Why Si’s new ‘Duck Dynasty’ book trumps ‘Love, Italian Style’

A&E’s “Duck Dynasty” has built an enormous fan following on gentle, homespun humor and stories that are downright family friendly. But, a reality show is still a reality show, which means it’s long past due for one of the Robertson clan to poop out a tell-all novel.

That honor goes to Vietnam vet Si Robertson, whose unfortunately titled book, “Si-cology: Tales and Wisdom from ‘Duck Dynasty’s’ Favorite Uncle,” is now available (for the record, Phil Robertson’s book, “Happy, Happy, Happy” was not as revealing). For those who don’t like words and reading, or just find it difficult to hold a book while drinking beer, holding a gun, and blowing a duck whistle, an audio version is available. Just kidding!

Actually, I’ve gotten a lot of guff for defending “Duck Dynasty.” I don’t care how scripted it may be (is anything in the reality TV genre unscripted anymore?), the show is sweet-natured and manages to be funny without making fun of this unexpectedly relatable family. Though this new book suggests that the Robertsons haven’t always been as laid-back as they seem to be on the show, I suspect it doesn’t do anything to mar the reputation of Si, his brothers or the show — even though it digs into Si and Phil’s alcoholism, their mother’s mental illness, the suicidal behavior of Si’s son and more.

Sure, these are never topics we’re going to see on “Duck Dynasty” (“Hey, let’s blow off work, go mudding, and then check in for mental health evaluations!”), but I think this book — unlike “The Real Housewives of New Jersey”‘s Melissa Gorga’s rape-tastic “Love, Italian Style” — sounds like it might be more in keeping with “Duck Dynasty”‘s message than we think.

We know from “Duck Dynasty” that Si is a Vietnam vet, so even though some of his comments about his time there (he admits he almost killed a Vietnamese woman and a boy) may be unsettling, they’re honest and in keeping with other stories we’ve heard about the conflict. That he’s able to put his alcoholism in context as well as address Phil’s problems — which apparently cleared up after he found Jesus Christ — suggests that the advice he’s always handing out to anyone who’ll listen may actually be hard earned wisdom. That his and Phil’s mother was a diagnosed manic-depressive and was in and out of institutions isn’t a scandalous revelation as much as it’s just sad.

Gorga’s how-to book on having a dysfunctional relationship, however, suggests she lacks Si’s self-awareness. Unlike Si, who’s been through hell and emerged wiser for the experience, Gorga is still in the middle of her nightmare — so much so she doesn’t seem to think there’s anything wrong. It’s as if she believes that, by crowing about how “great” her marriage is, she’ll be able to convince herself that putting out just to make her husband not yell at her is really fine. “If we haven’t done it for two days and I give him attitude? It could be a huge fight,” she writes — just one of the comments met with a head-smack by the critics.

We won’t even get into the “corrections” Joe has been helpfully giving his wife since the beginning of their marriage on how she can be a good and obedient wife (cook, stay in shape, wear slutty clothes, never be out of his sight, don’t have single female friends). The part about not having single friends seemed to imply that she might run the risk of having sex with them, but I think that was just bad writing. 

Admittedly, Si’s book isn’t without red flags. I’m a little concerned by what Si writes about his son, who suffered brain damage as a complication from liver problems shortly after birth. Noting that Scott “was trouble before he was even born,” he also writes that “Scott was suicidal from the time he was about five years old. His behavior was really erratic as a child. When Scott would get tired, he would throw his arms out and fall backward.” Still, Scott, whom Si says was diagnosed with Asperger’s but is a functional adult, wrote a loving testimonial to his dad in the book. If he’s not complaining about how his dad portrays him, Si’s already ahead of the people posting embarrassing pictures of their kids on Facebook.

The most significant take-away from these two books is whether they’re likely to preach to the converted, generate new fans, or turn off existing ones. Si’s book won’t affect my enjoyment of “Duck Dynasty,” but I can already say reading what I have of Gorga’s has changed my perspective. Gorga used to seem to be, if not the sane one on “The Real Housewives of New Jersey,” at least sane-ish. Now, I’m inclined to see her husband Joe as a bully and her as a Stepford wife. I suspect fans already tired of her never-ending battles with Teresa Giudice may consider tuning out (assuming, of course, that the show returns with its current cast).

While “Duck Dynasty” and “The Real Housewives of New Jersey” are very different reality shows, with “RHoNJ” being more in keeping with old school, fight-it-out programs and “Duck Dynasty” representing a new wave that hews closer to sitcom, they both show that, despite what the editors leave on the cutting room floor, reality stars are still real people. The difference here is that, even though both Si and Gorga have faced challenges in their lives, Si isn’t trying to justify his low points and his dysfunction. Gorga not only tries to justify hers, she attempts to convince all of us her way is the right way. Next time, she may want to put out a cookbook like her co-stars.

Will you read either book? Do they change how you see either star or either show? 

Follow Liane Bonin Starr on Twitter @HitFixLiane!