The zoo hypothesis suggests that American suburbanites are amused by exotic creatures that they rarely see at the mall or biking about the trails in Spandex - in perhaps the same way as Petronius wrote for his literate audience about smelly soldiers and crafty innkeepers...just as grizzly bears and Bengal tigers are a big draw at the zoo, so too white-boy reality shows allow us to get close to these perhaps-endangered species. And as long as they do not stick their paws and snouts too far out between the bars to mouth off about gays, minorities, or feminists, there is a quaint appeal in - safely - watching these men cuss, and occasionally fight, while sawing and drilling in the wild. Why go on safari to their usual haunts in Alaska, Louisiana, or Wyoming, where bad things are said to happen to outsiders, when A&E can bring the perpetrator class, slightly sanitized, into your living room? A metrosexual can enjoy Duck Dynasty or Ax Men without necessarily being fond of the political wing inhabited by Sarah Palin or Mike Huckabee.Although I'm in general syncope with Mr. Hanson's article, I offer a different take on shows like Axe Men, Duck Dynasty, Swamp People, Ice Road Truckers, and Black Gold that may also help 'splain their popularity: they feature sexually differentiated men, white men, doing manly things. This has appeal to other white men, who likely suffer from varying degrees of social gelding in their workday lives in a feminized culture, and women of all colors who, despite the fact that they themselves are likely far more mannish in mores and behavior than their grandmothers, secretly crave an authentic "wild at heart" masculinity that complements their feminine yearning. Even if they don't, can't--or won't--admit it.
Aside from the idea of glimpsing rare species in their natural habitat, a second theory suggests that viewers are smugly satisfied that they are not like these uncouth white boys, who are certainly worse spoken, more emotional, less mature, and more intolerant than the viewership. For all the MSNBC talk of "white privilege," these reality shows remind Americans of a non-minority underclass (fabricated though it is for TV) that is a bit worse off than the Latina newscaster who trills her Rs each evening on the news.
The national hysteria over Duck Dynasty's successful war against GLAAD and the profit-minded A&E execs might suggest that the white working classes also are therapeutic for millions of Americans. In the heart of every suburban soccer mom there is a reason she navigates a huge four-wheel-drive, snow-tire monstrosity, or has treads on her hiking boots that could take her over Mount Whitney. The ability to go anywhere is not necessarily antithetical to the usual reality of going nowhere. Watching these shows is a sort of grubbier version of wandering around an REI store, soaking up all the ways in which to confront the wild. So good-ol'-boy reality offers glimpses, premodern though they may be, of unrestrained freedom.
Thus we come to the paradox that Mr. Hanson alludes to above. These strong, untamed fellows possess a masculinity that the bulk of more 'civilized' guys are perceived to lack...a masculinity that both sexes find wistfully appealing. Yet, like their urban thug bretheren, their rawness is incongruent with customs of a more urbane broader society. Best to keep their political incorrectness, their masculinity, and their (relative) savagery at a safe distance.