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.
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.