By CARRIE SCANLON
WHEELING -- I'm proud to be from West Virginia.
That wasn't always the case.
For a span of about a decade and a half that started when I entered college and went well through most of graduate school, when people would ask where I was from I simply would answer "fifty miles south of Pittsburgh."
It was simple enough, not a lie and yet not entirely the truth. Identifying myself with the city that I had grown to love was a lot easier than being attached to a state that had an image that was, well, less than flattering. Images of ignorance, stereotypical redneck behavior and social awkwardness were something that seemed to be widespread on the mainstream media when it came to the portrayal of my state and frankly I wanted nothing to do with it.
I was a Steeler fan anyway, shopped in the South Hills, and had a membership to the Carnegie Museum, so I figured the facts really didn't matter. People seemed to paint all West Virginians with quite a broad brush so I took the opportunity to skirt the issue entirely.
While I was pretending to be from somewhere else, the media was busy figuring out how to capitalize on widespread generalizations. It's actually quite easy. Just ask MTV.
The wildly successful "Jersey Shore" did little to showcase the reality of 'real-life' New Jersey and rather sensationalized the behavior of Italian-American 20-somethings, hand-picked for their outrageous behavior. Bad behavior translates to good ratings. Jersey Shore has had quite a run despite public outcry about how the show depicted life on the actual Jersey Shore.
In 2011, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a tax credit that would have assisted with the funding of the show stating that he was "duty-bound to ensure that taxpayers are not footing a $420,000 bill for a project which does nothing more than perpetuate misconceptions about the state and its citizens."
Exploitation of the outrageous is nothing new for MTV. In 2009, they produced a much talked about documentary entitled "The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia," which followed the family of the "Dancing Outlaw" Jesco White and his family in Boone County.
Even within the documentary, the mayor, when asked about the Whites said "why don't you ask me about the local high school kid who just got accepted to MIT?" Well, Mr. Mayor ... because MIT doesn't sell advertising and MIT doesn't get viewers.
Pregnant teen moms from just outside of Charleston do. Camouflage weddings do. Oh yes, MTV was there for that as well. "16 and Pregnant" "star" Leah Messer-Calvert, from Elkview, was featured on not one, but two seasons of MTV's reality show focusing on teen mothers and their struggles.
MTV also hoped for a trifecta when they produced a "reality" show that replaced Jersey Shore in its coveted Thursday time slot. Hoping to attract a similar fan base, "Buckwild" featured young adults in Sissonville as they cut-loose, behaved badly and let "whatever happens, happen."
The show was cut short and canceled due to the untimely accidental death of one of its cast members but not before U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin protested to MTV stating that the show was not an accurate depiction of the state.
"It's not just who we are," he said. "It's not how we were raised and to portray this as the norm is wrong. The viewers must understand that this is not real West Virginia."
I couldn't agree more. Today, I am proud to say I'm from West Virginia. I came to this conclusion when I realized that if good citizens disassociate from the state then the only reference outsiders will have is what they see on television. For the most recent example, you only have to look back a few days to Detroit Free Press reporter Zlati Meyers' tweet about incest.
So, yes, I'm from West Virginia. I don't own a gun. I have all of my teeth and they actually are quite nice. While I know what a "crick" and a "holler" are, those words are not part of my daily vernacular.
I have been blessed enough to travel the world and even though I've seen some amazing things along the way, I've also had the pleasure to witness a sunset over the New River Gorge Bridge. I have rafted the Gauley. I have spent endless hours on the Ohio River.
I've sat by backyard bonfires with friends and I have seen autumn leaves that would make any landscape photographer's jaw drop with awe. I have walked the gardens of The Greenbrier (and toured the hidden bunker ... so very cool) and waited patiently in line for Wheeling's Winter Festival of Lights.
I have two degrees from West Virginia schools of higher education. I'm a fan of state native Brad Paisley. I value hard work and appreciate the abundant natural resources this place has to offer the rest of the country and the world. I work with accomplished professionals and my community is filled with individuals who compliment this great state in ways that often go unnoticed.
Yes, I'm from West Virginia and I'm proud of it.
Scanlon is Director of Communications and Philanthropy for Bordas & Bordas in Wheeling.