“Buckwild”: Exploitative MTV Reality Show Comes to Laugh and Stare at Life in the Appalachian Mountains
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Everyone can agree that MTV is “heck-bent” on taking advantage of misguided, provocatively dressed youths for profit. But that’s a stock accusation, and it ignores both the lessons we might be able to learn from “Buckwild” and the responsibility we should be taking for what it represents. West Virginians’ complaints about the show — that it’s going to promote false, negative stereotypes unrepresentative of the state — are neither productive nor particularly on point. Make as many tired comments about the artificial “reality” of reality television as you want; the trailer depicts a very real West Virginia. “Creekers” — they lived “up the creek” — didn’t make up the majority of my high school, but they were always around. Spitting chewing tobacco into Mountain Dew bottles. Driving trucks with Confederate flag decals on the back windows. Getting into fights in the hallway.
My life was never so insular, but those “creekers” are just as real as I am. I recognize in the “Buckwild” trailer a familiar unwillingness to accept or interact with the world outside the nearest Walmart parking lot. When I told my guidance counselor — who I worked with because she specialized in “gifted” students — I was applying to Yale, she responded, “Oh, you probably won’t get in there.” My trigonometry teacher begged me to consider Marshall University or WVU instead. Now, friends tell me they feel “trapped,” then ask me why I like traveling to London or Berlin — isn’t New York good enough? The “Buckwild’” cast might be proud of their lifestyles, but to live that way intentionally would require exposure to the rest of the world that West Virginia education systems rarely offer. It’s not a “refreshing” choice, a valiant rejection of what the MTV producer called “the crap in daily life.” It’s ignorance.
West Virginia is neither the greatest state in the nation nor a land of inbred savages, and its problems won’t be solved by sound bites or synecdoche. When Senator Manchin appeared, wide-eyed and out of touch, on the “Today” show, he sounded less like a competent spokesperson for a population that deserves to be taken seriously and exactly like the kind of provincial buffoon the cast of “Buckwild” would elect. His attempt to act the white knight, to take credit for defending his constituency without the accompanying responsibility for it, was just as embarrassing as the TV show promises to be.
It’s predictable that MTV would exploit the cast of “Buckwild” — and West Virginia’s bad reputation. I’m guilty of doing the same thing. But when the show premieres on Thursday, I’m not going to deny its fair points or laugh it off with a joke about shoelessness. After all, when a high school friend who moved to Pittsburgh for college tweets about her home in “rural West Virginia,” I can’t help but feel annoyed.
“You’ve never lived in ‘rural West Virginia’!” I scream at my computer while clicking through her Facebook photos. “There’s a Dairy Queen minutes from your house!”