Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

January 9, 2013

A bad case of reality television can be found in Washington, West Virginia

I was recently asked by a co-worker if I would be watching the debut of “Buckwild” on MTV. My response was a resounding “no.” In fact, I’m not even the least bit curious as to how that first episode went last week. After reviewing all of the Facebook responses we received from a poll asking the same question, it seems many of our readers had the same response.

You know the old saying about first impressions? They can be lasting. And my first impression of the trailer for “Buckwild” was enough for me to say no way to the West Virginia-based reality show. MTV — the network that would once proudly aired continuous music videos — is obviously counting on “Buckwild” to be their next “Jersey Shore.” But there are a lot of good folks in West Virginia that are obviously hoping this won’t be the case. In fact, many would like to see this show canceled — and sooner rather than later. I can’t blame them.

During an impromptu meeting with Bramwell Mayor Louise Stoker at Kmart in Bluefield over the weekend, we briefly discussed topics ranging from “Buckwild” and the Hatfield McCoy Trail system to the Daily Telegraph’s own “Top 10 stories of 2012.” The mayor — proudly sporting a new Hatfield-McCoy Trail jacket, which, coincidentally, can be purchased in Bramwell — correctly pointed out the fact that the reality television show was bringing new revenue into the Mountain State, but at a cost.

We both agreed that the depiction the show creates is not representative of the entire state and its citizens.

Bramwell by comparison has certainly seen its share of national television attention as of late, being featured in everything from “Fisher’s ATV World”  to the new “On the Trail” show planned for NBC Sports. And so far all of the attention the town has received has been positive. I’m not sure the folks in Sissonville can make the same claim.

Yes, we all did a few stupid things when we were younger. Both in high school, and later in college in my case. But it was all part of growing up. We never misbehaved in front of a television camera recording our every word and action. That’s not how it works in the real world. But reality television, of course, isn’t always as real as it may seem.

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The worst example of reality television we all had to endure over the past weeks was the drama in Washington over the fiscal cliff crisis. It took our esteemed lawmakers until New Year’s Day to reach a bipartisan agreement that would keep our taxes from increasing. And even after all of the pitiful, partisan finger pointing, our taxes are still going up, and our paychecks are still going down.

 In fact, most taxpayers will still end up paying more in federal taxes this year due, in part, to the failure of Congress to reinstate the temporary reduction in the Social Security payroll tax. The 2 percent tax decrease had added about a $1,000 a year to the take-home salary of a worker making $50,000 a year. It was smaller for those making less than $50,000 a year, but was still extra cash in every two weeks.

What lawmakers in Washington don’t understand is that not all Americans subscribe to the extreme political party beliefs that they use to defend their actions. Some of us — I would dare say a growing number of Americans — actually tend to look at things with an independent viewpoint. We believe in common sense, and compromise. By dragging out this fiscal cliff fight until New Year’s Day, the only thing lawmakers — Republicans, Democrats and tea partiers alike — accomplished was hurting the economy.

They scared people by their actions. And those people, in return, were hesitant to overspend their hard-earned dollars at Christmas. And Christmas is the most important time of the year for retailers. When retailers suffer, so does the economy. The whole episode was really sad. Unfortunately, we can expect the bickering, and bipartisan political fighting, to continue with the 113th Congress.

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Not all reality television is bad. I’m partial nowadays to the Investigation Discovery channel after being featured in one of their shows last year. And, of course, Spike TV put southern West Virginia, and McDowell County, on the national map with its exceptional “Coal” series. And “Fisher’s ATV World” did a great job of showcasing Bramwell last fall to a national audience.

That’s the key to a good reality show. It should make the area it is profiling, and its citizens, look good — or at lease sensible. “Buckwild” fails at both accounts.

Charles Owens is the Daily Telegraph’s assistant managing editor. Contact him at cowens@bdtonline.com. Follow him @BDTOwens.

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