A few years ago I wrote a paper about masculinity and the apocalypse for an honors thesis at UC Berkeley. The paper was called Iron John Connor. It took a swipe at corny mythopoetic mens’ groups and gave me an excuse to write about the Terminator franchise.
I haven’t looked at the paper in years and I don’t think I have a copy of it, but as I remember, the general thesis was that all depictions of the end of the world have a savior character that is not only a form of messiah, but must also be capable of doing a bunch of useful things. For example, Sarah Connor (originally played by Linda Hamilton) raises her son John to be an end times badass: computer hacking, weapons training, machine fixing, survivalism, etc. He will need all these skills because it is foretold he will lead the surviving humans against Skynet, the evil Artificial Intelligence responsible for sending Terminators to kill everyone.
In the back of my mind was the idea that modern males were slipping in their “masculinity” because they didn’t know how to do useful things like strip machine guns and kickbox with cyborgs.
Today the apocalypse genre is bigger than ever and is in some ways influencing what we think “real men” should be able to do. Just look at The Walking Dead. The most effective characters on that show are badasses who know how to fight and do weird Macguyver-esque survivalist tricks. In the six or seven years since I wrote my paper (which I received an A+ on), there are more wilderness survival schools, tactical shooting academies, and MMA gyms than ever before. It’s never been easier to get your end times training on.
It’s not just enough to fight robots, though. You have to be able rebuild society and that’s where all those hipster homesteading classes come in. Canning, curing, candle making, foraging, and brewing will all be in serious demand after the last intelligent machine is crushed in battle.
Which brings me to Duck Dynasty. Like a lot of people who haven’t watched the show before, I had some opinions about it. I thought it was going to be yet another piece of shit Hollywood Southsploitation. Somehow I got it into my head that I wanted to watch the show (I think because of a recent interest in hunting). What I found was a fairly routine scripted reality series, but with a very different kind of family.
The Robertson clan is a very functional, loving family, filled with people who have amazingly aligned interests. One of those interests is murdering squirrels and ducks. Now, I’m basically a vegetarian most of the time, but I am in support of subsistence hunting, especially when it also contributes to land management. The Robertson’s have about 20,000 acres to call their own. Most of it will never be developed because they’re into wilderness and preservation.
Another thing these folks have in common is Jesus. They are all basically Bible thumpers and a lot of the criticism you’ll hear about them is related to Phil Robertson’s stern style of Christianity. He got into a bunch of trouble after a GQ interview came out where he discussed his bafflement at why any man wouldn’t prefer a vagina to another man’s butthole. I imagine my initial interest in these people could be tempered by a deeper dive into their beliefs, but for now, I will simply enjoy the show.
In interviews the Robertson’s remark they believe the reason for the show’s popularity has something to do with a resurgent craving for more wholesome entertainment and more positive role models. I don’t know that’s wrong, but I don’t think it’s the full picture.
I think there’s a growing restlessness related to fear of apocalyptic situations and anxiety over the perception that we are in a declining civilization. The Robertsons seem well insulated from the nightmares of our post-modern situation. They have a tight family and friend group that is completely capable of living off the land. They are heavily armed. They have a shared fate.
When I watch Duck Dynasty, I don’t see a bunch of rich rednecks doing dumb shit for the camera. I mean, it’s there and all. What I see is a tribe built to survive the end times. The rest of the world can burn and these people will be doing just fine as long as there’s birds to kill.