Hillbilly Redux: MTV’s “Buckwild”

A year and a half after writing an op-ed for the New York Times about the South in reality television, I am here again with the latest installment of the trend.  “Buckwild,” MTV’s newest “reality” program, is a look at the shenanigans of a group of young men and women from my home state of West Virginia.  Set in Sissonville, just outside of the state capitol of Charleston, MTV tells us that this show and this group of 20-somethings is going to take over where “Jersey Shore” left off.  My prediction:  “Buckwild” dies a quick death after the first season and none of the show’s cast members will see the kind of money that Snooki or “The Situation” has enjoyed.

buckwild
The cast of MTV’s “Buckwild”

So what do we have in “Buckwild?”  After a first look at the show, what I saw was very contrived.  The cast seemed a little nervous to be on film at all, and their conversations didn’t seem as organic as they likely are when the cameras aren’t on.  There were also several places within the first episode where you could almost hear a producer telling cast members what to do next.  “Okay, you two girls, jump in that mud hole and start wrestling.”  Because that would seem natural for two hillbillies from West Virginia.

If you’re from the state, you have a right to be embarrassed.  On the one hand, the antics of youth can be found anywhere.  But there’s always a spin when the show is set in the South, or in this case, Appalachia.

First, you have the subtitles as most of these shows have, which indicates that the people in this place speak with a foreign tongue–but mainly foreign to urban ears. (I find I am distracted and annoyed by the subtitles in southern-based reality shows, because the speech and/or accents are often perfectly understandable.)  Second, you have some activity that suggests to you that the place is a cultural backwater, literally.  Cue the hoses to create a mud pit and send in trucks to splash through it or young women to roll around in it.

Now, some would say “these people really do exist.”  Sure they do, but are they representative?  I’m from West Virginia and my cousins and their children are all hardworking, decent and smart people.  And they don’t get their kicks wallowing in mud.  Why don’t we see THAT represented?  Because then we wouldn’t have people we could laugh at.

You see, this hillbilly stereotype goes back for more than a century and has often been used for purposes of humor.  Very often this stereotype highlights the urban and rural divide in American culture.  The city slicker versus the country rube.  So, “Buckwild” just continues to perpetuate that long held stereotype, so that urban dwellers can get a cheap laugh at hick culture and feel superior about it while they do.  If MTV, or any other reality show (like “Moonshiners”) truly wanted to represent the diversity of Appalachian culture they would.  But they are content to make money by striking the same note–over and over–much to the chagrin of so many people who live far richer lives there, in those same mountains, than what is presented. That’s a shame, but I doubt we’ve seen the last of shows like these.

Cue a toothless man holding a moonshine jug with XXX marked on the side.

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8 thoughts on “Hillbilly Redux: MTV’s “Buckwild”

  1. Cue a toothless, barefoot, bearded man in a felt hat and overalls with a corncob pipe in his mouth holding a moonshine jug with XXX marked on the side. 😉 C’mon, ya gotta hit ALL the stereotypes!

    I was waiting to read your take on this show. Incisive, as always. It sounds just as dreadful as all the rest of that ilk.

  2. Yes, I watched it, just like I look at car accidents on the side of the road. It can’t be helped. It is indeed exploitative, but it follows a formula that must be very lucrative for MTV based on how many shows they have used it on. Put attractive, sexually active post-teens in close proximity with each other, add alcohol, and let the cameras roll.

  3. I was born and raised in West Virginia and have loved every minute of it. I grew up doing the same stuff. Swimming in dirty water, muddin in every mud puddle, fishing, hunting, canoeing, riding quads and every other outdoor activity. Yes, I have watched the “Buckwild” show and I see nothing wrong with it. It’s just a bunch of West Virginian kids having fun and being free. For all the people that say that it’s degrading and disrespectful to all the hard working people here are full of crap. It’s just a television show, made purely to entertain, that happens to be filmed in West Virginia. That’s it. I think its a good thing to show all the yuppies in the urban areas how much fun it can be to live in the sticks. Maybe they won’t think so low of all of us once they see how much they can’t do by living in city limits.

    • I highly doubt that the “yuppies in urban areas” are watching this and thinking “how much fun it can be to live in the sticks.” And yes, they do “think low” of you. You can bet on that.

      • Wow, that’s a snotty reply. Nice to know you “think low” of people like us. Just remember the feeling is mutual. At least I know I could take care of myself outside city limits and I don’t need a starbucks within a mile of me at all times.

  4. Kelsea, I think you misunderstand. I, myself, do not “think Low” of people like you or people from West Virginia. I am FROM there and if you read my post, and others I’ve written, you’d know that I disagree wholeheartedly with negative images of the South. My point was that it would be naive to think that people who live in urban areas aren’t looking down their noses at at you. Very likely, they do. And, for the record, I despise Starbucks.

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