Feeling Dragged Through the Mud, as MTV Comes to West Virginia

Share with others:


Print Email Read Later

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Even though it has yet to be broadcast, a reality TV series set in this corner of Appalachia has created a stir for its portrait of young people prone to fighting, swearing, careening in all-terrain vehicles and wallowing, scantily clad, in the mud.

The series, "Buckwild," will fill the MTV slot vacated by "Jersey Shore." Like that series, the new show has aroused anger over what some consider the exploitation of broad cultural stereotypes.

"It doesn't help the lousy reputation we already have," said Greg Samms, 31, a dishwasher on a break at the Charleston Town Center mall. "You go west of Ohio, west of Kentucky -- people think we're hillbillies."

Kent Carper, the president of the Kanawha County Commission here, said dryly, "Some folks in West Virginia wear shoes, believe it or not."

Based on a two-minute trailer that MTV has released online, Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, labeled the show a "travesty" and called on MTV to cancel it. "This show plays to ugly, inaccurate stereotypes about the people of West Virginia," Mr. Manchin wrote in a letter last month to Stephen K. Friedman, MTV's president.

He accused the show's producers of egging on a cast between ages 19 and 24 to misbehave for the sake of ratings. "You preyed on young people, coaxed them into displaying shameful behavior -- and now you are profiting from it," Mr. Manchin wrote. "That is just wrong."

MTV declined to make Mr. Friedman available to comment, and the series is set to begin on Thursday at 10 p.m. West Virginia officials are well aware that in condemning the show they risk increasing its chances of gaining viewers.

"Jersey Shore" was also attacked for perpetuating stereotypes -- in its case, of Italian-Americans -- when it began in 2009. Gov. Chris Christie, Republican of New Jersey, blocked a tax credit the producers sought.

The show became a huge hit and a defining series for MTV. The final episode was shown on Dec. 20.

The tone of "Buckwild" is set by the saucy drawl of a cast member that is heard in the trailer. "West Virginia is a place founded on freedom. For me and my friends, that means the freedom to do whatever" we want, she says, adding an expletive.

The trailer cuts to shots of a young woman throwing a drink can at another's face, a young man running nude, and a fiery explosion. There are stunts involving earthmoving equipment, body licking and necking.

"I have this rule," says one young woman in the nine-member cast. "If a guy can't rotate my tires and change my oil at least, we're just not going to work."

Shain, a former prom king whose jobs have included collecting garbage, angles for a date by asking, "Cara, you ever been mudding?"

("Mudding," which features prominently in the show, involves splashing in vehicles along backwoods roads, sometimes tossing a passenger into the slop.)

To its creators, the show is a good-natured romp by exuberant young people. "The show lets them do their thing, which is wild and awesomely crazy at times, but it's also got a lot of heart," said John Stevens, an executive producer. He said that he had no intention of maligning West Virginia, and that the show was set there by happenstance. "They're just a lovable group of kids we found," he said.

But here in the state capital, and in Sissonville, a rural community 15 miles north where the show is mainly set, the mood was critical.

Ashley Somerville, 18, a senior at Sissonville High School, said none of her female friends liked what they had seen so far. Seated at lunch with her boyfriend at Tudor's Biscuit World on Sissonville's main road, which is lined with fast-food outlets and dollar stores, Ms. Somerville said, "That's not how girls act."

The "reality" of the series is open to question. Melissa Whitman, who lives with her family across the street from a house that MTV rented for several of the women in the cast, said she observed careful staging of scenes. For a scene in which a neighbor complains about a noisy party, Ms. Whitman said, "I saw one of the crew talk to the lady, tell her exactly what they wanted her to do, then they filmed it over and over until they got it exactly the way they wanted."

The Kanawha County prosecutor's office has a more serious concern. It is investigating whether producers gave alcohol to under-age cast members, a misdemeanor punishable by up to 10 days in jail.

Cast members in the trailer and in other clips are perpetually gripping cans and plastic cups, though what they are sipping is hard to discern. Some were under 21 when the series was shot last spring and summer.

Mark Plants, the county prosecutor, acknowledged that in the past six years his only investigations for providing alcohol to minors followed drunken-driving fatalities.

"This case is obviously unique because you do have people from New York or Hollywood coming in," he said. "And it does make it worse because they were in fact filming the conduct."

An MTV spokesman, Jake Urbanski, said the network had a policy against providing alcohol to cast members of its shows. Mr. Stevens, the producer, said that no alcohol was offered during the making of "Buckwild." The production spent about $1 million in West Virginia, he added, and employed nearly 200 local people.

One cast member, Ashley Witt, 20, said she and the others had been told not to speak with the news media. "I'm not allowed to make comments on anything," she said.

But her mother, Violet Meadows, opened the door of the small home on a steep slope in Sissonville where Ms. Witt grew up before recently moving away.

Ms. Meadows said people she did not know had attacked her on Facebook as a poor parent. Her daughter, she said, "is a wonderful young person," and "Buckwild" accurately depicts how she and her friends blow off steam.

"The kids in this area, they're from the country, they go mudding, they build bonfires, they hunt, they swim in the river," she said.

She accused Mr. Manchin and others critical of the series of having misplaced priorities. "We have kids going hungry and being abused," she said. "Our country has so many other things to worry about than Manchin focusing on these kids playing in the mud."

Others said West Virginia's image had little to fear from the show.

"I'm not paranoid about how we look," said Chuck Smith, 62, an accountant in Charleston. "It's probably no more real than anything else" billed as a reality show.

nation

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

You have 2 remaining free articles this month

Try unlimited digital access

If you are an existing subscriber,
link your account for free access. Start here

You’ve reached the limit of free articles this month.

To continue unlimited reading

If you are an existing subscriber,
link your account for free access. Start here