Looking for some corner of America untouched by reality TV? The only place you’ll find that is – where else? – reality TV. Buckwild comes on like MTV’s journey down the dirty back roads of West Virginia, but it’s basically Jersey Shore in Daisy Dukes. A crew of lusty Appalachian kids take over a party shack in the holler, where they say things like, “When Shain passes out I like to mess with him pretty bad.” These country kids might not have much book learning, but they appreciate the simple pleasures in life: guns, beer, tractors, mud wrestling, sticking their fingers in the bug zapper. And banging each other senseless in a drunken haze. Lots of that. Y’all come!
We are meant to believe that the Buckwild bunch are just raw backwoods youth being their ornery selves, because, as one of the girls proclaims in the credits, “West Virginia is a place founded on freedom!” Which means they do Jackass-style stunts by day and party by night. They’re uncorrupted by fancy-pants city life, even if they get tempted by the bright lights of Morgantown, a couple of hours away, where they snag VIP passes at a club called Karma. Cue the dialogue: “Shain, have you ever even been to a club?” Shain replies, “Uhhh . . . …I hit somebody with a club one time.”
Buckwild has been condemned for perpetuating stereotypes about the South, but this is just youth culture the way MTV portrays it from sea to shining sea, from the beaches of Laguna to the shores of Jersey. No matter where the MTV cameras go, they find the same kids, with the same drink-slap-cry-repeat priorities. And they found a bunch of winners here, because the members of the Buckwild crew are clearly honors graduates of the Rosco P. Coltrane Acting Academy.
There’s one key difference between Buckwild and Jersey Shore. MTV got into the guido thing early – but they’re getting into the redneck thing incredibly late. No matter how much you hated the Jersey Shore kids, they didn’t look or talk like anyone else on TV. But the kids on Buckwild look and talk like everyone else on TV. The airwaves are full of rural reality trash these days: the good (Duck Dynasty), the bad (Cajun Pawn Stars) and the Boo Boo (Here Comes Honey Boo Boo). And the kids on Buckwild have obviously watched every one of those shows, so they have their wacky-rustic shtick down cold. They know what works onscreen (screaming, falling downstairs, dump-truck pool parties) and what doesn’t (sanity, schoolwork, friendship).
It’s the dream of discovering something pure and primitive under the surface of TV America. Sure, you can always see how staged and scripted these shows are, with every emotional outburst choreographed. But we are so madly in love with myths of our own national innocence that we don’t care how fake it is. We want to believe this is how America looks when the cameras stop rolling.
But what is more authentically Southern than bullshit? Con men have been hustling suckers by pretending to be country rubes since the invention of snake oil. If these kids are playing up their hillbilly act to get some cash, that just makes them more authentic. And if you think for a minute they’re not in on the Buckwild joke, take another sip of that snake oil.
This story is from the February 14th, 2013 issue of Rolling Stone.