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Never Forget: It’s Really about the Money

DD-Sugar CookiesWithout a doubt, the various reactions to Phil Robertson’s interview in GQ underscores clear areas of cultural conflict in US society.  And, many of the arguments that have emerged have simply used Robertson’s statement as an excuse to stoke those conflicts.

However, it is worth nothing that at the foundation of all of this is money.  This is business.  As I argued on a friend’s FB thread the day it happened:  A&E made a calculated decision that it was in their best interest to be seen “doing something” while full well knowing that even if Duck Dynasty fans were angry over the suspension that they would not stop watching the show and, indeed, that they would likely double-down on their support for the program.  I very much expect that the ratings for the January season premiere of the show will be huge.

I will note that while I am not an intentional Duck Dynasty viewer, that my kids like it and I have experienced a decent amount of it while they watch it (sort of like second-hand smoke, it is sometime impossible to avoid).  It is an innocuous, quasi-sitcom with a reality veneer.  A Rolling Stone article aptly described is thusly:

So multiply Home Improvement by The Beverly Hillbillies, then subtract any sense of fancy-pants production values, and Duck Dynasty is what you get.

[...]

The characters are just like any big nutso TV family. There’s the patriarch Phil and the wise mama bear Miss Kay. There’s the three man-child sons and their tsk-tsking blond wives. Then there’s everybody’s favorite, Uncle Si, the hairy Nam vet who seems amiably demented, although his family prefers to describe him as a “logic vacuum.” And even though they have a pile of money, they supposedly fluked into it the way Jed Clampett did, with a little bit of backwoods gumption and know-how.

On the one hand, the Robertson family is portrayed as a bunch of down home rednecks, they are, on the other, rednecks with money.  Money for serious outdoor toys and trips to Hawaii.   They really are a combination of redneck and yuppie, which I think lends to the overall appeal.  I would note that they are very popular here in Montgomery, AL (and across the southeast).

There is a lot of money at stake here, for A&E and for the Robertsons.  Beyond the show, the merchandising is huge.  The banner for this post featuring Duck Dynasty sugar cookies was taken by me at our local Wal-Mart the other day.  Below is part of a table of merch at Books-a-Million that I took last night.  Please note that there was a whole other side of the table, plus stuff on both ends.  Underneath the table was full as well.

DD2

Some of that stuff is Duck Dynasty branded and some of it is Duck Commander or Duckmen branded.  Duck Commander is the Robertson’s business and the Duckmen stuff predates the A&E program.

As such, I cannot help but think that despite all the public posturing, that all of this will eventually result in the show going on as normal.  When in doubt, look to the dollar to help explain outcomes and behaviors.

At the end of the day, the PR people at A&E aren’t stupid.  They know that Robertson’s remarks were going to cause some blowback, so they acted to show their sensitivity (whether they are actually sensitive or not is irrelevant-we are talking PR here).  They also certainly knew that while Duck Dynasty fans were likely to take umbrage at the suspension of Phil Robertson that they only ways those fans have to show support for Robertson is to a)  buy DD merchandise and b) watch Duck Dynasty. (I have noted, with amusement, people on FB calling on supporting Phil by boycotting A&E).

Can someone tell me where in all of this A&E loses?

And yes, I know that the Robertsons have claimed that they will not go on without Phil.  We shall see how all of this plays out, but I expect that they aren’t going to walk away from a cash cow, either.

While the cultural divide that Robertson’s comments highlighted clearly exists, the actual fight about Duck Dynasty is a faux one.

I may be wrong and perhaps all this will result in the implosion of this particular pop culture empire.  This strikes me as unlikely, however, as we in America are certainly quite good at milking profits centers until they are beyond dry.

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About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor and Chair of Political Science at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. He is the author of Voting Amid Violence: Electoral Democracy in Colombia and is currently working on a comparative study of the US to 29 other democracies. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging at PoliBlog since 2003. Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Ron Beasley says:

    Your’e right of course Steven. Not really any different than Faux News, Glen Beck or Rush Limbaugh – they know what their demographic want’s to hear and deliver for dollars.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 2

  2. michael reynolds says:

    So we’re ducking about hillbilly duck hunters? Again? Still?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  3. gVOR08 says:

    They’ll be back next season. Phil will be back, perhaps after some scripted conflict with A&E. And every Tea Party evangelical in the country will see it as their Christian duty to watch. That’ll show them libruls.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 1

  4. @michael reynolds: Gotcha to comment! ;)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  5. CSK says:

    It would be interesting if the Robertsons and the S&E honchos colluded to stage the whole thing. Somehow, I don’t think that’s a remote possibility. An uproar just before Christmas over “traditional values”? Both sides profit.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  6. HarvardLaw92 says:

    Am I the only person that is 400 different kinds of fed up with hearing about these people?

