Dec 29 2013

Hooking up with the train

Published by at 3:08 pm under Idaho,Idaho column

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Idaho

One of the biggest events any Idaho political campaign is likely to schedule for 2014 already is on the calendar. It was announced early in December to be held March 29 at the Idaho Center at Nampa, by the campaign of Lawerence Denney, Republican candidate for secretary of state, and it is called, “Happy, Happy, Happy: An Evening with A&E’s Duck Dynasty.”

At that announcement, the Dynasty – the Robertson clan, of Louisiana – were a popular attraction on A&E, especially though not exclusively in conservative circles. “They’re good family values people and we’re happy to have them coming,” Denney was quoted then.

Since, of course, the Dynasty has gotten new attention, and Phil Robertson specifically has become a cultural flashpoint. Many conservatives have rallied behind him; others have blasted him. His comments on gay people and on race, in GQ magazine and expanding elsewhere, are well enough known not to need a repeat here.

So far as I can tell (and please let me know if you find any other instances), Denney’s is the only political event in the country the Robertsons have scheduled for 2014. In a really unusual way, Denney and the Dynasty are wrapped tightly together. (First question: How is it that Denney, alone or nearly so among American politicians, got the Robertson’s singular attention? There’s a story, of some kind, in that.)

Whether Denney knew about or anticipated all this is unclear. The announcement of the Idaho event came in early December, so the the agreement to do it probably happened not far in advance of the recent blowup. And remember that GQ, like other magazines, works with its material for months in advance: The Robertson story was in development long before it went public earlier this month.

And then this about the Robertsons, their producers and other associates: Whatever else they are, they’ve proven themselves masters of self-promotion. There’s speculation that Phil Robertson’s quotables were carefully planned to blow up the Dynasty into a new level of cultural prominence. That’s not to say Robertson didn’t believe what he was saying, only that he may have been using it strategically – as smart media figures often do.

When you set off an explosion, however, the results can be unpredictable. Three months from now, the Dynasty may be bigger than ever. Or cut off at the knees, discredited in many quarters. Or there could be some other result. It’s hard to say.

Denney is now in the middle of whatever that turns out to be. He’s in essence backed them – “They do reflect my Christian values,” he said of the GQ quotes – and said he had heard ticket sales to the Nampa event had risen after the controversy. (No doubt true, and no surprise.)

But where is this train to which Denney has hitched himself – which he has – going? A week after the GQ comments came out, Robertson was quoted as doubling down on them. Where does he and the rest of the clan go from here?

Where do their relations with the A&E network go? No one really knows how that will pan out. In today’s media and streaming environment, there’s no question a popular act like the Dynasty can connect one way or another, on TV or through a stream or something else, with a receptive audience. But sometimes the delicate balance that made an initial hit work can be upended with big changes.

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