Friday, May 2, 2014

I Suppose I DO Need Help With the Yard Work…

            Duck Dynasty is a reality television series that has been airing on A&E, and follows the daily life of Phil Robertson’s family, the man who invented the Duck Commander duck call and started up their now-million-dollar company. The show, known for its values of faith, family, and fun, follows the lives of people like Willie Robertson (son of Phil Robertson, and current CEO of Duck Commander), the crazy Uncle Si, and Phil’s beloved wife Kay. Despite the show’s reputation for being quite wholesome as far as reality television is concerned (there is no swearing on the show, and each show ends with the family gathered around some sort of dinner table together) it has come under fire recently for some comments made by family patriarch Phil, in which he condemns homosexuals, and compares them to the likes of terrorists and people that practice bestiality. Despite this attitude of his, however, we see in episode “Shot Thru the Heart” in Season 3, a situation where Phil expresses his distaste for a man coded as homosexual: until he finds out that this man can benefit him in some way. In Duck Dynasty, as well as other media, homosexuality is seen as a kind of accessory to heterosexuality; in that straight individuals who are portrayed in these shows don’t seem to express caring for the gay individual(s) on a personal level, but instead only care about how they can benefit from having them around. And what exactly does this mean in the context of the current fight for gay rights?

            In this particular episode of Duck Dynasty, Willie hires a pet photographer named Seth to come and take “family” portraits of Phil and Kay with their two dogs. When Seth arrives, it becomes apparent to the viewer that he is being coded as gay: very chic sense of style, multicolored watches, tone of voice, etc…all stereotypical ways of coding someone as homosexual. It also becomes just as apparent that Phil wants to distance himself from Seth as much as possible. The second that Seth walks up to them, Phil gives Seth a very over-done once-over, eyeing him suspiciously and very judgmentally. He then proceeds to make comments about Seth in the interview portion of the episode, such as “I think we got one with mother issues”, “he acted kinda funny”, and “he ain’t from around here”. And as Seth is first arriving, Phil feels the need to point out to Seth that his watches are multicolored, as he makes a suggestive whistling sound.  Long story short, you get the gist while watching this episode that Phil disapproves of Seth and his sexuality. However, Phil starts to sing a different tune once Seth starts to rake up leaves in order to get a “fall action shot” of the dogs. Suddenly, Phil starts saying things like “Well, I wasn’t sure about all this, but it’s looking better all the time” and he “liked the way this thing was turning”. In fact, Seth doing him the favor of raking up the leaves led Phil to tell him he was “looking good there”….the only semi-nice thing that Phil says to him the whole time. And so, we can see how once Phil realized that hey, having Seth around might mean that there’s something in it for him, he stopped being so full of disdain and actually cooperated. Unfortunately, we can’t even argue that this was just a change of heart on Phil’s part toward Seth, because as Seth goes to give Phil a hug at the end of the episode, Phil literally thrusts his arm out to block Seth’s hug, telling him instead to “get on those leaves”.

            Phil’s behavior throughout the episode portrays this common depiction of homosexual-heterosexual relationships in numerous shows and movies: the idea that the relationship does not involve the straight individual caring for the gay individual on a personal level so much as caring about how they can benefit them. We see this unfortunate portrayal in this episode in the way that Phil wanted absolutely nothing to do with Seth on a personal level, but instead only cared about him raking his leaves and helping with any other yard work involved with the photo shoot. The bizarre nature of this can be seen even more clearly when we consider the recent homophobic comments made by Phil in a now-famous interview. Phil was quoted saying that homosexuality was sinful, and he discussed it as the starting point for when such “sins” become justified, claiming that it starts with homosexuality, and from there branches out to bestiality and sleeping around, etc. He then references scripture, saying that “’homosexual offenders…won’t inherit the kingdom of God’” (Sieczkowski, 2013). With how incredibly opposed Phil is to homosexuality, this episode serves as a pretty strong example of the “homosexuality as an accessory to heterosexuality” theme being portrayed in the media: here is this man that he thinks is full of sin and comparable to the likes of those who practice bestiality, yet he seems to be more than willing to keep him around as long as he’s doing his yard work for him. Even the pairing of the two ongoing plot lines in this episode present homosexuality as a kind of accessory to heterosexuality, since the other story in this episode is about Willie’s son breaking up with his girlfriend recently, and all the rugged men of the family taking their son out on a good ‘ol hunting trip to talk about women and how there are other fish in the sea…you know how the story goes. Even in this way, homosexually-coded Seth is serving as an accessory to the plot line of John Luke’s recent breakup with a female.

