I am late to the party, but I recently caught my first episode of one of the newer reality fads, “Duck Dynasty.” It is one of the latest in a long stream of reality TV hits. Apparently, we just love watching other people’s lives – especially the ones that are a lot different than ours. It seems like every channel has now found some small niche of people (or three) to follow around and create a show about, whether they be cake makers, exterminators, Amish kids, or pawn shop workers. The latest sensations feature “Swamp People,” “Duck Dynasty,” and the incomparable “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,” all featured on their respective channels (Discovery, A&E, TLC). Together, they have been called the “redneck revolution.” These three shows each average several million viewers per episode. Duck Dynasty brought in 3.8 million in its recent premier.
The popularity of these shows probably says a lot about us as viewers. Not all of those are necessarily negative, I suppose. But I think some certainly are. For the most part, we tune in to these shows to observe something bizarre, gawk at things unthinkable, and even laugh at these hilarious personalities. Their lives seem absurd for sure, and I don’t have much sympathy for people who voluntarily make a spectacle of themselves. But, what habits are we forming as we proclaim their absurdity? What disposition do we have toward those we don’t understand?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m as bewildered by these lifestyles and characters as the next person, and I can get a good laugh in hearing their commentary on their own life. I happen to find “Duck Dynasty” thoroughly entertaining. Hilarious. I’m not suggesting we boycott some TV show. I’m not concerned with how much or if those shows are watched. But, might we be practicing misunderstanding? Might this simply be perpetuating judgment of anything different?
If we hope to encourage things such as peace, mutuality, and common understanding – if we seek on any level to be formed as people toward such things as unity and reconciliation, then I would suggest we ought to be careful of our disposition toward those who are not like us. As we observe duck call millionaires who all have long hair, giant beards, and bizarre opinions, have we really met the Robinson’s? (Yes, that’s their name) I don’t know or understand Bruce Mitchell, Clint Landry, or Glen Guist, but how could I when they’re dismissed as “swamp people?” Extend this habit further and you can understand precisely how we over generalize, stereotype, and classify, and perhaps why we fail to move in the other direction. In some way, we devalue and dehumanize people every time this happens.
Again: what habits are we forming as we proclaim others’ absurdity? What posture are we taking toward those we don’t understand?