What the Duck?
How in the world did a family of squirrel-eating, Bible-thumping, catchphrase-spouting duck hunters become the biggest TV stars in America? And what will they do now that they have 14 million fervent disciples? Our Drew Magary toured the Louisiana backwater with Phil Robertson and the Duck Dynasty gang to find out.
究竟是出于什么缘故，才会使得这样一个捕食松鼠、大肆宣扬圣经、口头禅滔滔不绝的猎鸭大家庭成了全美最耀眼的电视明星？现拥1400万狂热信徒，他们又会做些什么？为解答这些问题，本刊记者Drew Magary在路易斯安那的穷乡僻壤走访了Phil Robertson及《鸭子王朝》一伙人。
Let’s start with the crossbow, because the crossbow is huge. I’m sitting in the passenger seat of a camo-painted ATV, rumbling through the northern Louisiana backwoods with Phil Robertson, founder of the Duck Commander company, patriarch at the heart of A&E’s smash reality hit Duck Dynasty, and my tour guide for the afternoon.
首先说说手弩，因为它实在太大了。当时我坐在一辆涂了迷彩的全地形车的副驾位置上，跟Phil Robertson一起颠簸在路易斯安那北部的老林中。Robertson是“鸭司令”公司的创始人，A & E有线台极为轰动的热播真人秀《鸭子王朝》的核心家长，也是我本次午后之旅的导游。
There are seat belts in this ATV, but it doesn’t look like they’ve ever been used. Phil is not wearing one. I am not wearing one, because I don’t want Phil to think I’m a pussy. (Too late!) The crossbow—a Barnett model equipped with a steel-tipped four-blade broadhead arrow—is perched on the dash between us. It looks like you could shoot through a goddamn mountain with it.
“That’ll bury up in you and kill you dead,” Phil says.
The bow is cocked and loaded, just in case a deer stumbles in front of us and we need to do a redneck drive-by on the poor bastard, but the safety is on. SAFETY FIRST. Still, Phil warns me, “You don’t want to be bumping that.”
As we drive out into the woods, past a sign that reads parish maintenance ends, Phil is telling me all about the land around us and how the animals are a glorious gift from God and how blowing their heads off is part of His plan for us.
“Look at this,” he says, gesturing to the surrounding wilderness. “The Almighty gave us this. Genesis 9 is where the animals went wild, and God gave them wildness. After the flood, that’s when he made animals wild. Up until that time, everybody was vegetarian. After the flood, he said, ‘I’m giving you everything now. Animals are wild.‘”
There’s a fly parked on Phil’s long beard. It’s been there the whole ride, and I desperately want to pluck it out, but I decide against it. Along with the crossbow, there’s a loaded .22-caliber rifle rattling around in the footwell.
And yet, much like the 14 million Americans who Nielsen says tune in to Duck Dynasty every week—over 2 million more than the audience for the Breaking Bad finale—I am comfortable here in these woods with Phil and his small cache of deadly weaponry. He is welcoming and gracious.
He is a man who preaches the gospel of the outdoors and, to my great envy, practices what he preaches. He spends most of his time out here, daydreaming about what he calls a “pristine earth”: a world where nothing gets in the way of nature or the hunters who lovingly maintain it. No cities. No buildings. No highways.
Oh, and no sinners, too. So here’s where things get a bit uncomfortable. Phil calls himself a Bible-thumper, and holy shit, he thumps that Bible hard enough to ring the bell at a county-fair test of strength. If you watch Duck Dynasty, you can hear plenty of it in the nondenominational supper-table prayer the family recites at the end of every episode, and in the show’s no-cussing, no-blaspheming tone.
But there are more things Phil would like to say—”controversial” things, as he puts it to me—that don’t make the cut. (This March, for instance, he told the Christian-oriented Sports Spectrum magazine that he didn’t approve of A&E editing out “in Jesus” from a family prayer scene, even though A&E says that the phrase has been uttered in at least seventeen episodes.)
Out here in these woods, without any cameras around, Phil is free to say what he wants. Maybe a little too free. He’s got lots of thoughts on modern immorality, and there’s no stopping them from rushing out. Like this one:
“It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.”
Perhaps we’ll be needing that seat belt after all.
