Why MTV’s ‘Buckwild’ Isn’t Terrible
The arrests of two cast members from MTV’s “Buckwild” are the latest controversies of the “Jersey Shore” replacement, which prompted Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) to write a letter to the president of MTV in December demanding the show's cancellation. “Buckwild,” which follows a group of friends in their twenties in West Virginia, may inconvenience tourism and government officials, but it offers a specific, refreshing look at working class youth and creative fun seldom represented on television.
The behavior Senator Manchin denounced as “shameful” might be better described as ridiculous or dangerous; the show opens with a warning against imitating cast members' stunts. But unlike its Thursday-night predecessor, the friends of “Buckwild” hardly ever seem bored, and rarely engage in the primping and purchasing that defined “Shore” castmates. “Buckwild” incorporates typical reality show drama, but it prioritizes the friends’ “mudding” through woods in prized trucks and building a giant Slip ‘n Slide in the backyard.
“Its appeal is that it’s a window into another facet of American culture,” said Ashley Teamer, a student from Louisiana. Teamer said shows such as “Buckwild” and “Duck Dynasty,” about a family of duck call makers from her home state, aren’t as damaging as other reality shows.
“I only find reality shows really harmful when they highlight a minority group,” Teamer told Campus Progress. “Often those are what the majority uses to reinforce stereotypes of the minority.”
Debates over “Buckwild” compare it to “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" and label both shows as "redneck reality." This genre allegedly uses unflattering stereotypes to increase appeal, but distaste for both shows’ cast members might say more about critics than the reality stars.
“Honey Boo Boo” family members “are big people with even bigger personalities,” writes Tami Winfrey Harris for Clutch magazine. “[P]eople like them activate American disgust in a way far greater problems do not.”
If the castmates perpetuate cultural myths, they also defy them. “Honey Boo Boo” has been praised for the family’s acceptance of a gay uncle. The friends on “Buckwild” warmly welcome one woman’s ex-girlfriend, and her visit prompts another cast member to acknowledge she’s “bi-curious.” Gender seems irrelevant; the women shoot guns and wrestle alongside the men, and are brutally honest when they privilege romantic relationships over friendships.
Reality shows will continue to depend on tropes for laughs. Their value, if any, lies beneath stereotypes. At worst, “Buckwild” may be a thorn in the tourism industry’s side, but more important is its potential for upending viewers’ preconceptions. The people on “Buckwild” are the ones we’re not supposed to see, and they make for entertaining, and in some ways subversive, television.
Molly Savard is a reporter for Campus Progress. You can follow her on Twitter @mollicules.