So last night I was in such a crummy state, I flipped thru free movies and found THE WILD AND WONDERFUL WHITES of WEST VIRGINIA.
Then I couldn’t sleep thinking about it so hoped I could find someone who wrote something about this bizarre movie aka documentary:
Slant:I like that you delved a bit into the coal-mining culture the Whites are a product of. It brought to my mind the parallels between hillbillies and gangstas. There’s really very little difference between the mentality that births Appalachian artistry and that of ghetto rappers. Both demographics don’t expect to survive that long or to lead enriching lives so they’re steeped in a “live for today” kind of ethos. What’s your take on all this?
JN: When people are trapped in poverty and see no possibility of improving their situation, they too often react in the same way. These are people with no options at all but who have taken this lack of hope and stood up to it in the only way they saw as possible—creating a badass outlaw persona that thrives on romanticized self-destructive behavior. They want to have their lives noticed and acknowledged and getting into a lot of trouble is the only way to do that. They don’t see the world as fair in any way or buy into the American dream. They see coal companies like Massey Energy killing people in preventable mine disasters and never getting punished because Don Blankenship, the head of Massey, finances political campaigns in return for laws and court rulings that favor his company. This blatant corruption of the law fuels the outlaw culture in the region, justifying many others in the community to feel that they need to find ways to also exploit the system in their own small ways. The Whites, as masters of this, end up being celebrated in West Virginia by some like other outlaws before them (Jesse James, Bonnie and Clyde, etc.) who rebelled against corporate and state crimes by leading lives of crime themselves. Gangsta culture is just the urban version of outlaw culture.
There is this concept in America, that anyone can succeed if they wanted to—the whole “you can raise yourself by your bootstraps,” but I think the film is a refutation of that. The world is not fair to poor people. It fucks them over and there are cycles that almost never end once people are trapped in them. When you grow up a White and constantly hear romanticized stories of criminality, or how great it was when your mother stabbed Dennis, you are going to grow up excited to stab someone and get family cred by going to prison. Finding a new moral center is going to be hard, if not impossible. And even if you have a moral center, but a shitty education, the possibilities for improving your life in a region with only one major and very dangerous industry (coal) are still pretty dim. This is something we are scared to admit in America because it goes against the myths we tell ourselves daily in all our Oprah episodes and cheery, life-lesson TV shows.
Watching made me go from what is this? – to yuck to sick to curious to outrage to “those poor people?” These people live in America? Indeed they do!
And what’s more, I have family who married one of them hillbilly drug-crazed lunatics who actually reminds me of some of the Whites of West Virginia.
If you have the stomach for it, watch this flick….Trace