The Duck Dynasty origin story is the mighty river from which all other Robertson-family stories flow. And it is an awesome story, one that improves the more it is told, so here is my stab at it:
Phil Robertson grew up bone poor in the northwest corner of this state—a place where Cajun redneck culture and Ozark redneck culture intersect—to a manic-depressive mother and a roughneck father.
He was a star quarterback in high school and earned a scholarship to play at Louisiana Tech, but quit after one season because football interfered with duck-hunting season. The guy who took his roster spot at Tech was Terry Bradshaw, because that’s how these kinds of stories go.
Phil On Growing Up in Pre-Civil-Rights-Era Louisiana
“I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field…. They’re singing and happy.
“I never heard one of them, one black person, say, I tell you what: These doggone white people—not a word!… Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”
According to Phil’s autobiography—a ghostwritten book he says he has never read—he spent his days after Tech doing odd jobs and his evenings getting drunk, chasing tail, and swallowing diet pills and black mollies, a form of medicinal speed. In his midtwenties, already married with three sons, a piss-drunk Robertson kicked his family out of the house.
“I’m sick of you,” he told his wife, Kay. But Robertson soon realized the error of his ways, begged Kay to come back, and turned over his life to Jesus Christ.
In 1972, with Jesus at the wheel, Robertson founded the Duck Commander company, which sold a line of custom-made duck-hunting calls that quickly became popular among avid hunters for their uncanny accuracy in replicating the sound of a real duck.
He eventually sold half the company to his son Willie, now 41, and together they made a DVD series about the family’s duck hunts, which led to a show on the Outdoor Channel, which led to Duck Dynasty on A&E, which led to everything blowing right the fuck up.
The show—a reality sitcom showcasing the semiscripted high jinks of Phil, his brother “Uncle Si,” his four sons, Alan, Willie, Jase, and Jep, and the perpetually exasperated but always perfectly accessorized Robertson-family ladies—has become the biggest reality-TV hit in the history of cable television, reportedly earning the family a holy shit worthy $200,000-an-episode paycheck.
It’s a funny, family-friendly show, with “skits that we come up with,” as Phil describes the writing process. They plunder beehives. They blow up beaver dams. And when the Robertson-family ladies go up to a rooftop in a hydraulic lift, you just know that lift will “accidentally” get stuck and strand them.
But the show, whose fifth season premieres on January 15, is just one part of the family’s pop-cultural dominance. In 2013 four books written (kind of!) by Robertson family members made the top ten on the New York Times nonfiction best-seller list.
Another book—penned by Jase Robertson and detailing his Christian rebirth at age 14, his struggle to forgive his father’s past behavior, and his young daughter’s struggle through five facial-reconstruction surgeries to overcome a severe cleft lip and palate—is forthcoming and destined to make it five best-sellers.
There’s also a book of devotionals somewhere in there, along with Duck Dynasty themed birthday cards, bobblehead dolls, camo apparel (pink camo for the ladies), Cajun-spice seasoning, car fresheners, iPhone games (from the press release: “As players successfully complete the challenges, their beards grow to epic proportions and they start to transform from a yuppie into a full-blown redneck!”), and presumably some sort of camouflage home-pregnancy test.
It’s easy to see the appeal. The Robertsons are immensely likable. They’re funny. They look cool. They’re “smarter than they look,” says sportswriter Mark Schlabach, who co-writes the family’s books.
And they are remarkably honest both with one another and with the viewing audience: Phil’s old hell-raising, Si’s traumatic stint in Vietnam, the intervention that the family staged for Jep when he was boozing and doing drugs in college (Phil placed him under house arrest for three months)—all of it is out in the open. The more they reveal, the more people feel connected to them.
And then, of course, there is their faith, which plays no small role here. During the family’s initial negotiations about the show with A&E, Jase told me, “the three no-compromises were faith, betrayal of family members, and duck season.”
That refusal to betray their faith or one another has been a staple of every media article about the Robertson family. It’s their elevator pitch, and it has made them into ideal Christian icons: beloved for staking out a bit of holy ground within the mostly secular, often downright sinful, pop culture of America.
Phil Robertson’s house is located in the sticks about twenty miles outside the city of Monroe (pronounce it mun-roe). It’s a rather small house—the kind of place its owner would proudly call “humble.” The kitchen table is covered with big plastic tubs of cinnamon rolls and mini muffins. There are candy dishes filled to the brim, bricks of softening butter, and packages of jerky made from unknown animals, sent by unnamed fans. (I tried some, and it was awesome.)
