‘Duck Dynasty,’ Paula Deen, and the Hypocrisy of TV’s Red State Obsession

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I didn’t really understand what Duck Dynasty was until this morning. As someone who grew up in a rural town in Virginia, there’s nothing I want to see less than a cable reality series about so-called backwards Southern folk; I avoid it for the same reason that I avoided Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, because I feel like I know those people, and I also feel like those shows are laughing at them, not with them. Despite Duck Dynasty‘s runaway success, it’s not for me.

But I suppose it’s the “realness” that is so appealing to those outside of the culture depicted on Duck Dynasty. Of course, it has gotten too real: in an interview with GQ, because that’s a thing that happened, star Phil Robertson expressed his dismay with homosexuality, particularly that it is sinful and akin to other terrible, monstrous things, like terrorism. Robertson has been suspended from his show, and I find the whole thing laughable. Pardon me for rushing to generalizations here, but did we really expect these guys to be cool and tolerant and totally down with gays? I didn’t.

Let’s call it the Paula Deen Effect. People were slightly surprised this summer when the Southern Cookin’ Queen was outed as someone who occasionally threw around racial epithets. As a Southerner, I sort of get it; she’s a product of her time and her place, and those cultural norms are hard to break when it’s what you inherited from previous generations. That doesn’t make it right, of course, and Deen only lost her Food Network gig and countless endorsement deals because she was caught being a racist outside of the privacy of her own home.

My biggest regret is that Deen again embodied all that was bad about the South. In America, racism exists everywhere. Take a look at Bloomberg’s New York, for instance, and the NYPD’s incredibly prejudiced stop-and-frisk program. But racism is most conveniently portrayed with a Southern accent, because, again, those norms are hard to break.

When we depict Red State America on TV, it’s usually done with a mocking tone. Sure, these families love each other. They’re essentially good, hardworking people. But they sure do things funny down there, huh, like duck-hunt and drive big trucks and line up at Wal-Mart on Black Fridays like savages (as if Manhattanites are immune to losing their minds over a good deal whenever some hotshot designer partners up with H&M for an exclusive collection). If we’re honest, this is why we tune in to these shows at all. Yet, to make us feel good about who we’re watching, we want them to behave — to share our ideals and be tolerant of everyone while we, hypocritically, point our fingers at them and laugh.