Thursday, January 9, 2014

REDNECK FENG-SHUI

Dr. Mary Ann Wilson and the
Duck Dynasty cap
During the Christmas holidays, my kin, all of whom follow the antics of the television reality show, Duck Dynasty, discussed some of the merits of the characters featured in the show while we waited for Christmas dinner to cook. As a great-grandmother, I've already been relegated to the "dinosaur" category of animal species, but my ignorance about this show really brought forth major shock reactions in the younger crowd—and I vowed to watch one of the shows to see what all the hoorah was about.

After watching several old episodes of Duck Dynasty, I had to admit that these homespun north Louisiana characters in the Robertson family from Monroe, Louisiana were pretty funny, and I watched just enough of the series to be conversant the next time we gathered for a family celebration.

Just yesterday, I was surprised to discover that one of my close friends, Dr. Mary Ann Wilson, who teaches English at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, has become a fan of this show and will present a paper about the Duck Dynasty at a meeting of the Society for the Study of Southern Literature in Arlington Virginia in March. The meeting is dubbed "Other Souths, Approaches, Alliances, Antagonisms," and Mary Ann's abstract for the paper is entitled "'Redneck Feng-shui': Duck Dynasty and the Other Louisiana."

Mary Ann's premise is that Louisiana has a history of being an exotic place in the U.S. from "Edward King's images of magnolia-laden plantations in the post-Civil War series, The Great South, to Kate Chopin's local color sketches in Bayou Folk and A Night in Acadie." She cites the success of Swamp People on the History Channel, which she says highlights the "otherness of Louisiana and its myth-making potential," and this show has been followed by Duck Dynasty, featured on A&E television. Briefly, the Duck Dynasty, otherwise known as the Robertsons, began to enjoy fortune and fame when the head of the clan, Phil Robertson, crafted a unique duck call back in 1972, an object that burgeoned into Duck Commander merchandise and into a major reality show that has catapulted the family into unparalleled public acclaim. Just recently, the show garnered recognition as the "most popular television show in the U.S."

In the abstract for her paper, Mary Ann describes Duck Dynasty as performing for "a voyeuristic public a version of southern identity complete with pastoral wilderness, peculiar north Louisiana patois, and rags to riches success, combining laissez-faire Louisiana with Yankee hustle." She adds that [this show is] "red state 'Americanness' on display—a contrarian libertarian streak embodied in presumably self-made men..."

Her intellectual commentary about this down home show imparts credibility to a show that could have been criticized as sit-com slapstick underlining the public's notions of what it is to be southern. However, Mary Ann says that the show "combines nostalgia for a vanishing way of life, the frontier spirit of an earlier time, a strong Protestant work ethic, and a comforting reinforcement of gender spheres..."

During the holidays, Mary Ann received an official Duck Dynasty cap, which is displayed in the attached photograph. I'll leave it to Louisiana readers to decide whether they agree with Mary Ann that the home of Duck Dynasty is a "liminal space in the South, more like east Texas, and Mississippi, resolutely NOT New Orleans, Baton Rouge, or even Lafayette..."

I hope I have the opportunity to read the paper she presents at the Southern Lit Conference in Virginia and would love to be a fly on the wall of their meeting room so I could see the reactions of the gathered intellectuals to Mary Ann's version of "Redneck Feng-shui."


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