           And this portrayal is not just limited to Duck Dynasty, but also presents itself in other media as well. Nicole Argall in her 2008 article refers to the idea of “the gay best friend in Will & Grace”, and how women watching the show were deciding that they too wanted one of their own, as if talking about a new designer bag. This, to me, is shocking in itself, as if getting a best friend who is also gay is so much of a benefit to straight women (shopping buddy, girl talk buddy, fake boyfriend to avoid getting hit on…) that they feel as if they could just go window shopping and pick out a GBF of their own, with no actual respect for the person on an individual level. This upsetting trend is referenced once again by Claire Nally and Angela Smith, as they refer to the “…’Gay Best Friend’ (GBF) phenomenon of the early part of this century…” (Nally & Smith, 2013). We also see this playing out in shows like Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, in which a team of gay men have to lend out their help and wisdom to a clueless straight man and teach him how to behave more presentably, once again with homosexuals acting as accessories to the clueless man’s heterosexual lifestyle.

            So why does any of this matter? As the LGBT community continues to fight for their rights to things like legal marriage in the U.S., the spotlight is on issues of gay rights. With this issue being one of relevance to this fight, it leaves viewers of shows like Ducky Dynasty and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy wondering: is this phenomenon in which homosexuals are viewed as yard work helpers and gay best friends exclusively, something that we as a culture should be concerned about? A 2006 study by Fitzgerald et al. looked closely at the effects of certain media portrayals on viewer’ attitudes toward homosexuality. The gist of the study: along with a control group of course, there was one group that watched a video considered “anti-gay”, and another that was considered “pro-gay”. After they watched the videos, the viewers were followed up with on several occasions, and it was consistently found that those that watched the “anti-gay” footage consistently displayed more negative attitudes toward homosexuality, and the people that watched the “pro-gay” video tended to have more positive attitudes toward homosexuals. This study serves as just one example of how the things that we watch on TV affect our opinions and perspectives on issues and entire groups of people. This is troublesome since, as we have seen, Duck Dynasty and other various media are portraying relationships between heterosexuals and homosexuals as something that the straight can benefit from, without any personal concern or care for the gay individual in the scenario. This leads us to wonder what kind of impact this is making on viewers and how it is unknowingly affecting their real-life relationships with people of a different sexuality. So the question now is…what can we do to change it?



Fitzgerald, L. F. Levina, M. Waldo, C. R. (2006). We’re here, we’re queer, we’re on TV: The
            effects of visual media on heterosexuals’ attitudes toward gay men and lesbians. Journal
            of Applied Social Psychology, 30, 738-758.

Argall, N. (2005). ‘If the tiara fits’: The problematic feminization of gay characters in Will and 
            Grace. Harrington Gay Men’s Fiction Quarterly, 2, 117-132.

Sieczkowski, C. (2013). ‘Duck Dynasty’ star Phil Robertson makes anti-gay remarks, says being
            gay is a sin [updated]. Huffington Post.

(March 6, 2013). Shot thru the heart (Duck Dynasty). D. Gurney (Producer), S. Gurney
            (Producer), E. F. Bryant (Producer), L. Neumeyer (Producer). Louisiana, West
            Monroe: A +E Networks.

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