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 29 Thumb down 0

  7. CSK says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    No, you’re not. I can testify to the fact that I’m heartily sick of hearing about what a great American Phil is.

    On the other hand, discussions of sleazy opportunism and untrammeled greed masquerading as Christ-like virtue are always entertaining.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  8. Nikki says:

    Phil’s “suspension” is already over.

    The “redneck” guise is made up. The family is actually a bunch of yuppies.

    I was dating a biker last year and he loved the show. I watched it once and it caused me great agony, but then I hate all reality television, so there ya go.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  9. PJ says:

    I’m just going to link to this article.

    Yes, there is a red America and a blue America, at least according to television viewing habits. Our friends at National Media, a Republican ad-buying firm, sent us this map of a recent television event. Using data from Rentrak, a company that monitors data from set-top boxes, the map shows what percentage of television viewers in specific designated market areas watched this television event live.

    Can you guess what television event split the country along starker lines than any election ever would? The answer is below the map, so don’t scroll too far without taking your guess. A word on the key: White DMAs tracked closely with the national average. Red indicates higher-than-average viewership; the darker the red, the more viewers tuned in. Blue indicates lower-than-average viewership; darker blue means fewer people watched.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  10. Grewgills says:

    The sitcom is thick and the veneer is thin. My brothers were there for part of the Hawaii filming. There were not only multiple takes for the scenes, the director coached them on what to say. As in most reality shows, there is precious little reality.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  11. Mr. Prosser says:

    Steve M over at No More Mr. Nice Blog speculates this is bargaining for a bigger cut of the pie. The Crackerfamilias (Thanks, Mr. Pierce) hints he’s tired of the show and then does a controversial interview. A&E then suspends him implying they can run without him and no more extra dough. It’s like big league salary negotiating.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

  12. Mikey says:

    @Grewgills: I’d wager a fine roast duck dinner that the whole Phil “hiatus” kerfuffle is every bit as scripted as everything else about the show.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  13. CSK says:

    @PJ:

    I saw a similar map that confirms this. Almost the entire viewership is in the south and the midwest. No one in my neck of the woods is watching, which is interesting, because we do have a hunting population. So the appeal is…what? The religiosity of the show? Must be.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  14. @Grewgills:

    The sitcom is thick and the veneer is thin. My brothers were there for part of the Hawaii filming. There were not only multiple takes for the scenes, the director coached them on what to say. As in most reality shows, there is precious little reality.

    This is not surprising.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  15. Andre Kenji says:

    @michael reynolds: Quack, Quack!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  16. John425 says:

    @Ron Beasley: As opposed to what? MSNBC, HuffPo, Soros-funded lefty groups, uber-liberal Hollywooders? As you noted “… they know what their demographic wants to hear and deliver for dollars”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 9

  17. DrDaveT says:

    @Grewgills:

    As in most reality shows, there is precious little reality.

    Are you familiar with Donald E. Westlake’s legendary “Dortmunder” novels? Several of them were made into movies (e.g. The Hot Rock, Bank Shot). The last novel in the series, and a worthy conclusion to a classic series, is called Get Real. It’s about what happens when a “reality TV” producer decides to do a reality series about Dortmunder and his gang committing a robbery. Westlake is exquisitely scathing in his portrayal of the industry, including just how much ‘reality’ is involved.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  18. DrDaveT says:

    @PJ: Great map, but what the heck is going on in Lima, OH? That’s the darkest red blob that isn’t on a bayou.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  19. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @DrDaveT: ANY fellow Westlake fan can’t be all wrong. Personally, my favorites were The Hot Rock (the break INTO a jail AND an insane asylum), Bank Shot (they steal a bank — not rob it, steal it) and Drowned Hopes. But they’re all classics.

