Tuesday, January 08, 2013

MTV's 'Buckwild' ignores realities of Appalachia's poverty, Kentucky philosophy professor writes

MTV's most recent addition to its reality show pantheon is "Buckwild," which centers around a group of West Virginia teens whom the cable network has deemed a free-willing and authentic representation of what life is like for Central Appalachian youth. But the show's stars "represent something important," writes University of Kentucky philosophy professor Alexandra Bradner (right): the faces of exploitation.

"Cultural persecution and its social psychological effects are nothing new to the hardworking and hard-suffering people of West Virginia," Bradner writes in Salon. She notes NBC's "Saturday Night Live" had a running skit called "Appalachian Emergency Room," and CBS hoped to produce "The Real Beverly Hillbillies," in which a poor Appalachian family would have moved to Beverly Hills. Even news programs "seem to exploit the region," Bradner writes. PBS Frontline's "Country Boys" in 2006 and ABC's "Children of the Mountains" in 2009 tried to draw attention to the reality of poverty's effect on the region's children, but "both ended up exaggerating underlying stereotypes through their salacious choice of subject matter."

The latest show displays "ways in which Appalachian folk are superficially different than sophisticated urbanites: Appalachian people talk differently, have different hairstyles, live in different kinds of homes, and drink and eat different stuff," but not the harder realities of the region, Bradner writes, for two reasons. One is to avoid reminding the rest of the nation that the region has real needs, by making the audience believe that "the kids of 'Buckwild' are free and creative in ways that alienated, urban kids with cellphones will never be." If we we asked why the kids don't have cellphones and Internet, "We would have to care about [them] and help [them]. And that's no fun," Bradner writes. The second reason is more "deeply psychological:" The "non-Appalachian viewing audience needs this manufactured 'other,' in order to see itself as sophisticated and cosmopolitan -- as better. . . . Without the foil, we would have to face our own poverties, our own barbarism, our own shelteredness, our own actual lack of sophistication." In other words, most people, at least subconsciously, want to look down on someone.

The most damning effect of "Buckwild," Bradner writes, is that "The caricature MTV has manufactured for West Virginia will leave a long-lasting hurt, for it will dissuade external talent from settling permanently there. Instead of establishing homes in Appalachia, where their heirs will grow up and raise families, external business, scientific and educational leaders will either stay away completely or continue to run their West Virginia interests from other states, where they can live among wealthy, sophisticated people and where they can send their kids to schools without that buckwild element." (Read more)

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