Are you a “Duck Dynasty” American or a “Downton Abbey” American?

The fans of these two TV family sagas may live in parallel worlds and the divide is deeper than who wears camo and who wears tweeds, populist A&E or elitist PBS.

One fan group follows Phil Robertson, bearded patriarch of duck-call-dynasty on the rural reality show. Phil managed to make a beautiful Bible ugly by crude, judgmental remarks in “GQ” about gay sex.

He’s strongly supported by those evangelicals who can overlook his accompanying bizarre remarks on race in the same interview. This weekend his fans are cheering the late Friday news that A&E has lifted its suspension of Phil – not even two weeks long – to resume filming the show with him this spring. The network says the show must go on because “it resonates with a large audience because it is a show about family … a family that America has come to love.”

In Twittertalk that’s #ratings.

Carson, Downton Abbey's chief butler played by Jim Carter, makes room for a gay character in the Servants' Hall. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE.

Carson, Downton Abbey’s chief butler played by Jim Carter, makes room for a gay character in the Servants’ Hall. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE.

Of course, no network, including PBS, can sneer at ratings. Hence there’s a parallel America that is eagerly awaiting Season 4 of a fictional family+servants series set in early 20th century England.

Downton Abbey’s struggling clan – Oh, the wealth-in-jeopardy! Oh, abrupt deaths that allow actors to leave for film contracts! Oh the clothes! – engages an equally loyal audience that resonates to the scripts’ live-and-let live values with little mention of God, doctrine or faith. On this estate, Catholicism is suspect, the Church of England is the butt of jokes, and the wages of unmarried sex are not Biblical hell but the hell of public exposure.

Jack Seale at “Radio Times” describes the episode where the Lord of the estate and the chief butler must recognize that footman Tom Barrow is gay.

“The enlightened Downton elders recognized that he hadn’t chosen to be a deviant and shouldn’t be punished unduly for his inherent evil. Besides, if there’s one thing worse than erotic irregularity, it’s gossip.”

Upshot: Barrow is now the under butler at Downton. Can you say #ratings?

In which show do you see your faith and values reflected?

Categories: Beliefs

Cathy Lynn Grossman

Cathy Lynn Grossman

Cathy Lynn Grossman is a senior national correspondent for Religion News Service, specializing in stories drawn from research and statistics on religion, spirituality and ethics, and manager for social media.

33 Comments

  1. Both. I’m an increasingly faithful, evangelical Roman Catholic, but most don’t get to choose their temptation (yes, I do consider same-gender sex to be sinful, as well as bestiality, adultery, pre-marital sex, incest, rape, pedophilia, etc., all of which, uncoincidentally–in principal–socio-anthropologically destabilizing to families, communities, and wider societies); compassionate conservatism might fit my bill a little better. The reason, however, that the state takes an interest in how we organize families and originally sought to establish legal parameters for sexual/sensual and familial relations from the local to the national level is because the state has an interest in social stability. If they’re meant to keep peace and order then, of course, they would want to regulate relationships accordingly. This is the precedent for such cultural and litigious regulation. It remains to be seen how much steady deregulation will affect national stability. Of course, for anything notable to happen, there would have to be other factors involved, I suspect. Sexual/marital partnerships can negatively effect children, whether it be divorce, parental promiscuity, or simply not being raised by one’s biological parents (best-case scenario, I know) from whom they derive their identity, even if their identity is a reaction to their perception of their parent. When it comes down to it, the question is about how this will effect the psycho-social well-being of those who are raised in such contexts. The developmental formation of children is a key anthropological, and thus governmental, interest as it informs the future economic and ultimately international ranking and vitality of the country. This is the case throughout history in every context. The “rules” didn’t change because we’ve developed a seeming technologically advanced society. Anthropological norms have endured for a reason, and the Catholic Church has used them to the point of enduring every major tragedy and scandal, and outliving every major empire and civilization, for the last 2,000 years; it, and its sound teachings on “natural law” philosophy, ain’t goin’ nowhere. It was here before we (the USA) got here, and it will be here when we’re long gone…

  2. Daniel Berry, NYC

    I’m a gay faithful Anglican Christian. I don’t own a TV but have watched Downton online.