    Oh, God, I might have to go and re-read them again. I’m remembering the time they conspired with nuns to rob an entire office building…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  20. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    On topic, though: my hunch is that A&E is far more concerned with the money than the Robertsons. They were well off before, and haven’t gone all Kardashian or Jersey Shore or even Pawn Stars with their new fame; they seem to be living their lives pretty much as they did before.

    Oh, God… I just had a vision of Chumlee going into the swamps with the Robertsons, and not coming back.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  21. Tony W says:

    @CSK: Regional viewership indeed. We had barely heard of the show out here in Southern California. A month or so ago I went to visit family in Georgia and found you couldn’t swing a stick without hitting a Duck Dynasty chia-pet or gummy bear pack.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  22. DrDaveT says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    ANY fellow Westlake fan can’t be all wrong.

    We have an existence proof for common ground, to be sure.

    My personal favorites also include the first two (The Hot Rock and Bank Shot), and I am deeply fond of What’s the Worst That Could Happen? My least favorite are probably Jimmy the Kid (out of character) and Drowned Hopes (too dark for the series).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  23. john personna says:

    My concern was never with the Robertson’s per se, it was with the sort who flocked to them, used them to bolster their own sense of victimization.

    I mean, Jenos has a new man crush. Not a coincidence.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  24. john personna says:

    (And yes, this is amazingly coincidental to the Christmas shopping season.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  25. Andre Kenji says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    On topic, though: my hunch is that A&E is far more concerned with the money than the Robertsons.

    Welcome to reality.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  26. JohnMcC says:

    @Tony W: You’ve been gone too long, long lost brother. Here in the south we don’t say ‘swing a stick’…. We say ‘swing a cat”….

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  27. Liberal Capitalist says:

    Speaking of thin veneer…

    Interesting insight on this family BEFORE the “reality” show.

    No beards, camo or dirt.

    Interesting reading:

    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/12/20/1264354/-Duck-Dynasty-is-a-Fake-Yuppies-in-Red-Neck-Drag-Con-Job

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  28. gVOR08 says:

    Went into Walgreens to buy a card this afternoon A chunk of the card section is Duck Dynasty. Cards, mugs, I forget what all junk. You can get Duck Dynasty camo gift wrap. A&E and those ‘billies are making a fortune off this “controversy”.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  29. JKB says:

    Many here like polls. Here is a showing of the polls regarding how many Americans consider same-gender sex a sin. And it was the statement that gay sex was sinful that got GLAAD all upset. Robertson never advocated any adverse action against homosexuals.

    So, yeah, A&E, decided to act against 45% of the population and against much higher percentages of the show’s demographic. And they sparked a lot of new viewers to check out the show during the marathon to see what is so bad about this guy who spoke widely held views and paraphrased the Bible.

    Besides Cracker Barrel, I expect GLAAD and other thuggish gay activist groups will be the hardest hit. We might even see some uptick in support for freedom of thought and freedom of speech.

    Most people are in part the products of their own backgrounds, and Phil Robertson’s background would make him more likely than most to believe that gay sex is always wrong.

    Consider the percentages of the following groups thinking that gay sex is always wrong:

    54% of those born in the 1940-1950 period,
    65% of those from the East South Central region of the country,
    77% of those believing that the Bible is the literal word of God,
    72% of protestant fundamentalists, and
    51% of males.

    Other groups in which a majority believe that gay sex is always wrong include:

    52% of male Democrats,
    60% of male Republicans, and
    63% of African Americans, including 58% of African-American females.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  30. @JKB: You are quite correct. This a polarizing issues (hence the brouhaha).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  31. Grewgills says:

    @JKB:
    1) I’m guessing the suspension was to placate their general viewership rather than viewers of this one show.
    2) He said much more than he thought homosexual acts were a sin. He didn’t just paraphrase the bible, he began and ended his bit about sin with homosexuality and compared it to bestiality and swindling in between. He also said ignorant crap about Shintoism and tossed in some ridiculous statements about the virtues of the Jim Crow South.
    3) You could find majorities in those same groups (sans the last two) that found interracial relations sinful in the 60s and in some of those groups into the 70s or even 80s. That a majority of any group is bigoted doesn’t make their opinion correct.
    4) How does this episode have anything to do with freedom of speech?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  32. @Grewgills: Agreed on all counts.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  33. An Interested Party says:

    …I expect GLAAD and other thuggish gay activist groups will be the hardest hit.

