‘Buckwild’ And Self-Exploitation
MTV could hardly have done better than get its upcoming redneck reality series “Buckwild” denounced by a US Senator:
MTV hit pay-dirt Friday when Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) fired off aletter to MTV president Stephen Friedman asking that the network “put a stop to the travesty” that is its new docu-series “Buckwild.”
“Buckwild” is about a bunch of MTV-target-audience aged BFF’s doing MTV docu-series-ish things. Think “Jersey Shore.”
“As a U.S. Senator, I am repulsed at this business venture, where some Americans are making money off of the poor decisions of our youth,” Manchin wrote, after seeing only previews of the show – not an actual episode. Because, U.S. Senators don’t have time to do that much homework.
“I cannot imagine that anyone who loves this country would feel proud profiting off of ‘Buckwild’,” the senator continued in his letter.
Yeah, yeah. I see what Manchin means, but is it really exploitation if the redneck Millennials want to exploit themselves? They may be low-dignity idiots, but they’re not kids. I mean, I agree with Manchin that this is awful stuff, and that MTV is a cretinous enterprise, but the ugly truth is that Manchin’s soon-to-be-infamous constituents no doubt know perfectly well what they’re doing, and just don’t care.
“Buckwild” does raise a couple of interesting questions about identity and umbrage. For example, here is the trailer for a pretty shocking (and compulsively watchable) documentary called “The Wild And Wonderful Whites Of West Virginia”:
These violent, lawless, drugged-out hillbillies are so aggressively white-trash they surely make the Buckwild cast look like the Whiffenpoofs. But notice how their story is framed: the White family is portrayed as a clan of free spirits whose authenticity cannot be contained by bougie notions of respectability, or even the law. The filmmakers, who include Johnny Knoxville of Jackass fame, may actually believe this. But most people who watch this film will not find the Whites admirable, but rather pathetic, disgusting, and frightening. (Though it must be said that the film pretty much demolishes the idea that the only thing standing between these people and stability is economic opportunity; the social pathologies nurtured within that family are far, far beyond the ability of material help).
Anyway, is the fact that the “Wild and Wonderful” filmmakers purport to admire their subjects, and openly celebrate them, act as a moral disinfectant for the viewer? Similarly, does the likely fact that the “Buckwild” cast knowingly participates in its own self-exploitation make it okay to watch in good conscience? One difference, I think, is that “Wild and Wonderful” really does document a culture that is completely alien to most of us, and it doesn’t sugarcoat the Whites’ dysfunction; it’s kind of a “Hillbillies In The Mist” movie. “Buckwild,” insofar as it’s like “Jersey Shore,” is more or less an Abercrombie & Fitch ad with uglier people.
Nevertheless, to what extent does the framing of films like this, and the informed consent of its participants, ameliorate one’s moral squeamishness? Jersey Shore was about the sexy trashiness of working-class Italian-Americans from New Jersey. Buckwild is about the sexy trashiness of working-class Scots-Irish Americans from Appalachia. How would you feel if the next installment were about the sexy trashiness of working-class African-Americans from the south side of Chicago, or the sexy trashiness of working-class Hispanic-Americans from El Paso?