In the run-up to the end of the six-season social trainwreck that was MTV's "Jersey Shore," the network made certain that word got out about the new series that would be taking over in the same time slot, "Buckwild." A quasi-"Jersey Shore" clone set in the mountains of West Virginia, the show follows the same basic formula of many of MTV's collection of reality shows: Take a group of young, inexperienced, horny, mostly (or seemingly) ill-educated partiers, give them a scripted situation, then turn on the cameras and watch what develops. Edit. Broadcast. Watch the advertising dollars flow in as viewers tune in to the latest social trainwreck on television. And as has been the case with most of these types of shows, there are some who are in opposition to the show being aired at all.
Of course, sounding off on why such a show shouldn't be aired only gives traction to those who enjoy controversy, not to mention stoking the fires of curiosity. An editorial in one West Virginia newspaper, the Martinsburg Journal, offered a simple solution: If you don't like the show, don't watch it.
The editorial went on to note that, while true that shows like "Buckwild" promote stereotypes and encourages base behavior, the series could also be used "as an opportunity to remind our children how important it is to behave in a manner of which all West Virginians can be proud."
Sen. Joe Manchin, former governor of West Virginia, took it upon himself to decry the baseness of the reality show and sent a letter of condemnation to MTV. He wrote that he was "repulsed" by the show and how it reinforced West Virginia stereotypes. He even asked MTV to pull the plug on the show, which is scheduled to premiere on Jan. 3.
But Manchin's response to the show was exactly what the network wanted. Just as formulaic as the series are, so, too, is the advance publicity. Nearly all of the social experiment-type shows begin with controversy, sometimes involving local politicians. In fact, MTV undoubtedly counts on high-profile backlash to help generate interest in the show. Unwittingly or no, Manchin gave "Buckwild" publicity on a national scale (besides an interview with the Washington Post and other outlets, Manchin also appeared on the "Today Show" to lambaste MTV and the show). And although the controversy did not seem to reach quite the level that "Jersey Shore" invoked among Italian-American advocates and the local townspeople of Seaside Heights, NJ (where the show was filmed), it was most likely enough to ensure that the show will be renewed for a second season.
Because people are curious. And they like to see dysfunction in action. Much like the website PeopleOfWalmart.com and shows like Tru TV's "World's Dumbest..." series, people are provided entertainment at the expense of others. As long as the expense isn't via ridicule, debasement, or derogation and kept to the humorous (terrible fashion sense in the case of PeopleOfWalmart.com or bewildered puzzlement and outright surprise that people can be so ridiculously stupid in the clips shown on "World's Dumbest...") or to a teachable moment, entertainment is simply entertainment. However, people being people, much of what is seen and heard on shows like "Jersey Shore" and "Buckwild" tend to contribute to the general ignorance surrounding certain populations and demographics. In short, whether they're watching to simply get a laugh out of the crazy goings-on on the shows or attempting to just make themselves feel better because nothing in their lives compares to the manifold dysfunctions at play on whatever is being observed, people are going to watch the show.
Telling people not to watch will only increase curiosity and generally produce the opposite effect, if for no other reason than to be contrary or rebel against being told what to do.
Still, taking the show off the air is out of the question. Hundreds of thousdands of dollars -- if not millions -- have been spent putting the show together and marketing it. MTV has ordered nine shows thus far for the original first season run of "Buckwild." So it will be broadcast.
Ratings will dictate whether or not it returns for a second season. Either way, each household has a choice. They can watch or they can choose not to watch. Coercion or forcing a show off the air is not the answer. It is censorship and deprives people of the opportunity to experience and judge for themselves. Such demanding is far worse than the minor impact on life such a show will have on television viewers, West Virginians, and young people in general.
Because if MTV's "Jackass" and its franchise of shows and hit movies didn't spell out the end of civilization, a show about nine mostly irresponsible and wayward hillbillies cussing, bogging, partying, fighting, and having sex will not portend the end of the world as we know it. And if it becomes just too much to bear to watch -- don't.
"Buckwild," an "authentic comedy," will premiere on Thursday, Jan. 3 at 10 p.m. (EST) on MTV.
(photo credit: Buckwild, MTV)