Friday, December 20, 2013

Get Back in the Closet, Christians

Like every self-aware mother of my generation, I'm prone to announce unprompted that our family doesn't subscribe to cable television. For years, my pop culture and current events were filtered through the custom aggregation of Facebook's news feed. There were all-caps screech posts about Duck Dynasty shared by my friends; I thought it must be a cartoon and snubbed it accordingly.

Then I saw the boxed DVDs for sale in our local gas station, displayed at eye level in a slick A&E cardboard diorama. Grizzled men, posing in front of some kind of towering manse, with a chick in a red evening gown? $12.99? Sold. To its target demographic, no less.

Reality television disclosure: Three years ago, I had a regrettable winter courtship with Real Housewives of New Jersey. Parked on the couch with a nursing newborn, I tried my hand at scheduled television devotions. I really loved that show. The husbands were these sort of bruiser man-child amalgams of Elmer Fudd and Keanu Reeves surfer characters, paired with wives depicted as glossy, treacherous overgrown girls. It was like all of my fantasies of adult life from tenth grade had come to fruition onscreen, and the results were horrific. Exercise clothing mixed with gaudy jewelry (worn by both sexes), in-home music studios, drunken brawling at baptisms, weekend retreats with a batch of lifelong friends, catty revelations in the kitchen about suffering souls in the next room --- it was all there. My husband would stroll past me and mumble things about my moral integrity becoming more fragile by the moment. In his tones it was more like, "You are so much better than this. Watching this is beneath you. You're not even embarrassed? I feel embarrassed enough for both of us." He sounded a lot like my mom during the decade she endured my teenage fixation with General Hospital ~ although she usually ended her clucking with approval of the Tracy Quartermaine's wardrobe. In a sense, me and soap operas go way back.

I delivered the DVDs to our nine-year-old daughter and hoped for the best. Our loyalty has been incrementally won over, and I've grown content to hear episodes of Duck Dynasty playing from the TV in the family room. Season Three will be under our Christmas tree. We muse about the appeal ~ has family life become so exotic?

This clan, from whom I expected the behavior of backwater clowns, now seems charming and relevant. The Uncle Si 'character' in particular made me realize that these people are very real, as well as coy enough to play to type without losing grit in pursuit of irony. Their story is sincere. Mrs. Robertson is everything I aspire to as a wife and mother: gracious & maternal, with enough sassy loyalty to keep her afloat as she serves God through her family. I may have chosen Anne Romney's cookbook over Miss Kay's for Christmas this year, but it's only because Cajun treatments of seafood run against my grain. The regal feeling of gathering my family around the dinner table each night for a meal is unmatched in this world. I trust women who make it their lifeblood.

Enter the crudeness of the comments highlighted in the GQ interview --- at their core, it was a heterosexual man expressing his preference for heterosexual sex.

If queried, I imagine all of his sons believe precisely as he does. We've entered a realm where a man asked to define sin gives a rough sketch of the Ten Commandments, and quasi-hysteria ensues. Even if clarity abounds in real life, it's obvious that idiocy too often reigns.

Loyalty to masculine men disclosure: I've got it. I see a double standard. Would Mister Duggar, the men of Real Housewives fame, or even the younger Robertson men be ushered off Stage Left, for ascribing publicly to this doctrine? I guess not. They're allowed to exist as a bucolic source of de-fanged entertainment. But one watches Phil Robertson and gets the sense that he means this shit. There's nothing he'd rather go down swinging for than God's laws. He wasn't goaded into saying it by a sly reporter, and it wasn't staged to spike ratings or allow him an exciting exit from the series (both scenarios I've seen offered by fans...) He accepts the grace of Christian redemption and won't parse the terms. I commend his sense of scale.

Like it or not, this is the Cosby family for a generation of Americans --- and the idea of a disposable father figure is absurd. The Powers That Be of A&E might be embarrassed by what Phil said, but without him there's likely no Duck Dynasty. As our six-year-old said when I broke the news in vague terms, "But he leads the prayer every single time. He can't be fired from his own family."

Before we begin crowning martyrs for the faith (I told my girls I'd buy a tabletop model of Mt. Rushmore with the Duck Dynasty guys' faces on it, at this point), it should be acknowledged that in practical terms this is almost entirely American theater. We can safely feign horror at a description of gay sex, because everyone is free to have it. I'd like to say the same for Christian faith. Actual Christian oppression and slaughter exists, committed largely by men whose faith calls for dealing with dissenters by violence and subjugation. We should try to follow that plot, with or without well-packaged gas station DVD display towers.

In the end, it's not so much noteworthy that Mr. Robertson was fired by A&E, but that he was ever hired at all.

pencil portrait of Phil Robertson by Rick Kills. "...he's not grouchy, he's just strong." Says Vivian, age 9.

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