    My not owning a TV is, perhaps, one reflection of my values since I regard the overwhelming bulk of what is seen on television in America as noisy, unadulterated garbage.

    The values represented by Edwardian Anglicanism may be seen as disgusting in some ways, but the way such values are portrayed to play out in life at Downton represent a hard-nosed realism to which the privileged families of the UK have long been accustomed. It tends to avoid dogmatism, judgementalism, and, as you have noted, scandal. While the moral-ethical moorings of the family may be difficult to identify in explicitly religious terms, those values underlie a fundamental sense of decency and rectitude that I find difficult to criticize. This pragmatic approach to life and to duty is far better prepared to support individuals’ navigation of life’s crises and challenges than the untutored fundamentalism of the Robertson family.

  3. Robertson’s remarks in no way made a “beautiful Bible ugly” any more than a lunatic puts out the sun by scribbling the word ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell (love that CS Lewis quote)! Robertson’s crude remarks are his and his alone. Those that take exception to his crude choice of words are right to do so. Those who take exception to the sentiments expressed in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and Romans 1:24-27 have a problem with the Bible and should have the courage to say so.

    • Regina Tuskey

      While both those passages refer in part to homosexuality, they also refer to a number of other sexual / sinful behaviors that are not nearly as publicly reviled. Besides having a problem with the Bible (which I do, it’s full of violence, cruelty, & inconsistencies), I have a problem with people selectively interpreting which sins are supposed to be REALLY bad & which ones are glossed over.

  4. Definitely a Lord Grantham and not a Phil Robertson. Downtown Abbey breezes through both time and family crises to the point of silliness, but the prevailing theme is that one behaves within certain parameters not just for one’s own sake but for the greater good of one’s family and community. When people fall short, family and community make the best of things, put on a brave face and move forward. It’s the shrill finger-pointers and pushy do-gooders who are most reviled at Downton Abbey.

    The Robertsons are clannish and boorish, and their religion is about the self, not community. For all their Bible-thumping, it doesn’t seem like they’re concerned about anything more than their own personal salvation.

    • Actually, Downton Abbey is all about self-worship. When God is left out of the picture (and that’s exactly how “DA” operates), then you ultimately wind up with the most unpleasant alternative: worshipping yourself.

      Trying to “make the best of things” on the very limited ability of self, (and of course “putting on a brave face” when self inevitably proves inadequate to resolve the problem at hand). Your soul is as parched as dust, but you can’t even pray for rain because that would mean bowing to God instead of Self.

      Welcome to Downton Abbey. And welcome to a lost and confused America (and its lost and confused media).

      You guys can keep your Downton Abbey. I need life, not a living death. Give me a Christian Duck Commander who still worships God and believes the Bible. Period.

      • Dudley M Jones

        Dear Mr Anthony

        I think there were at least two occasions on Downtown Abbey where central characters did pray. You are correct in pointing out that they are not religiously conservative. The creator of Downtown Abbey is a Christian, and a member of the Catholic Church.

        Best wishes and happy New Year

        • I don’t doubt what you say about Downton Abbey’s creator being a Catholic Christian. However, “on this (Downton) estate, Catholicism is suspect, the Church of England is the butt of jokes, and the wages of unmarried sex are not Biblical hell but the hell of public exposure,” as Grossman wrote.

          Downton Abbey shows you how things look when people choose self-worship, doing things your own way, instead of worshipping God and doing things His way.

          Duck Dynasty at least shows you (imperfectly, and with a “coarse” Duck Commander) how things look when you at least believe God, believe Christ, believe the Bible (a rarity, yes?), and believe in praying about things (another rarity).

          Duck Dynasty shows you life. Downton Abbey shows you a living death. Not a difficult choice to make.

          • Dear Mr Anthony

            This is absolutely none of my business, but I had understood that some Christians enjoyed Downton Abbey because of the relatively low levels of sex, violence, and profanity compared to many other TV shows. May I ask if any episodes in particular offended you?

  5. It is fascinating to see how many conservative Christians have embraced the message that Robertson was being criticized for taking a Biblical stance. I wonder how many actually read what he said on the subject, or if they would even have the wisdom to reflect on just how little of it really had anything to do with scripture.

