Hyper-Masculinity, Family Values and the Modern Reality Show

It takes about half of a second on your first watch to get a pretty good impression of the feel that Duck Dynasty is going for. The A&E reality show is all beards, barrel chests, and burly men, appealing to a classic sense of untamed American spirit that the reality show producers assume lies deep inside the hearts of the average suburban television viewer. This is all part of the most recent trend in reality television. Far from the glitz and glamour of My Super Sweet 16 or any number of former MTV hits that encourage viewers to shake their heads in disdain at the spoiled protagonists, this slew of reality programs aims to inspire nostalgia for a simple lifestyle that the viewer has never experienced. Via The New Republic:

The current TV landscape features a slew of backwoods reality shows: “Buckwild” on MTV, “Hillybilly Handfishin” on Animal Planet, “Swamp People” on the History Channel, “Redneck Island” and “Bayou Millionaires,” both on CMT. Of the group, TLC’s “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo”—with its tiny wannabe beauty queen and her rowdy Southern brood set against a backdrop of mud-diving and pig-foot-eating—has gotten the most mainstream cultural attention, generating a debate about “hixploitation” and the queasy appeal of hillbilly reality TV. But “Duck Dynasty” remains the genre’s ratings success and breakout star, in part because it is so slyly self-aware.

The “Honey Boo Boo” gang knows that they are crafting a brand, of course, and they’re good at it; they embrace country bumpkin stereotypes so fully (urging viewers to “redneck-ognize,” for instance) that it is hard not to be charmed by their total comfort with themselves. But the men of “Duck Dynasty” are savvier—after all, the show is partly a kind of promotional reel for the thriving business at its center.

In stark contrast to the despicable lifestyles paraded as example on shows like Jersey Shore, these redneck reality hits focus on reaffirming core family values in their own backwoods way. Every episode of Duck Dynasty concludes with a family dinner and prayer of thankfulness, a reassurance to the viewer that while these people may be different, their love of God and each other make them celebrities that are infinitely more moral than the usual crop of larger than life personalities. At the center of this lifestyle is the patriarchal leader, a father who espouses the old school tenets of masculinity mostly absent from popular television programming.

“Duck Dynasty” is mesmerizing in part because it makes being a man, with all its attendant ridiculousness, seem as straightforward as a punch to the face. You kill things. You eat them. You take care of your family.

This is Larry The Cable guy without the racism and with a little less shtick; and its catching on. Of course, the degree to which this is redneck God-fearing manly man vibe is manufactured is the source of some debate. Recently photos have surfaced showing the members of the Robertson family pre-Duck Dynasty and the gentlemen look clean shaven and respectable, a far cry from their rough around the edges look on the show. But does it really matter if their look isn’t entirely genuine? They represent what America wants now: reality stars without the glamour, and with a healthy dose of down to earth Americana.


The New Republic

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