'Buckwild' Is What Happens When People Stop Being Polite And Start Producing Poverty Voyeurism

'Buckwild' Is What Happens When People Stop Being Polite And Start Producing Poverty Voyeurism

"Buckwild," the West Virginia-centered MTV reality show that's been compared to both "Jersey Shore" and "Jackass," is set for its second airing tonight after the show's debut back-to-back episodes scored strong ratings. Like all reality shows, "Buckwild" has its critics, and chief among them is West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, who -- despite having no problem playing to stereotypes when it's suited him -- decried the show in a letter to MTV's president Stephen Friedman as a "travesty" that profits from its depictions "of the poor decisions of our youth."

Less esteemed critics have sounded similar concerns. Over at Crasstalk, one predicts that "Buckwild" will "never show a doctor, a teacher, a lawyer or even a competent store clerk," let alone any of West Virginia's unique wonders. The A/V Club's Austin Bernhardt agrees, saying, "Despite their oh-so constant declarations to the contrary," the show's cast members' "hometown pride and country upbringing don’t manifest themselves in any fascinating or unusual lifestyle quirks." It's just an exploration of the most generic sort of stupidity.

As author and West Virginia native Josh Gardner puts it: "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." Gardner recalls MTV's last foray into Appalachia, "The Wild Wonderful Whites of West Virginia" -- which focused on the family of famed "Dancing Outlaw" Jesco White -- as "yet another myopic look at rural America."

And as Salon's Alexandra Bradner points out, that "myopic look" is one that specifically mines the realities of rural poverty for voyeuristic entertainment:

We’re getting this limited view of Appalachia for two reasons: First, so we’re insulated from the region’s genuine needs. According to MTV’s caricature, Grandee and Bradley don’t need us. They’re perfectly happy. In fact, MTV would have us believe that the kids of “Buckwild” are free and creative in ways that alienated, urban kids with cellphones will never be. But there are deeper reasons why Grandee says: “I don’t have no phone. I don’t have a Facebook. I don’t have none of that Internet stuff.” If we were to interrogate those reasons, we would have to care about him and help him. And that’s no fun.

The second reason for the incomplete caricature is deeply psychological. The non-Appalachian viewing audience needs this manufactured other, in order to see itself as sophisticated and cosmopolitan — as better. Bradley and her more urban peers seem to need their “country boys” in this way as well. Without the foil, we would have to face our own poverties, our own barbarism, our own shelteredness, our own actual lack of sophistication.

In the video above, The Huffington Post's own Senior Politics Editor Paige Lavender lends her perspective to the debate over "Buckwild." Prior to coming to work for HuffPost, Lavender -- a West Virginia native and graduate of West Virginia University -- created Faces Of The Mine, an online portal that both memorialized and covered the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster. For an alternate perspective on how West Virginians actually live, she recommends that readers check out "Hollow," an experiment in participatory documentary filmmaking that will tell the stories of West Virginia's rural communities and is launching this spring.

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