There's another controversy brewing about...guess what...a TV show which at least appears to exploit West Virginia stereotypes.
The show is called Buckwild, and it is slated to debut on MTV in early January, in place of Jersey Shore, which recently shot its final episode.
Here, from the cable network's own website, is a basic description of the series:
BUCKWILD is an authentic comedic series following an outrageous group of childhood friends from the rural foothills of West Virginia who love to dodge grown-up responsibilities and always live life with the carefree motto, "whatever happens, happens."
By that description, it appears to be Jersey Shore in a rural setting. But it has a lot of West Virginians riled up over the appearance of another inaccurate depiction of the Mountain State.
Leading the criticism is U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, who, on Friday, released a letter he wrote to the network's president:
Instead of showcasing the beauty of our people and our state, you preyed on young people, coaxed them into displaying shameful behavior – and now you are profiting from it. That is just wrong.
This show plays to ugly, inaccurate stereotypes about the people of West Virginia. Let me tell you: our people have given their all for this great country. They’ve done the heavy lifting to produce the energy that is needed to produce the steel that builds our factories and cities. The proud veterans of our state have shed more blood and made more sacrifices than most other states to keep America free. We’re proud of all we do to make America strong and secure the cherished freedoms that you seem so determined to abuse.
This isn't the first time West Virginia's leaders have been upset about a TV show, or proposed TV show, which supposedly aimed to play on stereotypes.
About 10 years ago, word got out that CBS was considering a reality show based on the old sitcom The Beverly Hillbillies, for which it was searching for characters in areas like West Virginia. That, too, brought about protests from prominent West Virginians. Either because of the controversy, or because CBS simply lost interest in the show (a possibility), the series never went into production.
At about the same time, VH1, MTV's sister network, started a series showing rock bands formed by inmates in prisons across the country. Prominent state government officials from across the country, including then-West Virginia governor Bob Wise, wrote complaining that some of the prisoners shown in the series were convicted murderers. The series ran for only a few episodes before it was cancelled.
What people are worried about, is that the actors on this show, much like those on Jersey Shore, may become celebrities and, thus, present an image of West Virginia other than a more positive image shown by performers such as Kathy Mattea, Jennifer Garner and Landau Eugene Murphy (who became famous by winning America's Got Talent, which itself is classified as a reality TV show). And I remind people of what former WTAP anchor Brittany Sweeney wrote in a blog about a year ago: the real Jersey Shore bears little resemblance to the one on the MTV series.
What people don't "get" is that most of the "real people" on shows like Buckwild may be real, but they're far from normal. Abnormal would be more like it. I've said this before and I'll say it again: reality TV has nothing to do with the type of reality that makes up our daily lives. That's not entertaining, and, in fact, to other people it would be downright boring.
I don't fault Sen. Manchin for expressing his objection to the way West Virginia people are presented to the rest of the world. But I remind him his reaction might have an effect other than what he is hoping for.
People (at least initially) might actually watch the show because of the controversy, just to see "what all the fuss is about".