Saturday, November 06, 2010

The Wild And Wonderful Whites Of West Virginia

It would be easy to dismiss the White family of Boone County, WV, as side show freaks, and label the film made about them exploitive. The Whites do resemble in many ways the geeks that people paid a quarter to see at the state fair, and the movie provides no overt narrative that passes judgement on their behavior. But in my opinion, that perspective on this movie is short sighted.

The Wild And Wonderful Whites Of West Virginia is a case study in Appalachian fatalism.

Jessco White became famous in part for his mountain dancing, in part for his "I ain't eatin' no more sloppy, slimy eggs," attitude and in part because he's a caricature of the West Virginia hillbilly. Jessco's family members are, perhaps, more pathetic and more desperate than he. Jessco, at least, has some artistic ability to go along with his outlaw mindset. The rest of the Whites are simply criminals; hell-raising, ridiculous, no-talent thugs.

They're hopeless.

Fatalism creates a world-view that's hopeless, where goals and ambition are useless. Fatalism causes people to think this moment is the most important part of life, because there may not be a tomorrow. The White family is pervasively affected by fatalism. They numb themselves with drugs and avoid all but the most superficial of relationships. Their only real sense of power comes from the criminal activity they carry out. They count their relevance by the number of times they've been in prison, or by how many Oxycontins they've sold or consumed.

Those tangibles are easier to tally than hopes and dreams.

The documentary is very well done. There is no sense that the producers exaggerated the behavior of the family, or that they condoned the behavior we see on the screen. The producers use the story line of Kirk, the niece of Jessco, to illustrate the consequences of the White family lifestyle. After having her baby taken by Child Protective Services, Kirk is forced to examine and alter her lifestyle in an attempt to regain custody. The film lets the story unfold in a non-preachy manner, allowing the audience to hold on to a faint hope that Kirk's transformation sticks.

It'll be a long, tough journey. It'll be made a bit easier if she's able to think about and imagine a hopeful future -- if not for herself, at least for her daughter.


Paige said...

Thank you. I'm so glad you enjoyed it!

Unfortunately, Kirk was not able to maintain her sobriety and is back in jail. There is still tremendous hope though as going back to jail has meant removing her from Boone County, which is her Achilles' Heel. She's been thinking a lot, writing some incredible poetry, and getting back on track with AA while incarcerated.

The Film Geek said...

Paige: You're welcome. It was very well done.

I was so moved by the story of Kirk and the spark of hope she experienced that I let my teen-age daughter watch this movie with me after I saw it the first time. I wanted her to see a good example of fatalistic perspective, and how it can create hopelessness. We spent at least an hour talking about the movie after watching it. It was a good experience for her. So, thank you :)

Thanks also for the update on Kirk. I suspected that she would have real trouble staying sober back in that environment. I'm still keeping my fingers crossed for her and for her kids.

Paige said...

The big issue with Kirk came after she completed rehab when the court system mandated that she stay in Boone County in order to maintain probation. She found a place, started working on her community service, found a good boyfriend, and even got back custody of her daughter (who is one of the most angelic looking little girls now by the way) only to lose it all again because a family member gave her a pill (I do fully acknowledge that it was her decision to take the pill).

The best thing about the movie is that some fans have begun writing her in prison and she truly knows that, once she gets out, the world will be watching. So I hope that will help her.

Stanton said...

Watched it last night. Painful and entertaining.

The Film Geek said...

Agree with both. The selfishness that came with their lifestyle was troubling to me. I think that's what happens when you live only for the moment, though.

Mark said...

It was like watching a train wreck in slow motion. This movie made me feel so uncomfortable. It was a well made movie but extremely gloomy and hopeless.