  6. Jonathan J. Turner

    Just a couple of personal musings…

    – The only gay character on Downton Abbey is Thomas, portrayed as a truly despicable, false, and unlikeable cad.

    – “Straight” (a necessary retronym now) men’s aversion to the idea or notion of sexual lust between (or among) men may be due to neither religion or politics (per Occam’s Razor), but may be just as immutable and “natural” as gay men’s sexual desire. In terms of attitudes and behavior, how could the former (96.1%) be a mere social construction while the latter (3.9%) be a biological fact?

    – Romantic/lustful relations between/among men are anathema to Friendship (i.e., friendship between/among straight men). Ideals and models of friendship, father-son, and brother-brother relations are confirmed but not invented by Christianity, which is largely a trope on fathers raising sons (mediated by a holy spirit, the sense of parenthood) so that both grow to be brothers under God’s supreme parenthood. This helps explain why Christianity is capable of Reformation(s) when its institutions become overgrown or corrupted by the world’s circumstances.

    – The Downton Abbey family is filled with fictional struggles of posturing, revenge, advantage, and class; the true-life Robertson clan love God, each other, work hard and have fun: Esse Quam Videre!

    • Well, yes, on their admittedly fictional “reality” show — remember, they make no bones about the fact that their show is based on skits they’ve written. It’s not a true reality show by any means. And Robertson was a womanizing drinking creep before he got saved, or whatever the current fundamentalist term is for their come-to-Jesus moment.

      His comments re black people were appalling, and the comments he made re his perception of gay sex were not chaste by any means. They were juvenile and creepy.

      I don’t think the Robertsons are bad people, but I think they’re indicative of a shallow, self-involved brand of self-interpreted, self-driven Christianity that’s all too prevalent throughout this country, from the “Jesus Barbies” of Orange County, CA to the swamps of Louisiana.

  7. Earold Gunter

    Although I haven’t viewed DA, I have seen several DD episodes, and wouldn’t consider either as a litmus test of my own values. One aspect of Phil’s crude comments that I have not heard addressed though is how he limited his views of heterosexual and homosexual relationships to just the sexual act itself. In the show, the relationship he has with his wife is one that involves him often “trading” acts; that is he does something she wants only because she promises him sex. His actions and comments seem to reveal that he has failed to understand, that a relationship between two people who love each other is much more than the physical act of sex.

  8. So, I must admit first: I’ve never seen either show (so maybe I shouldn’t be commenting!). Though, I do have some sympathy for both having lived for a many years in the Southern USA and, now, in England.

    Based off this article, and what I’ve read elsewhere, it seems the following characterisation can be made:

    Duck Dynasty: highly conservative Christians with rigid moral beliefs display those beliefs in a manner which can be called rude, insensitive, and far from loving.

    Downton Abbey: rich family which places its sense of morality not in faith but in social class and, in effect, the “ethics of money”.

    If this is the case, neither reflects me. Why? I am a Christian. As a Christian, I find myself feeling that my faith is or parmount importance and something which should guide by behaviour (unlike Downton Abbey). Yet, I also believe two things: 1) I am just as much a sinner as anybody else, and 2) Christ died not for the love of sin, but for the love of sinners. This means that I am just as imperfect as others who are living in sin and, equally, I should endevour to treat all people with respect, love, and courtesy (unlike Duck Dynasty).

  9. Phil Robertson’s merely called homosexual sex acts a sin. He should do so; he’s a Christian, and Christianity teaches that these acts are sinful.Calling a sin an act which the teachings of one’s faith declares to be sinful are neither bigoted nor hateful.
    He did not, as is being claimed, equate homosexuality with bestiality; he mentioned them both in a list of sexual sins – along with heterosexual promiscuity.
    Further, his language was not crude or derogatory – he used the proper medical terminology for parts of male and female anatomy.
    Those seeking to silence Mr. Robertson, like the hate-filled bastion of intolerance GLAAD, are incapable of separating opposition to a specific act from persecution of those inclined toward that act. However, such people who took exception to Mr. Robertson’s remarks more properly have grievance with Christianity; that is the source of the declaration that homosexual sex acts are sinful, and no amount of revisionist nonsense can change this fact.