    I’m sure that back in the day, people like you considered the SCLC, SNCC, and CORE, among other groups, to be “thuggish”…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  34. JKB says:

    @Grewgills:

    You mean the general viewership that they’ve purposely not offered any content other than Duck Dynasty to for the last few days?

    Yes, it has been confirmed that he said homosexuality was sinful. He also said bestiality and swindlers were sinful. And where is the outrage by the adulterer and promiscuous non-marital sex advocacy groups? He was not wrong about Shintoism as practiced before and during WWII. He gave a first person account of working in the fields with African-Americans in an earlier time. He did not comment on the legal structure of that time.

    I’m not sure what your point is here? Many probably still consider interracial relationships sinful. I’ve read that many in the African-American community dislike them. The key change was the removal of legal barriers, just as legal barriers to homosexual relationships have been removed.

    He stated his opinion and others have sought to punish him for his speech. How is that not a freedom of speech issue? Note they have sought to impose adverse actions upon him for his speech, not contest his speech or even offer a counter argument. Freedom of speech used to be an American societal value. One considered so important that government was specifically restrained from seeking to suppress it in the Bill of Rights. It is not illegal or unconstitutional for private parties to seek to suppress speech but it is against the high standards America set for itself. There was a time when those on the Left argued this very point but in support of speech supporting an active enemy, Communists, of every thing America stood for. But now, they seek to use suppression out of fear of simple religious teachings.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  35. Grewgills says:

    @JKB:

    You mean the general viewership that they’ve purposely not offered any content other than Duck Dynasty to for the last few days?

    That would rather undercut your argument that the Robertson’s have been hurt in any material way.

    He was not wrong about Shintoism as practiced before and during WWII.

    Yes, if only they had had Jesus like the Germans they wouldn’t have done such bad things.

    He gave a first person account of working in the fields with African-Americans in an earlier time. He did not comment on the legal structure of that time.

    Go back and read what he wrote again and my response to it earlier in this thread.

    I’m not sure what your point is here? Many probably still consider interracial relationships sinful. I’ve read that many in the African-American community dislike them. The key change was the removal of legal barriers, just as legal barriers to homosexual relationships have been removed

    in some states. Fixed that for you. Those legal barriers have not been removed in Louisiana to name one of the 33 states where those legal barriers remain. I am thinking Mr Robertson stands in strong opposition to those legal barriers being removed given given his outspoken stance in multiple venues.

    Freedom of speech used to be an American societal value. One considered so important that government was specifically restrained from seeking to suppress it in the Bill of Rights.

    If the government were seeking to restrain his free speech I would loudly oppose it. As it is, he said some asinine things that got him a slap on the wrist from his employer. Meanwhile he and his family continue to rake in money because of that very employment. Forgive me if I don’t shed a tear for him.

    It is not illegal or unconstitutional for private parties to seek to suppress speech but it is against the high standards America set for itself.

    Where did you stand on the boycotts of the Dixie Chicks and others that spoke out against the War in Iraq or on the boycotts by ‘pro-life’ groups against businesses that have supported ‘pro-choice’ positions, or boycotts against Cracker Barrel? Is this a universal feeling you have about free speech, or is it only when your ox is gored?

    But now, they seek to use suppression out of fear of simple religious teachings.

    When that ‘simple religious teaching’ is that one set of citizens is inferior to another by accident of birth then I applaud people speaking out in print and with their consumer dollars against that ‘teaching’. Remember, those same types of ‘simple religious teaching’ were used to justify slavery and the treatment of non-whites as less than human and women as property. Those ‘simple religious teachings’ did active harm then as they are doing active harm to our homosexual brothers and sisters now.
    Some of those religious people were on the right side of history and fought for the rights of the disenfranchised. It is not the religion itself that is to blame, it is the bigots that cherry pick from the holy books to justify their personal prejudices that are the problem. When someone digs into Leviticus or Deuteronomy to justify their intolerance of homosexuality, yet fails to stone their child to death at the edge of town for talking back, or fails to force a raped woman to marry her rapist, etc, then I can’t help but conclude that they aren’t so much trying to stay true to their faith as use their faith to justify their bigotry.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  36. Grewgills says:

    @JKB:
    and the Italians, if they had had Jesus then Mussolini never would have risen to power and joined the axis. If only someone could go back in time and bring the Italians and Germans Jesus before Hitler and Mussolini took over we could have avoided WWII.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0