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