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In 'Duck Dynasty' hometown local loyalty prevails

By Tamara Lush

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Dec. 23 2013 12:00 a.m. MST

To be sure, not everyone here agrees with the Robertsons.

John Denison, a former Monroe TV personality who is gay and the head of Forum for Equality, a group that advocates for the equality of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights, said he's appalled by Robertson's remarks.

"I want Phil Robertson and the world to know that what he said hurt me and many people here in our state," said Denison, who wrote an open letter to Robertson, asking him to dinner to discuss "not what separates us but what brings us together."

Denison said Robertson's beliefs do not resonate with everyone in Louisiana.

"I'm a Christian," said Denison. "No one wants to talk about my Christ, they only want to talk about their brand."

Rev. Welton Gaddy, who preaches at the Northminster Baptist Church in Monroe and is the president of a national group called the Interfaith Alliance, said it saddens him to think that people would assume all Louisiana residents think the same as Robertson about gays and African Americans.

"There are some of us who are working hard every day for justice for everybody in this nation, for equality for everybody in this nation, and we don't appreciate people tearing that down," Gaddy said. "If Robertson wants to do that as an entertainer, go to it. But to do that in the name of religion crosses the line."

But like many people across America who enjoy the show, Robertson's fans here in West Monroe see something genuine about the reality TV family and believe he speaks his brand of the truth. Even though it's a program about a group of wealthy business owners who hunt and fish, people say it accurately reflects life here, as well as its Christian and American foundations.

When outsiders in New York or Hollywood make fun of the show — or worse, criticize Robertson for his beliefs — it's like part of the country is criticizing the essence of West Monroe. To the people here, it's just proof that a segment of America doesn't understand the rural, conservative, Christian part of this country.

They — the Northerners, the liberals, the non-Christians — don't get us, people here think. Ironically, those Northerners are the ones who put West Monroe on the map in the first place by producing Duck Dynasty for TV.

Marilyn Lovett of West Monroe shrugs off the criticism. The "ducks," as she calls them, reflect her and her people.

"Wholesome values," she said. "The fact that they pray after every dadgum meal. I just think it's wonderful. I wish there was more people like them."

When asked about what people elsewhere in America thought when they read Robertson's comments in GQ, she shrugged.

"I don't really care," she said. "They sure as hell don't care about what we think down here."

Duck Dynasty, which is one of the most-watched reality shows of all time, is naturally the area's biggest tourist draw. The Robertsons not only own a large gift store and warehouse where they sell everything from branded body wash to "Bearded Blend" coffee to a camouflage recliner, but they have opened Willie's Duck Diner and a women's boutique called Duck and Dressing.

There are self-guided tour maps, so fans can visit places seen on the show — the church, hardware store and doughnut shop are on the tour — and people say that West Monroe, and the Robertsons, are popular because it's all a throwback to small-town America.

"I've known Phil for 30 years," said Mike Walsworth, the owner of the Gingerbread Shop, an antique and gift shop. "He hasn't changed for 30 years."

In the store's window, there's a miniature holiday village and model train in the window.

The tiny drive-in theater's movie marquee shows "It's a Wonderful Life," and, indeed, West Monroe could perhaps be mistaken for a smaller Bedford Falls — if reality hadn't come to town.

Follow Tamara Lush on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tamaralush

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