St. Aubin’s last words… “I said it last. That means something, right?”
The story is the basis for human communication. It is the most basic teaching tool. It expresses, it remembers, it crosses seemingly impermeable cultural and geographic borders. It tells us what is real, and what should be, what is potent, and what is delusional. Fairy tales and epics are the high explosives of story– they inspire. Inspiration is breathing the breath of God. In a world where anything can happen, one touches the Divine even if God’s name is never invoked. It is because of this, that in a washed out moral wasteland of the 1960’s that Tolkein’s offering was rocketed to high art. He became literary before the establishment knew he existed.
We have forgotten the meaning of the word literary. Some think it is the furthest distance from the common man; an art that only intellectuals, the chosen few can enjoy. Modern literature has become the new Gnosticism. Replete with long boring tracts only interesting for “those who were There”, a foggy morass of empty set values, it makes no sense and is antisense to the average viewer. Indeed, Mother Goose is closer to literature than what those big Six publishers are touting as the Next Literary Giant. Sure, the words are pretty, but what do they mean?
This begs the question– what is literature?
The original meaning was written art that inspired the common man to higher things. Apparently, our betters think otherwise. You can tell the quality of our education has gone down because we no longer understand that standard of the English language for so many centuries– William Shakespeare. So why exactly did he become so high falutent, up there with the English Bible as the most widely read literature throughout time? What on earth does all this have to do with Duck Dynasty, the most popular TV show, ever?
Shakespeare was once the fodder and food for the rough and tumble London Theater crowd who are comprised of roughly the same people that A&E thinks the Duck Dynasty fan base is composed of. You have to transpose for times and places and economic difference (no, the folks in London were not rich for the most part, and the wealthy who attended later performances complained about taking life in hand to Be Seen. ) Indeed these two wildly different artistic forms, seemingly as far apart as squirrel brains and foie gras, have common roots. Well, besides that they are both made of guts. 😉
One, they are both funny, often self-deprecatingly so. Second, they show man in conflict with not only with nature (duck hunting and the hazards of country living)– but also man in conflict with modernity, himself and his fellows. They bring light to common situations that can seem confusing or guilt inducing– transforming the everyday into a more potent examination of higher things. Shakespeare is not a moralist, but a realist. You can’t accurately depict or examine reality without having a compass– a moral compass. Otherwise, you are navigating without a map, or a GPS for that matter, and it is hard to know or understand what is happening. It’s like trying to get there, from here, without Magnetic North.
The Duck Dynasty series is a moral series, but they don’t preach– much, save when preaching is necessary. This is done with bible and hat in hand. I mean, we are talking about red-necks here, so it doesn’t happen often. Yet the stories –always family stories– are laced with the interwoven themes of morality, passion, and the proper application of force when force is needed. But it is done with humility and wisdom that is rarely broadcast in the modern world.
There’s a reason why our wild-haired ‘Merican ancestors thrived with few rules, little support and no safety net. Because they were ultimately a moral people, and you don’t need rules if you live by principles. The worst they dealt with was threat, illness and Nature. Guns handle threat, nature was subdued, and illness was prayed over and doctors summoned. Life went on. The barter system worked for much more– until the Fed felt left out and banned it.
Duck Dynasty is a reminder of what we once were– a nostalgia of independence, competence, and craziness. Because freedom also means the freedom to make and learn from mistakes. Play, even rough housing, teaches you something if you are allowed to learn the lessons and suffering the consequences of your actions.
We have so many safety nets! If a child skins a knee in the normal course of childhood, lawyers are summoned, the press are called and the incident is played out again and again for years. Our ancestors would not recognize us, and would disown us. But we still love them, and pine for the fjords of adversity. This is only human.
Those in charge want to paint us as dead parrots, that need to be propped up and flattered. We should disabuse them of this notion before we are an empty, bony pile of feathers.
“We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar
Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;
Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death’s other Kingdom
Remember us—if at all—not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.”
…“This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.”
You see, this may seem like a weird juxtaposition. I just entered (again!) the realm of high art– but this poem speaks to anyone who has felt an unmoored despair. What he’s really saying (if I need to spell it out) is that the cause of the end of the world is not failure, is not ignorance, but meaningless despair– and no direction. It is being convinced it’s already over and that there is no hope.
But you have to give up your compass –or lose it because it was “cool” — before you can be convinced it’s over. The fact that so many people are drawn to the Duck Dynasty stories is a good sign. It means that they still know what a compass is and what it’s good for. They remember that it was under the couch the whole time. It may be instinctual, but it’s there, and we aren’t dead yet.