“Drop in for a visit”: The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia

Recent scholarship on representations of Appalachia in literature and popular culture focuses on situations where the bodies, habits, and lifestyles of residents of the region are “exposed” for urban audiences. This is particularly true in the case of reality television, which often accentuates outlandish and unrestrained behavior and gives voice to a broad rural culture – one that “loudly violates the dictates of a white, cosmopolitan, middle-class propriety” (Calvacante 2014, 40). This paper will examine the concept of being “exposed” in relation to the 2009 film The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia. In this case, the film-makers and consequently the audience (the film’s tagline reads “Drop in for a visit with one of West Virginia’s most notorious families) were allowed into private and often compromising situations such as substance-fuelled family parties, drug deals, criminal trials, rehab stints, and births. This paper will examine the way in which The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia represents these moments of unfettered access and will consider the film’s treatment of regional identity.