    • PaulBot1138 – Am I permitted to object to his comments regarding the African American experience in the South prior to the Civil Rights movement, or does that make me anti-Christian?

      • Are you permitted? Of course.
        You are incorrect to do so, however, because his comments regarding African Americans in the pre-Civil Rights movement South had only to do with those he experienced, rather than any attempt at generalization as a whole.
        So, unless you have evidence that Phil Robertson did indeed encounter blacks who appeared to be suffering during the time period, you have zero cause to challenge him.

    • Just because he used proper terminology does not mean his comments were not crude and even derogatory. He reduced people to things. That’s always crude and derogatory. I could easily write a filthy, derogatory, crude paragraph about straight, married people having good ol’ missionary position sex using clincially correct terminology. It’s not the words, it’s the way he said it.

      • He did nothing of the sort. He expressed his preference for vaginal intercourse with a woman over anal intercourse with a man. Nothing in that is either filthy, crude, or derogatory.
        The fact that you take it as such speaks more to your own biases than to Mr. Robertson’s.

        • That’s not what he actually said, however. His words were crude and objectifying. If you read his actual words and thought they were something you’d want someone spouting at your dinner table, well…all I can say is I’m glad you’re not sitting at my dinner table.

  10. I am neither “Duck Dynasty” nor “Downtown Abbey.” I view the premise of this article as a false dichotomy that misinterprets and trivializes Christian faith as an “either/or” proposition in relation to two unreal TV constructs. Not a winner here, unfortunately.

    • Cynthia,

      We all like to see ourselves as good Christians who don’t fit into either mold (as I described in my comment above, too). Yet, I think if we’re all honest with ourselves we probably do fit into one of the “either/or” options. None of us are as good or as pure as we would like to be. We’re all broken people. We’re all sinners. Many of us fill our own spiritual void with material things. In “Downton Abbey” it’s luxury goods: but for others it might be clothes, food, alcohol, sex, or even “healthy” options which we use to disguise the depth of our spiritual needs. Likewise, I think we’re all guilty of monopolozing the truth from time to time and thinking our ideas supreme at the expense of others. There is a little “Duck Dynasty” in all of us.

  11. Please spare me the false modesty of those who love to giggle and call conservatives “tea baggers.” Most Bible-believing Christians had to look up the term in the “Urban Dictionary” to even know what liberal “Christians” were giggling about. Much more coarse and crude language is a normal part of liberal’s conversations and writings. Phil Robertson’s comments were tame compared to what is happily discussed routinely by liberal Christians on TV and in the media on a daily basis.

  12. Neil D. Cowling

    Neither reflects my values. I am a retired Presbyterian minister who does not watch “Duck Dynasty” nor any other “reality” show because “reality” shows not not a reflection of real life, nor are they interesting entertainment. Downton Abbey on the other hand is amusing entertainment about a by gone era. It reflects an upper crust British clannishness which does not reflect ordinary British society of the time. I watch it sometimes because I find it to be good entertainment.

  13. William Edwards

    There is of course, a middle way through all this. Downton’s a great story from another time. Proof that the trickle-down theory does not work. They’re always concerned that they provide employment for the villagers! That is their duty! Their decline ought to give pause to the wealthy of this country. The poor will not gain equality working to give the wealthy a comfortable life. Nor will the poor get anywhere with a fundamentalist view of the bible. I admit I no nothing about Duck Dynasty. The bible has mistakes and reflects its era. I own that. It is no more an exact, as written, rule of life than is the patriarchal system of nobility and commoners. Yes, we Catholics go to church with the help! As a gay Catholic who loves his life, his faith and his church, yes, there is a middle way that does not forsake the gospel and includes poor and alienated people at the front of the line!

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  1. […] Does 'Duck Dynasty' or 'Downton Abbey' reflect your values? engages an equally loyal audience that resonates to the scripts' live-and-let live values with little mention of God, doctrine or faith. On this estate, Catholicism is suspect, the Church of England is the butt of jokes, and the wages of unmarried sex … Read more on Religion News Service […]

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