part of our society that many people have negative opinions about. I hope to see more shows do this with other groups in our society. Maybe those who work on wall street, people in low income neighborhoods, or even illegal immigrants.

    • Lets be honest, no one wants to see Pablo Rodriguez pick strawberries while his wife Gloria manages cleaning houses and taking care of 7 kids. As for the low income, we have tons of shows already on air depicting young black males spreading stds, having babies they never intend on keeping and shooting or killing one another, its called the news. While this may come off as racist it is the truth.

  7. This article is mistaken in stating that all the people on DD are white. Willie’s younger son Little Will is in fact black, and appears occasionally as we’ll as Willie’s oldest adopted daughter who is Asain. I don’t see any overtones of racism here other than the authors perspective.

  8. I live in Southern Illinois. If a state ever needed to be split it’s ours. (I can’t travel out of state with people assuming ALWAYS that I must be from Chicago…they can’t figure out why I have a southern accent. If we had it our way their would be a North and a South in Illinois.) The way the Robertson’s live is the normal for us. My kids love to watch DD because minus the expensive toys, this is our life. I have a college degree, I am a professional, and I am Redneck as all get out! I still hang the wash on the line, plant a garden, can food, bake etc…and eating squirrel, rabbit, dove, quail, deer, along with the livestock grown for our own consumption. There is a huge misconception about what my Mammy used to call the people who are “the salt of the earth”. Put me in the woods any day, ya’ll can keep your subway.

  9. The duck calls are assembled out of made in china plastic parts in the families building. The more expensive calls that are “made in the usa” are machines out of acrylic by machine shops and are assembled in the families building along with the chinese made calls costing 35.00.

    There is no more hand making. It is hand assembling.

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