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.
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.