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West Virginian Is Not “Buck Wild” for New MTV Show

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This week we explore portrayal of Appalachians in media and reality television, as well as the ways Apps respond to stereotyping. In this article, W.Va. native Josh Gardner responds to the news of MTV’s latest reality show documenting the “real lives” of Mountaineer teens.

By Josh Gardner

A new show, subtly dubbed Buck Wild, is set to debut by summer 2012 and will follow a group of recent high school graduates in and around West Virginia’s capital of Charleston, a city of about 50,000 residents, but flanked by countryside. This common Appalachian dichotomy is one MTV claims its show will explore. According to a November 2011 release from the show’s production company, Parallel Entertainment, “Buck Wild will include a wide range of kids across the socio-economic strata — from the more well-off kids living ‘up in the hills’ to the working-class kids down ‘in the holler.’”

But will it, really?

Like most of America, I have watched enough reality television to know which shows hit and which ones miss. Unlike most of America, I am a native West Virginian and from Charleston specifically. As one of those kids from ‘up in the hills’” I grew up around lawyers and dentists and McMansions. People walked their dogs, jogged in the morning and drove Japanese SUVs. If not for the proudly waving West Virginia University flags and peoples’ use of the word “toboggan” in reference to a knit hat, my neighborhood—my subdivision, called Woodbridge!—could exist just about anywhere in America. But that would make for boring television.

MTV knows this more than anyone. “We know that showing unique slices of youth culture on MTV is something that resonates with our audience,” producer David Janollari said in the announcement of the show. “With ‘Buck Wild,’ we’ll give our viewers a singular and fun glimpse at this generation’s experience as we go into Appalachia to capture the lives of a loveable group of dynamic young people.”

Also ‘singular’ and ‘unique,’ at least to much of America, are the subjects of another MTV pseudo-documentary series that egregiously ignores most of its locale’s actual populace: Jersey Shore. With the show’s flagging ratings and increasingly less popular stars, it appears MTV wants to reignite the format’s original success and mix it with a dash of the hit trash-fest 16 and Pregnant.

What this means for West Virginia and for Appalachia in general is that all non-stereotypical, sophisticated, and—I’ll say it—genuine attributes of this unique and genuinely fascinating American region will be ignored in favor of other images, such as anyone toothless and in need of interpretive subtitles. Or, God forbid, in favor of any strung-out Oxycontin addict who decides to crush and snort a pill in a hospital room.

If you’ve seen The Wild Wonderful Whites of West Virginia, an MTV-produced exploitation of the truly great documentary Dancing Outlaw­, then you’re unfortunate enough to get that last reference. If you didn’t get it, count yourself lucky. You’ve missed seeing yet another myopic look at rural America.

Just like the network does with the state of New Jersey, MTV intends to cash in on the uniqueness of West Virginia by playing to the lowest common denominator and ignoring completely what actually makes it unique. A half-hour show can’t possibly capture the humor and levity Appalachians retain in spite of their lifelong struggle with poverty. It cannot show viewers in different time zones just how amazing a fresh biscuit can taste, or how breathtaking it is to stand atop a mountain and gaze out at an endless sea of verdant rolling hills. We can hope, though, that despite its reductive editing and hillbilly gawking, Buck Wild will teach America one worthwhile thing: how to pronounce Appalachia without a hard A. But that’s about it.

Josh Gardner is a native Mountaineer who now resides in New York City, but will always call Charleston, West Virginia home. He is a writer whose fiction has appeared in several literary magazines and which often deals with life in contemporary Appalachia.

37 Comments Post a comment
  1. I agree 100% with your thoughts on how Appalachia will be displayed courtesy of MTV. One simply has to view Jersey Shore to see what the show will be like. They will take the “best” (worst) characteristics and amplify them to sell the show. Unfortunately, I understood the “Wild & Wonderful Whites” reference. It’s sad to me that people outside of Appalachia truly believe the stereotypical images they see.

    January 30, 2012
  2. in agreement with you. we have enough problems with stereotypes as it is. this will only be a blemish to our reputation, which has taken enough hits.