Just inside the front door, a giant flat-screen TV shows Fox News on mute at all times, and a bunch of big squishy sofas are arranged in a rectangle around it.
Si Robertson is sitting on the couch facing the TV. Jep Robertson, age 35, the youngest son, curls up in a recliner in the corner with a pistol strapped to his waist. He barely speaks, like a countrified Silent Bob.
Si Robertson坐在正对电视机的沙发上。35岁的Jep Robertson是最小的儿子，蜷缩在角落里的一条躺椅上，腰上别支手枪。他很少说话，就像是个乡村版的“沉默的鲍勃”【译注：美国制片人Kevin Smith创造的虚拟人物，沉默寡言】。
Jase, 44, and Willie share a love seat while Phil lounges barefoot on a camo-patterned recliner in the far corner of the room. Two dogs share the recliner’s footrest with Phil’s heavily callused bare feet. He has severe bunions, so his big toes jut in at forty-five-degree angles.
The main TV room is cluttered with mismatched furniture and photos hung haphazardly on the walls. And Phil looks like part of the clutter himself, as if he’d been wedged into that recliner a while back by some absentminded homeowner who didn’t know where else to put him.
When I walk into the TV area, no one makes a move to get up—the Robertson men greet you as they would a friend who just came back from a beer run. Not only are the Robertsons among the most famous people in the country, they also happen to be among the most recognizable.
You can spot them from a mile away with those beards. Imagine Johnny Depp walking around every day in his Jack Sparrow costume and you begin to get an idea of how much they stand out. It’s gotten to the point that they say they can’t fly commercial anymore.
“You been hunting yet this year?” Phil asks me, by way of introduction.
I have not. In fact, I confess to Phil, I’ve never been hunting before. But I have fired a gun! NOT A TOTAL LIGHTWEIGHT, GANG!
“Si went this morning and killed three squirrels,” says Phil. “They’re delicious. One of the best meats there is in the woods, I’ll tell you that. Very clean animal.” He nods toward Uncle Si, who, with his mangy ponytail, looks very much like the squirrels he hunts.
Phil On Why He Voted Romney in 2012
“If I’m lost at three o’clock in a major metropolitan area…I ask myself: Where would I rather be trying to walk with my wife and children? One of the guys who’s running for president is out of Chicago, Illinois, and the other one is from Salt Lake City, Utah. [Editor’s note: Romney is from Boston, not Salt Lake City.] Where would I rather be turned around at three o’clock in the morning? I opted for Salt Lake City. I think it would be safer.”
Even though he’s in the far corner of the room, Phil dominates the house. There are times when he doesn’t look you in the eye while he’s speaking—he looks just off to the side of you, as if Jesus were standing nearby, holding a stack of cue cards. Everyone else in the room just stares at his phone, or at the TV, or holds side conversations as Phil preaches.
“We’re Bible-thumpers who just happened to end up on television,” he tells me. “You put in your article that the Robertson family really believes strongly that if the human race loved each other and they loved God, we would just be better off. We ought to just be repentant, turn to God, and let’s get on with it, and everything will turn around.”
What does repentance entail? Well, in Robertson’s worldview, America was a country founded upon Christian values (Thou shalt not kill, etc.), and he believes that the gradual removal of Christian symbolism from public spaces has diluted those founding principles. (He and Si take turns going on about why the Ten Commandments ought to be displayed outside courthouses.) He sees the popularity of Duck Dynasty as a small corrective to all that we have lost.
“Everything is blurred on what’s right and what’s wrong,” he says. “Sin becomes fine.”
What, in your mind, is sinful?
“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men,” he says. Then he paraphrases Corinthians: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”
During Phil’s darkest days, in the early 1970s, he had to flee the state of Arkansas after he badly beat up a bar owner and the guy’s wife. Kay Robertson persuaded the bar owner not to press charges in exchange for most of the Robertsons’ life savings. (“A hefty price,” he notes in his memoir.) I ask Phil if he ever repented for that, as he wants America to repent—if he ever tracked down the bar owner and his wife to apologize for the assault. He shakes his head.
“I didn’t dredge anything back up. I just put it behind me.”
As far as Phil is concerned, he was literally born again. Old Phil—the guy with the booze and the pills—died a long time ago, and New Phil sees no need to apologize for him:
“We never, ever judge someone on who’s going to heaven, hell. That’s the Almighty’s job. We just love ’em, give ’em the good news about Jesus—whether they’re homosexuals, drunks, terrorists. We let God sort ’em out later, you see what I’m saying?”
