Okay, I’m kidding. Sort of. Am I?
You have surely seen, on this site and others, in print and on TV, a lot of words devoted to the phenomenon of Duck Dynasty, the A&E show that has climbed to the top of the cable ratings mountain.
It is the stream of consciousness of the Robertson clan, whose patriarch Phil is the spark behind two things-- a very successful duck call company, and a family engaging and funny enough to draw millions of viewers each week to TV’s most talked-about program.
There have been shows over the years about people of strong faith, and shows about people who are quirky, and there are always shows that succeed and plenty that fail.
But the Duck Dynasty clan has captured a kind of lightning in a bottle that may be the stuff of genuine hope for our society.
The recent Bible miniseries was a huge hit on the History channel. Even heathen Hollywood noticed, greenlighting a number of projects designed to bring us stories from the Good Book. The popularity of such broadcasts will show us that the American public’s tastes sometimes go deeper than family-unfriendly sitcoms and staged reality competitions.
(A brief aside about that genre: real competitions like “American Idol” can be fun, and the currently hot “America’s Got Talent” is genuinely inspiring at times. It is phony garbage like “Big Brother” that earns my deepest revulsion, along with the “Bachelor/Bachelorette” one-two punch that is perhaps the most amoral exercise in TV history.)
I was a latecomer to “Dynasty” fandom. I grew tired of people beating me to death about how great it was. I know, I know, and so is “Breaking Bad” and “Mad Men” and “Boardwalk Empire” and “Storage Wars” and dozens of other shows from big-ticket dramas to little undiscovered gems atomized across the landscape of my satellite grid.
But because people raved about the uplifting values of the show, my wife and I checked in about a year ago. We were charmed and amazed, and hooked. So was our ten-year-old son, who can actually watch it without our hands over his eyes and ears for those “gotcha” moments that arise so often in other shows made hostile for family viewing because everything has to be hip enough for the Godless millennials.
Most shows aimed for adults, even some very good ones, have far too many violence, sex and language issues for family viewing. Conversely, while we love watching Disney and Nickelodeon shows with our boy, our brains can only take so much Sponge Bob and “Dog With a Blog.”
So here it was: a show about grownups that grownups can enjoy with their kids by their sides, with everyone “happy happy happy,” as Phil would describe.
The fourth season is under way, but A&E wisely airs reruns all the time, allowing stragglers to get caught up. There are dozens of older shows we have not seen yet. We are loving noting how Jase’s beard had not grown out or Miss Kay’s hair was different or Willie’s kids look so young.
Which brings us to Willie, and his Dad. While Phil started the “Duck Commander” company ball rolling, his third son is now the CEO, and the hub of most “Dynasty” episodes, along with his beautiful family-- a wife he is devoted to without fail, and kids who act right because they have been taught to, since birth.
Much has been written about the appeal of the show-- storylines of a family openly praying and living out lives guided by faith.
But if you think the show itself is uplifting, you need to hit YouTube and find Willie and Phil at a couple of podiums in recent years, at speaking engagements that reveal this show is no act.
Ever the skeptic, I initially wondered if the whole phenomenon was nudged heavily by handlers, from the beards to the family dynamic, even to the outward expressions of devoutness. It wouldn’t be the first time we’d been fed a product that looked like one thing while turning up another.
But you have to watch Phil speaking at a Pennsylvania church in 2010, as the show was launching, and Willie at Harding University in Arkansas after it had earned wide acclaim.
This is stuff you can’t fake.
Phil, minus the hat and wrap-around shades, looks like a crotchety old church elder, and for a few seconds, sounds like one. Then you realize you are in the company of genius.
He weaves stories of the value three early presidents-- Washington, Jefferson, Jackson-- placed on divine guidance.
He then weaves “right to life” (as in life, liberty, pursuit of happiness) into an anti-abortion sermon that avoids the familiar attempt to suggest that those words constitute obvious legal protection for the unborn.
I wish they did. But Phil goes above the pay grade of lawmakers and justices to describe what “right to life” really means regarding babies not yet born.