    February 1, 2012
  3. Randy #

    I don’t lose much sleep over the opinions of the people that watch these types of shows. It is sad though, that it just makes the dumb, dumber.

    February 7, 2012
  4. Beth B #

    I also grew up Charleston and have since moved to NYC and I proudly tell people I am from West Virginia. I love my state and I couldn’t he happier to have grown up in such a wonderful place but I’m always so disappointed when a persons reference of WV is ‘wild and wonderful whites…” That is such a one dimensional look at WV and you can find people like that in any state. I sincerely hope MTV at least tries to be fair although I doubt it based on their track record.

    February 9, 2012
  5. Micah #

    If reality television were the same as a documentary then there wouldn’t need to be a discussion. This show could have easily been filmed in every state in the union. The fact that the majority of the country associates hillbillies with a select few states is emblematic of an epidemic of ethnocentrism that rivals any other. I still get asked if I wear shoes; if one leg is longer than the other; have I had intercourse with any relatives. I always tell them I wear shoes to fit in; had surgery on the left leg; and every damned one of them.

    February 9, 2012
  6. Wilfred #

    I was born in Clarksburg and raised in Charleston from the 2nd grade on. After undergrad I moved to the north midwest for graduate school. People always commented on how proud I was about where I was from. Being a West Virginian is like none other. Unfortunately we Appalachians are discriminated against on a regular basis. For every good comment I heard about WV I also heard someone mention toothless hillbillies or incest. It’s sad, really. Every one of my friends I brought to WV to visit all left with a totally different opinion of the state. Between the natural beauty and warm welcoming people, in my opinion not a greater place exists on planet earth. I’m proud to call West Virginia home once again. TV shows like this and movies like The Wild and Wonderful Whites set our state back further with every second of film. Excellent but sad article.

    February 11, 2012
  7. Excellent work Josh, I remember your wit and intelligence. You do us all proud. Very well written! Would like to see it expanded!

    February 11, 2012
  8. C. White #

    In Woodbridge you may have pronounced Appalachia, Appa-lay-chia, but down in the valley in Charleston we pronounce it Appa-la-chia, with a short a, like in apple, i.e., you wouldn’t say “Appa-lay-chian Power Park,” now would you?

    February 11, 2012
    • Mountaineer123 #

      I’m not from WV, but I did go to Appalachian State University and we use the short ‘a” as in apple as well.

      February 23, 2012
    • pvt #

      C. White, U might want to reread. He says withOUT the hard “A”

      November 29, 2012
      • Rebecca White #

        There is no such thing as a “hard” A. That is meaningless. There are short As, long As, As with umlauts and a couple of others,, but no “hard” A. I don’t know what that’s supposed to mean. P.S. In my area we say it with a short A, but according to dictionaries both are correct.

        December 3, 2012
      • CWhite #

        A short A is pronounced like the a in apple.

        January 11, 2013
  9. Alex #

    I’m from Miami, FL originally, but I had the misfortune of living in WV for almost 2 years. I’ve been to 3rd world countries with more sophistication and infrastructure. WV is a depressing toilet bowl. The only things worth checking out are Lola’s Pizza and Summersville lake.

    October 6, 2012
    • Tim #

      You have to visit other places in wv to get a accurate opinion, i have been to Summersville Lake and its nice but there are a few places around that area that are not very nice but that is a very secluded part of wv, take the time to visit places before you make a decision about the state as a whole, i live in Morgantown and it happens to be a nice small city, filled with lots of wonderful people. I have been to your home town as well and it seems ok but i would not make a assumption that the whole state of Florida is that way.

      November 30, 2012
    • Joe #

      Alex, stay away, we dont need you.
      Miami, give me the beach and sun and you can keep the rest.
      I dont lock my doors at night. You?

      November 30, 2012
  10. Tim #

    I am from wv as well, (Morgantown) It is sad how others make us look, i believe that there are good and bad parts of every city and town across the US. I have been to many places and i find myself thinking ( And they talk about us). Very stereotypical of others to talk about places that they have never even been to. I have been to New York and everyone looks at it as a awesome place, but even it has its bad neighborhoods, just take a look down one of the alleys sometimes. Tv just don’t show those parts, the sad thing is television and other types of media are going to make things looks the way they want and anything that can be a advantage to them. I would just like to say, go see the world through your own eyes and not others or a camera lenses.

