MTV's "Buckwild" premieres on Jan. 3, and the gnashing of teeth is commencing in earnest.
If you are just tuning in, "Buckwild" is hailed as the next "Jersey Shore," and features the "real life" of a group of Southern West Virginia teenagers living their motto, "Whatever happens, happens."
What happens is usually high-energy, hormone-laden, risk-taking behavior. And make no mistake -- it appears that it will make some very entertaining television. My personal favorite moment on the preview video clip is the group's invention of a merry-go-round made out of a backhoe. You ride in the scoop and then get pitched out into a mud puddle when you are too dizzy to hold on. I felt an odd pride when I saw that. I'd like to see those high falutin' Jersey kids try to rock a backhoe.
I admit I laughed heartily over the images and lines in the preview. There is trash slingin', rock kickin', and body lickin' galore. The kids portray a fearless in-your-face attitude toward life, and yet at times also a rather tender approach to one another that is touching. They may be rowdy Appalachian youth, but they are youth nonetheless. They are testing limits, building friendships, practicing adult relationships, and finding their way through the necessary developmental tasks of adolescence.
My concern is that they are doing it on camera.
While most adult professional people are wringing their hands over, "How does this make West Virginia look?" I am wondering, "How does this make adult professional people look?"
We can start with the most common public reaction, which is that "Buckwild" may undermine efforts to change our state's image into something more intelligent, progressive, and serene. I don't think we need to be concerned about that. Anyone can see this is an exaggerated profile of one group of young people, solely for entertainment purposes. To overreact to this as relevant to changing the economy suggests that those concerned may see more disclosure here than misrepresentation.
Where it should touch a nerve is in its advancement of a culture that preys on the very young. I still remember those days, don't you? Teenagers are desperate for recognition and validation in almost any way they can get it. These kids now believe their best option is to sell their most vulnerable and extreme moments to be broadcast on national television. MTV and every other production company know this dynamic. They know kids don't comprehend that how they show themselves to the world today on television will exist forever.
If "Buckwild" troubles you, look a little deeper into why. Kids will be kids, and much of what you see on "Buckwild" is not particularly developmentally extreme. Growing up is very difficult. Adults could do more to help if we took our eyes off our own disapproval and put them on showing our young people that they are valuable, that we believe in them, and that we are willing to help them attain the bright future they so deserve.
Gaucher, of Charleston, has worked in executive positions for the Coalition for West Virginia's Children, the Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Coalition of North Carolina and the Governor's Cabinet on Children and Families.