Here's the warning that runs before every episode of Buckwild:
In what was likely a foregone conclusion, TMZ broke the news Tuesday night that MTV had canceled the show after the death last week of one of its stars, Shain Gandee. Wednesday morning, MTV confirmed the TMZ report. The channel issued a statement, which read in part, "We love the cast and the show and this was not an easy decision, but given Shain's tragic passing and essential presence on the show, we felt it was not appropriate to continue without him. Instead, we are working on a meaningful way to pay tribute to his memory on our air and privately."
On. Our. Air. Yes, this Sunday, MTV will rebroadcast the 12-episode first season of Buckwild, leading into a previously shot special, BUCKWILD: WV to the NYC, which will serve as a tribute. The press release quotes Gandee's mother: "As we look to honor him in our lives every day moving forward, we are happy to share some of his last moments doing what he loved best: having fun and making people laugh."
It's uncomfortable to disagree with Shain Gandee's mother. And that is the point, I guess. But to me, MTV is doing something strange, unclean, and exploitative by airing a Buckwild marathon. A tribute I can understand, and while it would certainly be hard to watch, perhaps it's the kind of discomfort that is only right when you're in the business of showing people's real lives, which sometimes include tragic accidents and death. All of this territory is horrifying, and I sympathize with the people at MTV who are having to make these hard decisions.
Shain Gandee did not die of an undiagnosed heart condition or something unexpected: He died muddin', driving off-road into deep mud puddles, after the exhaust pipe of his Ford Bronco was apparently blocked by mud — carbon monoxide filled the vehicle as a result. It was an activity the show reveled in, and treated with humor. "I'm holdin' on for dear life —Shain's drivin'," says a cast member in the show's series premiere, which aired in January. "Muddin' is like a stress reliever — this is my medication right here," Shain explains in a confessional during the same scene.
MTV knew what it was getting into with this show, with its cast of drinking, fight-y young people who mostly also happen to be extremely poor (Gandee's family couldn't afford to pay for his funeral). Buckwild at its best was an exploration of Appalachian subculture. That world has its downsides; not only is Gandee now dead, but fellow cast member Salwa Amin is in terrible legal trouble, having been arrested for felony drug possession with intent to deliver. She also seems to have a drug problem herself, having failed a drug test; she tested positive for oxycodone and morphine.
It's a mess; these people's lives are a mess. Of course the show should be canceled.
But while Gandee's death was not Buckwild's fault, airing a marathon of footage of the activity that caused his death is. Maybe his mother would call that "having fun." At this point, MTV should know better.
I asked MTV's press department why the network would make the right decision in canceling the show, and then simultaneously decide to rebroadcast images of the heedless hobby that killed Gandee. A spokeswoman for the show responded:
"Hi Kate — Sorry to hear that you've interpreted the marathon in this way, as it's quite the opposite. Following Shain's passing last week, we've received an overwhelming response from fans to have some sort of BUCKWILD marathon in his honor to see Shain at his best and doing what he loved. With the blessing of Shain's parents, we decided to run a marathon in tribute. We loved Shain and we want to allow fans to celebrate his life. Again, we gave all of this very careful consideration."
I disagree, obviously, but I do appreciate the response. It's instructive to know that fans of the show wanted to see Gandee "doing what he loved." I still think that now that one of those things, muddin', caused his death, we should no longer consider it him at his best. Viewers, after all, will have to sit through that warning placard, which characterized the casts' activities as "wild and crazy."
It's missing the word "deadly."
CLARIFICATION: This post has been updated to reflect that Gandie's official cause of death was carbon monoxide poisoning.(4/10/13)