    November 30, 2012
  11. Joe #

    I live 60 miles from Charleston.
    I am 52 and still load the atv and go deep into the sticks and have fun.
    I watched the trailer (no pun intended) and I didnt see anything I dont see while riding around in the hills of southern WV.
    I usually clean myself up and my wife and I visit Huntington or Charleston for dinner. (the big cities). In my opinion, I like being able to go country every once in a while..

    November 30, 2012
  12. Mike #

    I married a girl from WVa. When we go back to visit, while driving out over the ridges, I am always surprised at the number of drivers we pass who wave hello. All the rural West Virginians I have met are good, fair and honorable people who would help anyone in a jam. Now, that is a quality that is sorely lacking in today’s America.

    December 1, 2012
  13. Indeed I have seen The Wild Wonderful Whites of West Virginia. How great would it be if they highlight the proud heritage of the region instead of stereotypes: the fabulous bluegrass music (this is MTV right?), the rich natural resources and okay fine, throw in some moonshine. Either way, I will be watching, and hoping this will shine a good light on Appalachia. From Harrisonburg, Va and Appalachian State

    December 3, 2012
  14. Joe #

    Sounds like Honey Boo Boo all growed up and moved to West By God Virginia!

    December 4, 2012
  15. buckwild reminds me alot oif my little town in ky.i live in BIG BONE KY,in lies in the middle of BEAVER LICK and RABBIT HASH in the northern part of the state,when we were kids our lives were very much like the ones the kids are living on buck wild,its a wonder we are still alive after some of the crazy crap we did,but mosy of us are still around.just try to be as safe as u can and have as much fun as u can while u can

    January 5, 2013
  16. Sumeeta Patnaik #

    Reblogged this on spinningthemuse and commented:
    As a lifelong Appalachian, an educator, and a person of mixed race, I found the 1st episode of the show, Buckwild, horrifying enough to ban the show permanently from my television. I have been a teacher for 15 years, and this show shows the very worse of our young people. It does not show the kid who works after school to support his family, the kid who works, and raises their child while getting a college education, the kid who takes care of a disabled sibling or parent in addition to work and school. These are the kids that I know in Appalachian. Yes, they are young people and like all young people, they often do foolish things, but that does not stop them from striving toward better lives for themselves. Buckwild introduces the worst kind of stupidity: stereotyping all young Appalachians as backward, technologically-ignorant, partiers, when 90% of the time that is not the case. I would love to see a show that really demonstrates how incredible our young people work to keep their families and communities together, but really, who would watch that show? Our society loves trainwrecks (Calling you Honey Boo Boo!) so they can laugh at it and feel better about their own lives. This type of television programming feeds into the worst of people and perpetuates sterotypes that negatively affect our young people.

    January 10, 2013
  17. G Bishla #

    The original Jacob Young films’ about West Virginian’s were infinitely more engaging, entertaining and “real” than this weak tea MTV is fabricating. Why not just run those old docs (wouldn’t make Manchin any happier, but I’d be tickled) I’m mean, I’m from West Virginia, I love West Virginia but seems it would be easy enough for a camera crew to find something in Kanawha County that would embarrass me as West Virginian or make me squirm. Instead, judging only by the clips and teasers, I’m mostly embarrassed for the show’s “manufacturers” (even more so than for the young folks being faux-exploited…fauxploited?).

    Back in the early 1960s there was a great television dramedy about young people, a lost classic called “It’s A Man’s World”. Only ran 19 episodes before it was crushed by a sponsor backlash. The message and tone of those episodes came across as if Mark Twain and J.D. Salinger tried to co-write episodes of “My Three Son’s”. The show revolved around the lives of 4 guys living on a house boat moored on the Ohio side of the Ohio River. But many of the eps involved their crossing the river into West Virginia for one adventure or another. Those characters were covering ground in West Virginia hill country not far (in crow flown miles) from the back roads where the MTV production crews have been stumbling around.

