‘Duck Dynasty’ thrives on Christian stereotypes

Photo provided by Duck Commander -- Cast members of 'Duck Dynasty' pose with the newest member, Alan Robertson, left, who made his debut on the hit A&E show that garnered 11.8 million viewers during the premiere.
Photo provided by Duck Commander -- Cast members of 'Duck Dynasty' pose with the newest member, Alan Robertson, left, who made his debut on the hit A&E show that garnered 11.8 million viewers during the premiere.

But Robertson family can be found in church, at prayer

A show capitalizing on Southern Christian stereotypes has snowballed into success, with faith and duck hunting creating a recipe for a ratings sensation on “Duck Dynasty.”

The A&E show drew nationwide attention after its recent season premiere attracted 11.8 million viewers, becoming the most-watched reality premiere in history by topping series like “Jersey Shore” and “Jon & Kate Plus 8.”

Put into perspective, the show drew more viewers than the highest viewed episodes of “Breaking Bad” and “Mad Men” combined, and would be the most-watched show if it aired on NBC.

The show follows members of the extended Robertson clan, the family that runs the Duck Commander hunting supply company in Monroe.

During its inaugural season in 2008, the show attracted 1.4 million viewers.

The show is probably best known for the gun-toting Robertsons’ Southern drawl, unruly beards and camouflage wardrobe. But between TLC’s “19 Kids and Counting” and National Geographic Channel’s upcoming “Snake Salvation,” the “Duck Dynasty” portrayal of rural Southern Christians may be among the most tame in the reality TV genre.

“There’s a risk that someone could watch the show and think all Christians are like that, but that would come from a place of ignorance,” said Jennifer Wishon, a correspondent for the Christian Broadcasting Network.

“They’re just guys from Louisiana who like to make duck calls and hunt and that doesn’t represent the interests of all Christians.”

CBN invited members of the Robertson family to this year’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner, where comedian Conan O’Brien briefly poked fun, saying they were invited because the guys from “Storage Wars” weren’t available.

Wishon said that Willie and Korie Robertson were also invited to President Barack Obama’s private reception at the dinner, and the president told them he watches the show on Air Force One.

The Robertsons don’t shy away from social issues.

In a speech to a pregnancy center that has gained recent attention, patriarch Phil Robertson decried the hippie generation and abortion, saying, “That movement lured 60 million babies out of their mothers’ wombs.”

Jase and Missy Robertson have suggested that they waited until marriage to have sex.

“Our faith is the main part of our lives, but it’s better to be subtle,” said Alan Robertson, the beardless fourth brother of the clan.

The Robertsons have taken their message on the road; Alan and Phil Robertson filled in for Rick Warren at Saddleback Church, sharing about the patriarch’s alcoholic past and marital troubles.

Decrying the state of the nation, Phil Robertson suggested “if the founding fathers of this country could see how degraded American morality has become, they would hang their heads in shame.”

In his best-selling book, “Happy, Happy, Happy,” he wrote: “Our founding fathers started this country and built it on God and His Word, and this country sure would be a better place to live and raise our children if we still followed their ideals and beliefs.”

The Robertsons attend White’s Ferry Road Church of Christ in West Monroe, part of a “Restoration Movement” fellowship of 13,000 U.S. congregations that generally teach that baptism by immersion at the “age of accountability” is integral to salvation.

Phil Robertson told The Christian Chronicle that he and his sons Alan and Jase preach the same message of faith, repentance and baptism wherever they’re invited.

At Saddleback, Phil Robertson emphasized the importance of baptism.

“We feel like we’re God’s family for all Christians, mainly to try to get the message out to non-Christians,” Alan Robertson said.

Hundreds of people have shown up at the family’s church, said senior pastor Mike Kellett. “I tell people, ‘If you want to put your eyes on them, come to church!’” he said.

Alan Robertson co-ministered with Kellett for seven years before deciding to join the show for its fourth season.

He and his father, Phil, still serve as elders. Friends and relatives estimate that Phil Robertson, who had a following for his revivalist-style gospel preaching, has baptized more than 300 people.

At the end of each show, the Robertsons join in prayer together, something visitors note as they come through the church.

“I think there are a lot of families that wish they would gather around the table and pray like that,” Kellett said. “I think it hits a nerve.”

While “Breaking Bad” has gotten most of the press attention, “Duck Dynasty” has won the ratings race, said Craig Detweiler, a communications professor at Pepperdine University, a school associated with Churches of Christ.

“There hasn’t been such a beloved depicting of Southern charm since ‘The Andy Griffith Show,’” said Detweiler, who grew up in Charlotte, N.C.

The show finds a smart way to combine family, food, faith and really long beards, he said.

“There are a lot of complaints about the reality TV genre, but there are far more Christians portrayed in America as a result,” Detweiler said. “The beard gets longer and the ratings keep going up. They’re laughing all the way to the bank.”

“For years, Hollywood missed a lot,” Alan Robertson said. ”It looks like they’re taking advantage of us, but we’re taking advantage of them to get the Gospel preached.”

The show likely strikes a chord because the Robertsons can control their image within the reality TV genre, said Larry Eskridge, associate director of the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals.

“The ‘Duck Dynasty’ fan is laughing and praying with the Robertsons instead of laughing at and gawking at them,” Eskridge said. “I think that scores nicely with the audience to see folks from that subculture poking fun at themselves as opposed to outsiders.”