“You have a God-given right to live inside your mother!” he intones, voice climbing. “Come on! To debate whether it’s right or wrong to rip you out of your mother’s womb when you’re about that long?...
“You have a God-given right to live, in, of all places, inside your mother,” he repeats, this time softly, then pauses: “What in the world happened to us?”
Not exactly light banter with Uncle Si about how to turn an old RV into a duck blind.
Similarly, the Willie clip I’ve been watching this week involves a tone that differs from his familiar comic exasperation with playfully lazy employees and competitive brothers. His speech at his alma mater, Harding University in Arkansas late last year, came after the show had soared to vast popularity, enabling him to reflect on what had happened to his whole world.
The sudden tidal wave of fame, and the accompanying swells of money, have not changed them, he says, because what they are proudest of, and what defines them, have nothing to do with TV or bank balances.
He lists his wife, his family, his children and his Lord. He describes their adoption of a child and the profound joy of selfless acts.
You look at Willie, and you see a guy who could have easily just hopped off a Harley at a biker rally-- if he could ride worth a lick. What you’re really looking at is a guy in a bandana with a massive beard who could lose some weight.
And you’re looking at a man who is the definition of what manhood most importantly is, gauged by quality of service to his wife, to his kids, and to God.
There is buzz about Willie running for Louisiana’s 5th district congressional seat. Incumbent Republican Rodney Alexander is leaving next month to join the Bobby Jindal administration as State Director of Veterans Affairs.
In fact, if you cast that “why not” net really broadly, it can lead to a compelling flight of fancy. With whatever seriousness you wish to attach, consider the merits of Willie Robertson for President.
As I suggested at the top, I am kidding. Sort of. I realize there are a hundred things I’d have to know about Willie, from his thoughts on Obamacare to how he would handle Egypt to how he would cut spending.
But there are things about him that give me confidence I cannot say I have about anyone else on the 2016 hopefuls list, and that includes a lot of people I admire.
This is not to criticize those people. It is simply an acknowledgement that I know them through the news, I know them in a policy sense. I do not know their hearts.
I’m aware that my embrace of the Robertsons is through the lens of a TV show, but I sense that we are not being hosed here.
This Robertson family is for real. Their values are real, their devotion is real, their steadfastness is real. Are the scenes in “Duck Dynasty” any less “real” than the programmed, canned, self-consciousness of the campaign trail?
How many times have we invested hope in candidates at every level only to see them wither under pressure for fear of offending some small sub-sliver of the electorate?
Do you think for a moment Phil’s boy would buckle like that? Willie’s persona is the rarest in all of politics, the mindset that says I believe what I believe, I’m going to do what I think is right, and if people like it, great, and if they don’t, I don’t particularly care.
So to land this fantasy plane, no, I am not issuing a specific call for Willie to run for President. But I do suggest that characteristics displayed by him and his family are of a type that would be welcome in anyone actually running.
And if it just seems silly to weigh the political fortunes of a big guy running a duck call business in a bandana with a Louisiana drawl, consider this. He has sound business skills, a strong moral compass and a track record of values we should all want to emulate.
Conversely, candidate Barack Obama offered up the template of a man sharp as a tack, gifted of tongue and smooth of style, dressed impeccably and gifted with political skills that charmed a nation, or enough of one to win twice.
This smooth, book-smart, sharp cookie President has been an unmitigated disaster, lining up our liberties for extinction at his whim. He reviles wealth and those who have earned it. His devotion is not to American greatness but government expansion.
So if you tend to chuckle at the wild outlandishness of Willie Robertson for President, I would suggest that on his worst day, President Willie would not screw up the country anywhere near as profoundly as our real-life President has.
So laugh if you will. Meanwhile, Willie’s run for Congress is an intriguing first step, but an unlikely one now that it would involve a massive pay cut.
Willie is probably loving the private sector right now, enjoying the fruits of his efforts, and by that I mean the great business he has grown and the magnificent family has has surrounded himself with.
And that makes me love him even more.