Every so often the general public have to come to grips with the fact that “reality” TV shows like Duck Dynasty are not real. While fans of the show may forget this truism, Phil Robertson forgot the “golden rules” of TV and he has angered GLAAD in the process. He can be forgiven, though, reality television, by the very nature of the medium that broadcasts it, is not real. Despite networks, studios and producers attempting to repeatedly convince the audience that their real programs feature “real” people and their “real” problems nothing could be further from the truth.
In 2007, fans of the reality television show The Hills found out that certain episodes were scripted. Despite stars of the show explaining that there was no dialogue per se, but the show’s credibility took a hit. Since that revelation, other shows that ape, to a certain extent, the overall look of The Hills shows like Jersey Shore; The Real Housewives of Orange County; Made in Chelsea; et al, continue to be popular, but, all are still scripted.
The idea that cameras can come into the home, workplace, and surroundings of a real family and record real events is ludicrous and, if the viewer really thought about it, impossible. The very act of filming any “true” event fictionalizes the events. Duck Dynasty is no different from its predecessors. It features a middle American family and their day-to-day exploits. This is not a real representation of their so-called life.
Take the patriarch familial lead character of the show Phil Robertson. Is it coincidence that in most of the promotional photographs for the show he looks uncannily like Jeff Bridges? Of course it isn’t. The man looks the spitting image of Bridge’s appearance as Rooster Cogburn in the Coen Bros remake of True Grit. Not only does he look at bit like Rooster, but, he lives a life that revolves around hunting and guns. The producers and the A&E network must have seen dollar signs over Robertson’s head when they met him.
Now Robertson has ruffled the feathers of GLAAD, the LGBT community and the liberal left of America. Why? Because he stepped out of character. Duck Dynasty, like The Hills; The City; Hardcore Pawn; and all the other reality TV shows are not real. While they may not be scripted to the extent that each character in the shows has lines to memorise, there is no real spontaneity, it has been built into the very world they inhabit by directors and cinematographers.
It has been pointed out, time and again, that the very presence of a film camera negates any aspect of reality. With the exception of shows like Big Brother where cameras are everywhere, reality shows as a rule use “proper” cameras that require operators, setting up and blocking of the subjects so they don’t walk into or notice the cameras while performing.
Another thing pointed out about “reality” or true stories that are replicated on television or movies is that the very act of filming fictionalizes the story or events. For instance, watching a film like The Burning Bed or The Killing Fields may inform a larger mass of people of the events, but, it is not a true representation as cameras were not at the actual event. No one, apart from the actual participants really know what happened and, as any writer who has had a book adapted for film will tell you, things change and are changed for the medium.
In essence what works in real life may not work very well for the camera lens. In filming any real person or personality, Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian, or the Osbournes, what they really do will not be shown on television. Reality television lets the world in on the day-to-day events of these “stars” that are interesting. Is Kim Kardashian, in her Keeping Up With the Kardashians, really like what you see on the television? Listen to her fellow celebrities and it seems that she is nothing like the vacuous creature presented on the show.
With some celebrities, what you see is what you get. Paris Hilton, for example, falls into this category, but, only to an extent. As hard as it may be to believe even the famous for being famous Hilton has layers. Perhaps not very deep and quite possibly not too many, but, they are there. Duck Dynasty, however, is not a show about celebrities or personalities.
Duck Dynasty is the type of reality television show that creates celebrities and personalities. Was Phil Robertson famous or even well known before the advent of the show? To a certain amount of people Robertson was a known entity. He was in the NFL for a very short while, but, left after a couple of years to devote more time to his real passion of hunting. He was, perhaps, well known as the inventor of the Duck Commander duck call which propelled him into a multimillion dollar business, but outside of these two circles, he could have passed on a street full of strangers unrecognised.
Robertson comes across as a good man who has a strong faith in fundamental religion. A&E and he have had disagreements in the past. Mainly the arguments were about the liberal area of not offending anyone who has different beliefs and values. Conflicts about leaving out the family’s prayers and cutting out the “in Jesus name,” from the prayer along with the ridiculous move to cut out guns and gun references in a show about a hunting dynasty have been reported in the past.
The reality television show follows Phil Robertson and family, but, it is not a real version of their lives. It is what has been deemed acceptable by the network. Duck Dynasty is not a real picture of the family. Robertson has angered GLAAD and the LGBT community, but, he did so away from the set of the popular show. There have been setbacks with the network and producers of the show, but, these were behind the scenes not out in the open where the audience could be offended.
The latest Duck Dynasty tempest in a duck call came from an interview that Robertson gave to GQ. In it, he relates his beliefs based on his religious upbringing. A&E have suspended the 67 year-old patriarch from the show and it turns out, his family are not too happy about. Basically, the family say, no Phil no show. While this little politically incorrect snafu is being dealt with, the question arises of how this type of behaviour by the “lead” male in the show did not rear its ugly head before.
The answer is simple. The show is not real. If the average viewer took the time to inspect or even learn of the behind the scenes reality, they would learn that, like The Hills each and every episode is scripted. It is the nature of the beast. Even if television producers did not script scenarios for the cameras they would still have to edit the existing footage. 45 minutes of watching unedited footage of a real family would be boring beyond belief, no matter how interesting their lives were.
Reality, unlike the television representation of it, is boring. It is also pain, tears, flatulence, silence, mediocrity and routine. Yes, some of what is on reality television shows reflect these less exciting aspects of life, but, these instances are fleeting and serve only to prove just how real these programs are. Like the less savory aspects of anyone, the true natures of each reality television star is a persona. One that has been carefully built by the show’s producers and it is made up of “acceptable” traits. Homophobia and other incorrect political views are not allowed.
Is it really surprising that Phil Robertson has ideas and beliefs that do not match the liberal left and upset GLAAD? If one looks objectively at the real Phil Robertson’s background and upraising the answer is no. It is only a shock or surprise if viewed from the character he portrays on the popular Duck Dynasty show.
Reality television is not real. Duck Dynasty does not depict truth; only a representation of it that is palatable to a broad audience. In this case, the real Phil Robertson stood up and angered GLAAD and the LGBT community in his GQ magazine interview and this resulted in anger from the shows audience. Not just at Robertson, but, at the network as well. Unfortunately, the hunting family patriarch forgot, momentarily, that this was real life and he answered truthfully and not as the character that had been created by the network.
By Michael Smith