West Virginia feels dragged through mud by MTV show - Omaha.com
Published Thursday, January 3, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 4:04 pm
West Virginia feels dragged through mud by MTV show

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 and other snippets that MTV has released online, Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., 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,” Manchin wrote in a letter last month to Stephen K. Friedman, MTV’s president.

He accused the show’s producers of encouraging cast members, who are young adults, 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,” Manchin wrote. “That is just wrong.”

MTV declined to make Friedman available to comment, and the series is set to begin today at 9 p.m. CST.

From the time it began in 2009, “Jersey Shore” was also attacked for perpetuating stereotypes — in its case, of Italian-Americans. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, blocked a tax credit that the producers sought from a development agency.

The show became a huge hit and a defining series for MTV.

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 crude stunts involving earthmoving equipment, body licking and necking.

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.

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, 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 four 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, 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.”

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.

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