How entertaining is it really to watch Southerners tackle alligators, catch critters with their bare hands, hunt ducks, and ride four-wheelers around in the mud? According to the Nielsen TV ratings, very entertaining.
As the popular “Duck Dynasty” (A&E) wrapped up its third season it boasted an average of 8.5 million viewers an episode. A quick review of program lineups reveals the appetite for self-described reality “redneck” shows is only growing: “Buckwild” (MTV), “American Hoggers” (A&E), “Moonshiners” (Discovery), and “Hillbilly Handfishin’ ” and “Call of the Wildman” (Animal Planet) are just a sampling of programs reveling in the adventures to be had in rural, southern America.
Why are these shows captivating TV audiences? It could have something to do with the Southern tradition of good storytelling, or the invitation to gawk at a culture vastly different from one’s own.
Eric Deggans, television and media critic for the St. Petersburg Times in Florida, says there are two types of audiences drawn to these kinds of shows: one group that “feels like they’re from that world, and another that likes to mock them.”
Despite their long shaggy beards and bandanna-tied foreheads, the “Duck Dynasty” fellas are endearingly eccentric and funny, and bow their heads in prayer over a meal at the end of each episode while one of the cast members narrates a life-lesson takeaway. But it is still hard to tell if those 8.5 million viewers are laughing at or with this family who has made their fortune with a duck call fabrication business.
On the other hand, “Buckwild,” the reality show that follows a crowd of fast-living young adults, has drawn criticism for its portrayal of West Virginians. Sen. Joe Manchin called for the show’s cancellation in January. The recent death of “Buckwild” star Shain Gandee and the arrest of another cast member have cast a pall over the show.
So far, “Duck Dynasty” has been able to poke fun at itself while avoiding real-time pitfalls.
“Duck Dynasty … has chemistry. It’s part of a trend, it’s well-produced, [and] it’s got an interesting cast,” says Mr. Deggans. However, “if you look at shows like ‘Dirty Jobs’ or ‘Deadliest Catch’… they are edited differently [from the Southern shows] to explain what [their casts] do in a positive light,” adds Deggans. In Southern reality shows, banjo music plays during the transitions and “anyone with a thick Southern accent gets subtitles,” he says.
All judgment aside, it seems “redneck hip” is here to stay for a while. So the real question remains: What’s the best way to accessorize camo?