    But I don’t weep for how far we’ve fallen as a culture, and the distance between the stories the 2 shows tell, after all ‘Buck Wild’ is not the standard bearer for old shows like ‘It’s a Man’s World’. There are dozens of quality programs on my teevee. This is a Golden Age. But ‘Buck Wild’ isn’t one of those shows. ‘Buck Wild’ is the descendant of the test patterns and static snow that filled the screen through the night back then.

    January 10, 2013
  18. I am from Elkins,West Virginia and no matter how much we don’t want to admit it there are a lot of people that actually do act in certain ways that other people here might not approve of but yet it still remains a true fact. There are lots of different versions of Appalachian residents some classy, some idiotic, some actually really a dumb redneck. There are tons of addicts to different substances up to and including alcohol, drugs, gambling lol, etc. We have a gambling abuse line so we all know that one is true whether you play a scratch ticket, slots, powerball, cash 25, daily 3, or just regular person to person bets. Example being I bet you 10 bucks you won’t eat a night crawler. Its all called gambling and one way or another most of the West Virginians I know play at least one of those kinds of games. There are rich I got money to have all the top of the line everything and then there are the poor hard working men who work all day for minimum wage just to put a roof over their families heads and then you have the lazy lay around moochers that want to do nothing but lay around all day and expect others to pay their way. There are the intelligent women who go out and go to school and work then come home and be a single mom to 4 or 5 kids and are never more happier. There is the thieves, robbers, rapist, sex offenders, mental challenged, mentally unstable, honest and hard working. There are those who would give the shirt off their back to a stranger just because they were in need. There are the respectful and grateful ones who respect their parents, grandparents, or any elder person and mind their manners take care of others people and animals, work all day just to help a person in need and be happy about it. So just because you don’t like the way these kids are acting then thats your opinion. I for one can’t wait to see all the episodes \. I think its funny to watch other people my age group going out and having fun the best way us backwoods country folk do. I especially like the tater gun. My brother and I make those all the time to shoot off and they are a blast. I think it could bring more money and revenue to us bringing this show especially if its a hit across the united states. People will want to come visit more and a lot of them may even move here. the tourist would be a big help on a lot of the smaller communities like the one I live in that depend on extra money from our tourist train. It has been a big help with bringing in more people. I say let them show the show and hopefully it can help us bring in much needed cash flow into our state.

    January 11, 2013
    • G Bishla #

      I, for one, am not saying these sort of things don’t happen. But this show is a phoney baloney ‘re-enactment demonstrations’ of this sort of behavior. The kids are willingly being set up and egged on by an out of town camera crew. It isn’t real. Its like someone (badly) retelling a joke they heard.

      January 11, 2013
    • G Bishla #

      I also typed ” tater gun- based economy” into google and got zero hits, so yes, you are right: West Virginia would be in the vanguard of exploiting this economic/tourism niche.

      January 11, 2013
  19. Ali #

    I live in one of the richest counties in the US and have family in WV, people there appreciate life and aren’t caught up in the rat race trying to keep up with the Jone’s, and stabbing everyone in the back to climb up the corporate ladder. WV is a slice of reality, with real people who work hard everyday, and who know who their neighbors are and help them out in time of need, they appreciate everything they have, and don’t pretend to be something they’re not. Buck wild is a MTV gimmick to make money, it doesn’t portray reality, it’s just staged fiction for profit.

    January 16, 2013
    • G Bishla #

      mercifully, it seems to have quickly dropped off the pop-culture radar. I don’t know how the ratings have been, nor should i care…but it clearly is not breaking out in a a “Jersey Shore” way, as a meme beyond the world of MTV.

      February 7, 2013
    • CWhite #

      I agree.

      February 7, 2013
  20. “Buck Wild” is nothing more then things I did at 18 to 21. The shows nothing special. I have lived in Miami,FL and Northern California and have recently moved back to Wv after 20 years away. Love West Virginia and the people. Hate “Buck Wild”

    February 13, 2013

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