Okay, so perhaps it’s not exactly shocking that a deeply religious 67-year-old hunter from rural Louisiana would have, shall we say, enthusiastic ideas about what constitutes good Christian morality. That’s the unspoken red-state appeal of Duck Dynasty. They’re godly folk. “Real” folk.
It helps explain why people flock to Monroe in droves to visit the Duck Commander store (which, shockingly, does not sell firearms). It’s why Willie Robertson can walk out of work on a regular Thursday afternoon and be greeted by a cheering crowd that seemingly stretches back to the horizon. He shows me a video of the crowd on his phone.
“This was one day just in the summer,” he says. “I was just going in my car to go home. ”
Does it ever wear you down?
Willie has just come back from Washington, D.C., where he accepted an award at the Angels in Adoption Gala. (He and his wife, Korie, adopted a biracial child named Will and are dedicated advocates of the practice.) As we speak, there’s a film crew outside the house, prepping for a State Farm ad that the family will be shooting here on the property tomorrow.
The Robertsons receive more than 500 media requests a day, and Willie had to negotiate down to four shooting days a week with A&E just so the family would have a bit of breathing room. Phil knows it won’t last. He can already see that the end is near, and he’s prepared for it.
“Let’s face it,” he says. “Three, four, five years, we’re out of here. You know what I’m saying? It’s a TV show. This thing ain’t gonna last forever. No way.”
When the show runs its course and the production trucks drive off the Robertson property for good, there will be nothing keeping Phil from his greater mission. He could step back if he felt like it, given that he’s now a very wealthy man. He could stay in these woods and live out the rest of his days hunting. But he has a flock now. He and the other Robertson men happily tour the country, giving speeches and hosting Bible studies.
I ask Jep Robertson later on if the second generation of Robertson men shares Phil’s views on sin and morality. “We’re not quite as outspoken as my dad, but I’m definitely in line,” he says. “If somebody asks, I tell ’em what the Bible says.”
When Uncle Si went to Conway, Arkansas, recently for a paid appearance, 20,000 people showed up. It led the local news that night in Little Rock. The show is merely the platform. The end goal is to save souls. And the Robertson family is more than happy to sacrifice a little privacy out here in the woods—visitors regularly congregate outside Phil’s security gate hoping for a glance at the family— to spread the good word.
“For the sake of the Gospel, it was worth it,” Phil tells me. “All you have to do is look at any society where there is no Jesus. I’ll give you four: Nazis, no Jesus. Look at their record. Uh, Shintos? They started this thing in Pearl Harbor. Any Jesus among them? None. Communists? None. Islamists? Zero. That’s eighty years of ideologies that have popped up where no Jesus was allowed among those four groups. Just look at the records as far as murder goes among those four groups.”
Phil On Health Insurance
“Temporary is all you’re going to get with any kind of health care, except the health care I’m telling you about. That’s eternal health care, and it’s free…. I’ve opted to go with eternal health care instead of blowing money on these insurance schemes.”
For what it’s worth—and since I actually looked it up—the violent-crime rate here in America has plummeted since 1990, even as church attendance has stayed the same. And, of course, Phil is conveniently ignoring centuries upon centuries of war, bloodshed, and human enslavement committed in the name of Christ.
But I doubt any of that would sway Phil. And anyway, I’m a guest in his house and he is my welcoming host, so I smile politely and nod like the milquetoast suburban WASP that I am.
If you can’t reconcile some of the things Phil says with his otherwise friendly demeanor—perhaps because you are gay, or a duck—I don’t blame you. And I don’t blame Duck Dynasty for keeping the show safely apolitical, ensuring smooth digestion for a mass audience.
While Phil proselytizes, I lean over to Willie, who is playing a video game on his phone.
Boy, it’s hard to get a word in with him!
Willie nods knowingly, barely looking up. I get the sense he’s heard all this before, many, many times. It’s taken me a while to figure out that you can cut Phil off and it’s not rude. He’s like a sidewalk preacher. One look from a stranger is all he needs to delve into the story bank and dole out his sermon. You can stop and listen for a bit, and then move on if you like. So even though he’s rolling, I change the subject.
You know what, Phil? Maybe we should just go shoot some stuff. Can we do that?
