A few weeks ago my wife and I were enjoying a quick vacation in the mountains of North Carolina. We needed a few things to feather our nest so we ducked into the local Walmart. While Gloria was searching for the Cuban coffee and other things she can’t live without, I busied myself looking at different products and brands I don’t see at home. I grabbed a bag of El Guapo dried peppers, snapped a picture of Pajama Jeans, and discovered an entire aisle dedicated to products emblazoned with a flock of men in camouflage sporting biblical age beards, the ZZ Top of the hunting set.
Of course, that was before I’d ever heard of Duck Dynasty – the show that was on everybody’s lips not 60 days later.
If you’ve spent the last two months visiting Uranus and are unaware of what happened, let me fill you in. Phil Robertson made some atrociously politically incorrect comments about gays and blacks in GQ Magazine. This matters mostly because Phil and his family are the stars of the most popular reality show on television, the A&E blockbuster called — you guessed it — Duck Dynasty.
Once various groups started complaining about what Phil said, A&E banished him indefinitely. And that’s when the craziness started. Religious groups, right-wingers, and Duck Dynasty fans were outraged and raised their voices in protest. But interestingly enough, they were joined by a number of groups on the left who rallied behind Robertson’s First Amendment rights. If you caught any of the daffiness on FOX, CNN or MSNBC it got harder and harder to figure out who supported whom and why – a virtual cluster duck.
This was about the time I got pulled into the dispute when I was invited to appear on Judge Jeanine Pirro’s show, Justice, alongside Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council. Clearly the producer’s intention was that Perkins would defend the duck man’s biblical beliefs and I would take A&E’s side. You can watch the interview HERE.
Trouble is, both parties were well within their rights. Robertson can say whatever he wants, and A&E can run their business anyway they see fit. What I observe is a much bigger – and more significant – social movement occurring right under our beaks.
For A&E to suggest that they don’t pander to the very market that Robertson represents is easy to dispute simply by looking at their most popular programs, which include Storage Wars: Texas, American Hoggers, Rodeo Girls, and Crazy Hearts: Nashville. Also, notice that A&E didn’t take their fowl cash cow off the air – they simply removed Phil for an undetermined amount of time.
But please don’t try to convince me that ol’ Phil didn’t know exactly what he was doing when he told GQ that blacks were happy in slavery days or that gays won’t see the kingdom of heaven. The backwoods duck hunter is a self-made man who has built a personal fortune of over $180 million. He didn’t do that by being an idiot.
I’ve spent lots of time in this blog writing about our overly manufactured, overly marketed, overly digital society and how it distorts the truth. The truth in this situation is that Americans today are searching for authenticity and how they feel about who acted authentically dictated which side of the discussion they found themselves on.
Trouble is, neither side was being truly authentic – they just used their marketing tools in different ways and the market is now sorting out who was right. So just as the Bronze Age surrendered to the Iron Age and the Industrial Age finally yielded to the Information Age, it too is now being bested by the Brand Age where things are valued not by function but by perception. In other words, the marketers have finally taken over.
While the consistent difference between each age is the tools that define it, one thing that transcends all ages is that their tools are agnostic. A spear can be used to procure food or kill an innocent. A truck can take a child to the hospital or deliver a load of crack to an addict. A computer can do computations that produce medical miracles or perpetrate identity fraud. And branding can be used to sell products, raise money for charities, or put charlatans in power.
Think I’m being extreme? Tell me how many people would have tuned into Duck Dynasty if its hoary millionaire heroes still looked like they did in this picture…