Duck Dynasty Controversy: 5 Things You Need to Know

It's the controversy that keeps on coming — so make sure you're up to date

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Art Streiber

Start trying to catch up on the Duck Dynasty controversy now and you might not finish reading till 2014 — and, by that point, at the rate things are going, you’ll already be behind on the news again. The five days since A&E announced on Dec. 18 that Phil Robertson, patriarch of the hit reality-TV family, would be suspended for anti-gay remarks he made in an interview with GQ have been chock-a-block with Duck drama.

(BACKGROUNDHow a tight-knit family of godly duck hunters shot to reality-TV fame)

So we’ll make it easy for you. Here’s what happened first: Phil Robertson’s comments to GQ‘s Drew Magary (for example: “Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men…”) led the network that runs his show to place him “under hiatus from filming indefinitely. The suspension quickly led to fan outcry and free-speech defenses — even though, as TIME’s James Poniewozik has pointed out, the First Amendment does not extend to a right to be on TV.

And here’s what you need to know now:

Robertson’s not apologizing. Robertson — who has made public remarks to the same effect in the past, but never with the same amount of notice — responded to what’s been going on, in a speech at his church in West Monroe, La., by reiterating his belief that homosexuality is a sin.

Meanwhile, the rest of what he said is coming under fire. Gay people weren’t the only subjects of Robertson’s insights in the GQ piece and, though those comments were the ones that initially got him in trouble, the rest of the profile has also been the topic of criticism — specifically his comments on race. For example, in the New York Times, Charles Blow drew attention to Robertson’s obelief that black workers in Jim Crow-era Louisiana were happier than African-Americans are now. Other potentially controversial topics in the GQ piece that have not yet received media scrutiny include health insurance and the separation of church and state.

Politicians are getting involved. Figures like Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal have rushed to publicly defend Phil Robertson in order to demonstrate their conservative bona fides. The lieutenant governor of Louisiana, Jay Dardenne, also said that the show is important to the state’s economy, and that the state could help the family stay on TV even if A&E decides to pull the plug. Meanwhile, a Georgia sheriff whose department has worked with the network on Beyond Scared Straight has said that he no longer wants anything to do with A&E.

But DD may actually get a boost from the controversy. The old adage that there’s no such thing as bad publicity is playing out for the Robertson clan. The restaurant chain Cracker Barrel reversed a decision to pull Duck Dynasty products from its shelves, citing the fact that fans were offended by that decision. The Duck Dynasty Christmas album, Duck the Halls, debuted at No. 1 in November and is projected to get a major sales bump this week. In addition, news outlets have noticed that Walmart’s website is sold out of many Duck Dynasty items.

And the future of the show isn’t actually all that murky. The rest of the Duck Dynasty clan spoke out the day after the controversy erupted, defending Phil and implying that they might not be willing to move forward with the show — which is a massive hit for the network — if he were excluded, and the Daily Mail reports that the family believes the whole GQ interview may have been a set-up to trap Phil. But they might not have a choice about whether to continue with the show: an unnamed source tells Fox that the family may be contractually required to continue filming until the network pulls the plug (the show’s contracts were just reupped in August, for a reported $200,000 per episode for the family). A few smaller networks have told TMZ they’d be eager to grab the show if A&E does decide to cancel. In the mean time, fans who haven’t been following the news might not even be able to tell anything’s going on: Entertainment Weekly has reported that 90 percent of the season’s episodes and have already been shot and contain Phil, and that they won’t be edited to exclude him. As of now, the show will return to the network on Jan. 15, as scheduled — and it’s conceivable that the indefinite hiatus may end in time for everything that has gone on this week to remain out of the camera’s sights. With Christmas just two days away, the Duck scandal may already be quieting.