“Oh yeah. You betcha we can.”
The Robertson family spread is a 20,000-acre stretch of Louisiana floodplain. At first glance, it looks like an untouched expanse of rural wilderness. It is not. Phil stops the ATV in the middle of the trail, which runs atop a levee that he built himself, to show me a vast field of pink wild flowers. He crumbles one of the wild flowers and shows me the black seeds inside.
“See them little black seeds? See that? That’s what ducks eat. They love that. It’s called Pennsylvania smartweed. So we basically grow either natural vegetation or plants, or augment it, and we flood it.” In other words, the Robertsons are a legit farm-to-table family. Real pre-hipster shit.
When the waters from the nearby Ouachita River flood, it creates an ideal place to feed ducks. Which means it’s also the ideal place to kill ducks, who fly all the way from the Canadian prairies just to find themselves at the wrong end of Phil’s shotgun.
“Whack ’em and stack ’em,” as he says. And if the river doesn’t flood during the sixty-day duck season between November and January, Robertson has a pipeline installed to flood the lowlands anyway so that they don’t lose a day of hunting.
The ecology here has been so perfectly manipulated that it feels as if two giant hands reached down from the sky and molded the land itself, an effect that I’m sure would please Phil. Whatever you think of Phil’s beliefs, it’s hard not to gaze upon his cultivations and wonder if you’ve gotten life all wrong.
This is life as summer camp. It’s gorgeous, in a way that alters you on an elemental level. I feel it when I breathe the air. I feel it when I survey the enormity of the space around me. I shouldn’t be sitting around the house and bitching because the new iOS 7 touchscreen icons don’t have any fucking drop shadow. I should be out here, dammit! Killing things and growing things and bringing dead things home to cook! There is a life out in this wilderness that I am too chickenshit to lead.
As we speed along, a speck of mud gets on my shirt—OMG MUD EWW SO GROSS!—and I flick it away. Meanwhile, Phil sits next to me, and his whole life is caked in mud. He’s been out here plunging his hands into the earth and ripping the heads off ducks while I’ve been in suburbia with my thumb up my ass. I feel both inadequate and ungrateful. There’s only one way to absolve myself, I figure, and that is to shoot the fuck out of this crossbow.
Can I shoot the crossbow? And the rifle, for that matter?
“It’s ready to go,” he says. “Let’s see what you can shoot at.”
Since it isn’t duck season yet, and since there are no deer around, Phil tosses out a bottle of water from the ATV for me to target. I grab the .22 first, step out of the vehicle, and nail it dead on. first shot. I AM THE HUNTER.
Time for the crossbow. Phil steps in front of the ATV to move the bottle so that I have a clear shot. I jokingly pantomime grabbing at the crossbow to shoot him.
Just stay there, Phil! That’s perfect!
He laughs and pats his pant leg: “That’s why I keep an extra sidearm here.”
Phil hands me the bow, and I try to get a bead on the bottle through the scope. I close my eyes just as I’m squeezing the trigger. I hear the rush of the arrow and open my eyes in time to see the bottle jump up and start bleeding water down into the swamplands. The arrow is stuck a foot deep in the muck. I feel so very alive.
Phil nods in approval. “What do they call you where you’re from? Deadeye? Let me guess: You were a mischievous boy when you were younger.” I was indeed. Perhaps I should have stayed that way.
“So you and your woman: Are y’all Bible people?”
Not really, I’m sorry to say.
“If you simply put your faith in Jesus coming down in flesh, through a human being, God becoming flesh living on the earth, dying on the cross for the sins of the world, being buried, and being raised from the dead—yours and mine and everybody else’s problems will be solved. And the next time we see you, we will say: ‘You are now a brother. Our brother.’ So then we look at you totally different then. See what I’m saying?”
I think so?
We hop back in the ATV and plow toward the sunset, back to the Robertson home. There will be no family dinner tonight. No cameras in the house. No rowdy squirrel-hunting stories from back in the day. There will be only the realest version of Phil Robertson, hosting a private Bible study with a woman who, according to him, “has been on cocaine for years and is making her decision to repent. I’m going to point her in the right direction.”
It’s the direction he would like to point everyone: back to the woods. Back to the pioneer spirit. Back to God. “Why don’t we go back to the old days?” he asked me at one point. But now, I’m afraid, I must get out of the ATV and go back to where I belong, back to the godless part of America that Phil is determined to save.