Proposed reality television show would discredit Appalachia

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 8, 2003

As many of you know, I was born and raised in Wellston, Ohio -- a small town in Jackson County, and in the heart of Appalachia Ohio. I represent many of the Ohio Appalachian counties, including Highland, Pike, Ross, Vinton, Jackson, Lawrence and Gallia.

I am proud of my heritage, and am honored to represent what I believe to be some of the most exceptional towns and villages in the state.

Appalachia Ohio is a place where hospitality thrives, historic culture flourishes, and neighbors know each other by name. It is with these things in mind that I was so discouraged recently to learn of a new "reality television" show that seeks to discredit all that Appalachia society has to offer, and instead poke fun at the culture so many of us are proud of.

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A major television network is considering a so-called reality show that would pay a rural Appalachian family to live in Los Angeles for one year. The idea is to evaluate how they deal with the challenges of living in the urban, California environment. I truly believe this is a bad idea, intended only to embarrass the family chosen and portray Appalachia as an uneducated, unrefined area.

The producers of this show are not looking for the ordinary, average Appalachian families.

They are looking for people to fill their stereotype of how they think rural Appalachia exists; in other words, they are looking for hillbillies.

I'll be honest, I do not watch much television and I do not watch any of the reality shows.

It is true I have a choice not to watch them.

However, it concerns me that our culture finds it is acceptable to lie and cheat to win money or to expose their private situations to the world.

I worry that my children will watch these shows and feel the behavior they see is acceptable for them as well.

After 9/11, we as a nation were rightfully advised to not stereotype all Muslims because of the actions of a few of that faith. It would not be fair to judge all Arabs as terrorists because of a few.

It also would not be fair to portray all people from a region of our country because of the actions of a few.

I recognize that free speech is protected in this country, but we also have the right to question that speech and make those who exercise that speech be accountable.

I hope that television stations would refuse to carry this program and that potential sponsors be made aware of possible consequences of supporting such a show.

Promoting a show about stereotypes of Appalachia is no joking matter.

It could mean that some companies would not consider our area for expansion or location, meaning less jobs for the region.

It could mean a loss of education opportunities, only furthering the uneducated stereotype of the region.

It would mean lost opportunities and lack of understanding for everyone.

On the other hand, Appalachia Ohio certainly has a number of people to be proud of - the kind of people I would be honored to see a "reality TV" show about.

One such individual was Kelli Lambert of the Wellston Police Department in Jackson County.

I am sure many of you in the district have heard the news reports about the tragic and untimely death of Lambert.

Early on the morning of July 21, Lambert and a fellow police officer were responding to a reported bar fight when their cruisers collided, throwing Miss. Lambert from her vehicle.

She was only 21 years old.

I am truly saddened by this story of a young life cut so short unnecessarily.

I wish to send my most heartfelt prayers to the family of Kelli.

I cannot imagine your grief at a time like this, and I pray that Kelli will serve as a reminder of the hard-working, good people that live in our towns and villages.

It is people like Kelli Lambert that should gain notoriety - they are the ones that make us proud to call Appalachia home.

Sen. John A. Carey represents Ohio's 17th Senate District. Call (614) 466-8156 to comment.