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Duck Dynasty is a reality series on A&E about the Robertsons, a regular ol’ “redneck” Louisiana family who became millionaires after creating a new, more efficient kind of duck call. According to legend, the family patriarch, Phil, turned down a career in the NFL in order to spend 25 years in a dilapidated shed making duck calls out of cedar trees. His “eureka!” moment came in 1972 with the creation of the “Duck Commander,” the duck call that eventually made him rich.
A duck call! Duck calls are short, whistle-like tools used to emit “quack” sounds in order to lure ducks for hunting. Different duck calls can sound like different species of duck, or even like ducks doing different things, like eating. They’re not as easy to use as they look, though. Just ask Conan O’Brien.
With their out-of-control beards, camouflage and black face paint, the duckmen look like the stuff of TSA officers’ nightmares. But their grizzly trappings make for deadly efficient duck hunting—and they also make duck hunting look ridiculously cool.
More than anything however, the Robertson men just aren’t interested in stepping up their fashion game (or in grooming equipment). Willie, Phil’s son and the CEO of Duck Commander, once attempted to get his brothers and uncles to wear company uniforms and was met with outcries of, “You’re losing your redneck roots!” Instead, their decidedly non-millionaire dress code is a sort of visual cue for the humble, conservative values they embody: The Robertsons are portrayed as a tight-knit, devout family who put loyalty, love, and their church above all else. And it’s getting enormous response from red state audiences that relate. As one viewer fondly wrote on the show’s website, “This is how me and my kin are around each other as well. We joke, we fish, we hunt, we work and we poke fun all in the name of love.”
You could say that Duck Dynasty has become a viewer favorite because of its heartwarming message about family, the American Dream and the rewards of hard work. It may also be because, unlike other reality shows about Southern families thrust into contrived situations (a certain absurdly nicknamed mini-pageant queen comes to mind), Duck Dynasty doesn’t point and laugh at its subjects. In fact, the Robertson family, who call themselves “rednecks” as proudly as the Jersey Shore stars reclaimed “guido,” have even admitted that the series is a sort of “guided reality.” Though that means that some of their antics are scripted, it also means that the Robertsons are in on the joke—and relishing it with wry, deadpan humor.