The Death of Shain Gandee and MTV’s Cancellation of “Buckwild”

gandeeOn April 1st, Shain Gandee, one of the breakout stars of MTV’s “Buckwild” died along with his uncle and a friend. After going mudding, Shain’s truck became stuck in the mud so deep that the tailpipe on the muffler became clogged.  Because it was cold that evening (and perhaps they had been drinking), the three men probably turned on the heat and fell asleep, and subsequently died of carbon monoxide poisoning.

The show was controversial for its negative representations of West Virginia, even drawing ire from Senator Joe Manchin. But during its first season “Buckwild” attracted an audience of 3 million viewers per episode.  And what did the young folks who were being exploited by MTV earn?  A measly $1,000 per episode.  That’s right.  All of you people out there who think reality television stars are making money hand over fist (because they know what they’ve gotten themselves into) need to read this again carefully:  $1,000 an episode.  Viacom-owned MTV on the other hand, reaped some handsome profits.

Now, in the wake of Shain’s death, MTV has canceled the show.  Why? In a press release, the network reasoned that the show could not go on “given Shain’s tragic passing and essential presence on the show.” In effect, his “essential presence” meant that “Buckwild” without Shain Gandee affected Viacom’s profit margin, but nothing near what they made off of this young man’s life.

The kicker is that the producer is furious about the cancellation.  According to an interview featured on HuffPost TV, J. P. Williams (who plays up West Virginia as his birthplace) is determined to save the show, going so far as to say that “My job is to protect these kids.”  Say what? He exploited them to line his own pockets and not even the death of one of them is enough to keep him from being self-righteous (or being worried about his own bank account).

I was in West Virginia last week visiting with family and learned that MTV had NOT offered to assist Gandee’s parents with funeral expenses.  Instead, fellow West Virginians stepped up to the plate and held a “Shain Gandee Memorial Mud Run” to help the family.  Meanwhile, the network is going to have a memorial special to honor Shain, which will likely have a large audience and squeeze a few more dollars of profit from this poor soul.

All I have say about that is shame on you, MTV.

Correction:  J. P. Williams’ company did pay funeral costs.  However, this was after it was reported that the family didn’t have the money to pay for the funeral.


4 thoughts on “The Death of Shain Gandee and MTV’s Cancellation of “Buckwild”

  1. As usual, you and I differ on this subject, Karen. I am very sorry for the family that these men died in such a stupid and preventable accident, but I can’t see that MTV etc. had an obligation to these folks. How many corporations would pay for the funeral of an independent contractor that died from an non job related accident? If I was killed on I-85 driving home tonight would UNCC be criticized for not paying for my funeral?

    So Viacom made money off them. So what. Apparently there is a large number of people who want to gawk at folks who have no talent other than being willing to be filmed (cough, cough – Jersey Shore) and more than enough folks that are willing to be filmed. Compared to the profits made the payment was small, but did these kids lose any substantial economic opportunities because they wanted to be on television? At least they received 1000 an episode; when folks go on Jerry Springer they don’t make anything.

    I agree that J. P. Williams sound like an ass. There are many, many just like him.

    I don’t like the image of the South portrayed in Buckwild and Honey Boo Boo, but I also didn’t like the stereotypes in Jersey Shore. Stupid drama sure is popular right now: Toddlers and Tiaras, Dance Moms, Cheer Moms, Jersey Shore, Big Brother, ad nauseum.

    If you are concerned about large organizations profiting off young people, turn your eyes to college football/basketball.

    • I think we also disagree that it’s okay to help out a fellow human being in need. My sense is that you think I’m just about people getting handouts; I don’t. I think this is about doing the right thing. He was exploited, plain and simple. And this poor kid probably couldn’t afford to go to college if he had wanted to. Viacom and corporations like it are capitalists in the worst sense–they reap their profits on the backs of workers who they pay poorly. I am reminded of many a 19thc cartoon about capitalism standing on the backs of workers. That’s where we are again. Workers make the profits, but the profits aren’t shared with them because the folks at the top are too busy stacking it up for themselves, which is why folks like Gandee’s family didn’t have enough to pay for his funeral.

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