Sadie Robertson: the Christian Content Creator
It feels like I’ve known about Sadie Robertson forever. Like my internet search history was always full of combinations of Sadie Robertson X. Sadie Robertson book. Sadie Robertson tour. Sadie Robertson boyfriend. Like I’ve always known about the 21 year old daughter of a Duck Dynasty star, about her Instagram ads shared to her 3 million followers, about her brand Live Original. But, like everything online, I have a timestamped record of Sadie Robertson’s first ripple in my internet history.
In a Facebook message I sent last October, I shared a video of a rosy cheeked, wide-eyed Robertson in front of a serenely lit stage. Between the superimposed text “A Message to the Millennial Generation” Sadie Robertson paces in place. She is young, thin, professionally dyed and highlighted. She looks like the Facebook friend who shared it, whose mission trip profile picture shows her white face smiling next to a tiny African one.
In a half-tucked tee shirt, black jeans, and Louisiana twang, Sadie Robertson sings a story that’s been shared over 200,000 times. She tells us that she was on her way here, to preach at Passion City College Night, when she saw a homeless man.
I’ve heard homeless man stories before in youth groups held in mega church basements. I’ve heard the homeless man be a proxy for Christ. I’ve heard the homeless man be a wise shepherd directing the speaker back to the Way the Truth the Light. I’ve heard the homeless man sprout horns and become the devil himself. The homeless man is always a static character, a set up, a stage piece in an evangelical monologue.
In Robertson’s rendition, she locked eyes with the man: “And I just felt something in my heart. God said to me, he said ‘That man? I died to take his pain away. Go out and put it in his reach. And then you’re gonna see how I feel.’” Despite already running late to this speaking engagement, she turned the car around. She took her affectionately titled ‘Jesus bible’ and followed the word she heard from God, to tell the homeless man, “I don’t have any money. I don’t have anything on me right now, but I do have this. And this, it’s everything.”
She tells us, between dramatic pauses in a shaky voice, that the homeless man refuses to take the bible because the homeless man is an atheist. She begs the man to take the bible and he continues to refuse, causing her distress both in the story and on stage as she tells it.
Then her anecdote concludes abruptly with a preacherly pivot: “and Jesus said ‘That is how I feel.’ Because Jesus is extending his hand to us with truth, with promises, with something that can save us from a dark world. And sometimes we just say no. No, we don’t want that.” Her voice builds volume to emphasize that we don’t want to accept Jesus and it breaks His heart, just like the homeless man broke hers.
I sent the video to a friend, a fellow ex-Texan and ex-evangelical, for a laugh about this bizarre girl positioning herself as Jesus in an unoriginal message about being more passionate about your love for Christ. It could have stopped there. It probably should have stopped there. I left Texas years ago to get away from the mega churches Robertson frequents. I put in my time getting chapel credits and taking mandatory bible courses. I saved my virginity for my husband. I followed the lifestyle that Sadie Robertson blogs about and ended up jaded, divorced, and apathetic about my salvation.
But then I followed @legitsadierob on Instagram. And then I found Sadie Robertson’s Youtube channel. Then I clicked through to LiveOriginal.com. I found the original the “Message to the Millennial Generation” video excerpted. The rest comes all at once in a dizzying series of links, clicks, searches and consumption, and I suddenly know everything about Sadie Robertson.
Robertson’s preaching style benefits from the Facebook obsession with clipped videos. The “Message to the Millennial Generation” video excludes 25 minutes of speech that ricochets from nods to her famous family to Sponge Bob Squarepants references to a bizarre homily about the necessity for plankton and the ways we should all be like plankton and “follow the light.” The impact of her singular emotional burst in the shortened video is dampened when it comes after three or four similarly emphatic pleas.
But this is mega church gospel for the digital age. It’s Billy Graham for the Logan Paul era.
The other side of the Sadie Robertson brand has quietly developed over the past four years after her initial appearances on her family’s reality tv show Duck Dynasty. In 2014, Robertson published her first book. The same year she made it all the way to the final episode of Dancing with the Stars and was given a platform to speak independent of her cammoed clan.
In preparations for week 8 of the show, Robertson and her partner prepare a routine themed “Adam and Eve” set to the tune of the Alanis Morrisette classic, “Uninvited.” They discuss her comfort level with the possibility her partner will be shirtless (low), her level excitement at the choice of theme (high), and her creative intentions: “It’s a pretty intense story. It’s about Eve falling short into sin but then dragging Adam down with her…Because this is such an iconic story and its a message from the bible, I do feel a lot of pressure to make it right…” The pair spin around stage tossing a prop apple at each other to the audience and judges delight.
Hot off her Dancing appearance, Sadie took to Youtube to tell her fans to “just be you and live original.” The seven minute video of the same title has over 3 million views. Soon after she collaborated with the now defunct Wild Blue Denim to begin capitalizing on her micro celebrity. Since then, new partners have been added to her #ad arsenal (ThreadUp, Cargo Cosmetics, Bombay Hair, Albion Fit, DIFF eyewear, Woolly Threads, Care of Vitamins, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream, Fit Fab Fun, Sugar Bear Hair Care) making her a bonafide Instagram influencer. Her own Live Original brand currently includes a blog, upcoming tour dates, and a shop full of inspiring merch (the strangest of which is a subscription box containing 8 weeks of bible studies, craft ideas, and meal plans).
She is a wholesome Kylie Jenner, but Robertson’s shtick isn’t just otherworldly glow or squinty hotness. It’s a good-girl brand, an “on fire for Jesus” brand, a prosperity gospel brand that is a siren song to red pill women and girls everywhere.
I know she’s problematic. She peddles a brand of Christianity that justifies voting Trump because he seems to align with Christian values. She takes mission trips that smack of emotional colonialism. She gives rallying cries that hinge on the lie that God’s people, white, evangelical Christians, are afraid, being persecuted, and need to stand up for their rights.
Sadie Robertson elicits a reaction in me, a combination of frustration and fascination. She reminds me of a previous version of myself that kept journals full of prayers and a well-marked bible in tow. A version I happily left behind when I left my home town, like the bright orange prom dress that is too small, too gaudy, and entirely inappropriate for my life outside of the South.
But I can’t stop watching Sadie Robertson.
In a Q&A on a college campus, Robertson begins by fielding a question on how her activities in culture mix with Jesus. She talks about her Live Original tour, her book, her fear to speak in front of others and God’s ability to overcome that. “That’s how God is. He’s so funny. I’m telling you whatever our weakness is He really will turn it for a strength for Him.” This is the stuff I’ve heard before, the stuff that doesn’t carry me too far these days. My belief has shifted from a view of entire dependence on an omniscient God to a situation of faith in the God inside me.
But then she takes a turn. She talks of interrogating the sources of her self doubt. Of releasing shame. Of being her authentic self. At it’s heart, it’s not that different from a TED talk given by Elizabeth Gilbert.
For a moment, despite myself, I’m inspired.
On stage she works herself into a tearful plea about saying yes to the grand plans that God has for you, about living without fear and being your authentic self, about living original.
She strikes me as her most beautiful here, tears shimmering over her highlighter, all innocence and earnestness.
I open a new tab and search “Sadie Robertson makeup.” She sells the palette on her Instagram.