Rudy Panucci On Pop Culture

The Jesco Conundrum Plus Weekend Shows

The PopCulteer
August 13, 2010

If they outlaw dancin’, only outlaws will dance

I try to remain quiet on the whole Jesco White thing. I find it personally distasteful, but if other people like to watch the man and his family’s antics, who am I to complain?

But, Julien Nitzberg, the director of “The Wild Wonderful Whites,” yet another documentary bringing us the adventures of this pitiable family, has let loose with a defense of his film (which some people think is a horrible, horrible thing for our state) and I can’t really let this go without a comment.

In an opinion piece in The Charleston Daily Mail, Nitzberg asks, “But why shouldn’t poor people and outlaws have their stories told also? Are they not part of our country with lives worth considering?”

I would like to take a moment to point out that this argument and defense is total self-serving blather.  Nitzberg attempts to spin the opposition to his film as a class struggle. It isn’t.  By lumping in “poor people” with “outlaws,” Nitzberg betrays his own narrow view of life outside the comfortable middle class.

My problem with the whole Jesco phenomenon is not that it shows “poor people.”  My problem is that it cynically exploits the bad behavior of obviously mentally ill and drug dependent people in order to make a quick buck and get a cheap laugh.

Nitzberg writes, “In America, we are afraid to show the true struggles of poor people and the complexity of their lives. The Whites represent a part of America we too often keep hidden.”

This is crap. I know poor people. I grew up with poor people.  To hold up the White family as an example of poor people is to do a horrible disservice to and defame poor people. If this is what Nitzberg thinks that the typical poor family lives like, then it’s no wonder people accuse him of spreading negative sterotypes.

There are struggles for poor people. But they don’t all resort to crime and drug abuse to overcome them. Most poor folks live their lives with some semblance of dignity. There is no dignity in being a self-proclaimed “outlaw.”

I grew up in Dunbar in the 1970s. We had a colorful local resident named Danny Rose.  Danny was a special guy, in the politically correct sense of that word.  To be blunt, he was the “town retard,” nick-named “Puh” by the crueler kids (and some adults) in town. They would do mean things to him, like give him a quarter to run out in traffic, or do what they called “Puh tricks.”  It was pretty disgraceful.  People with no sense of kindness or human decency would exploit him for their cheap amusement. He was so desperate for attention that he’d do, or eat, almost anything.

It didn’t matter to the kids that what they were doing was inhumane or simply wrong on so many levels.  They didn’t care if any harm befell him. He was just an object for them to pick on and ridicule.

What Nitzberg does with the White family is no different than what the town bullies would do with Danny Rose. It’s the encouragment and glorification of bad behavior, with not one bit of care about the well-being of the subject matter.

Jesco White destroying the stage of The Charleston Playhouse, 1989. Photo by Rudy Panucci

Back in 1989 I was present at The Charleston Playhouse for some of the filming of the original “Dancin’ Outlaw.”  I remember thinking it was a freak show, and feeling sorry for the poor folks up on stage.  Later, when Jacob Young’s film (which was very well-made) became a cult-hit, the story turned tragic. The follow-up film, where Jesco discovers that his fifteen minutes of fame is just that long, is just sad.

Some people find Jesco to be genuinely entertaining. They like to see him dance and hear him try to sing and tell stories, and if that’s truly the case, then by all means go for it. Go see him peform live, and maybe put a few dollars in his pocket.

A lot of other “fans” just want to see him embarrass himself, go off on a drunken rant, or fall down and hurt himself. Personally, I can skip both experiences. I don’t even see this film as a slight against West Virginia.  You can find delusional, drug-addled, screwed up families all over the country.  It’s a shame that more people think of Jesco when they think of our state, but we’ve survived worse. Reality TV is proving that people who will trade dignity for fame are a dime a dozen.

So, if you want to go see the “Jackass” movie about those crazy rascals from Boone County, go knock yourself out. It’s playing at Park Place for the next week. But don’t pretend that you’re going so you can see how “poor people” really live.  You aren’t. You’ll be going because you want to see the freak show. You want to see the geek bite the head off the chicken, the ape-man fling feces and the bearded lady. You want to see “Jersey Shore” with a Boone County accent.

Nitzberg needs to be a bit more honest about his film. It’s an exploitative freak show, nothing more. This nonsense he’s cooked up about how the people who object to the film are trying to keep the poor people down just makes him look more intellectually dishonest.

Weekend Shows

There are some big musical goings-on in town this weekend.

Friday night: RFC Guests HARRAH and future RFC guests Linework are opening for Signs Of The Southern Cross at The Sound Factory,  I think it’s fifteen bucks at the door, and they say they’re going to kick off at 8 PM.

RFC Guests Eva Elution and The AK40 Sexuals are last-minute additions at The Empty Glass.  They’ll kick off around 11 PM with a probably five-dollar cover charge.

600 Lbs Of Sin, featuri8ng RFC guest Sierra Ferrell, will be performing, cover-free, at Bruno’s on Leon Sullivan Way, starting at 9 PM.

Saturday Night’s big show is at The Empty Glass, and sees Beaver Knievel, Down Goes Frazier, and Drop Dead Fred firing up the stage.  The show starts late-ish and the cover is yet to be determined, but it’ll be a killer show and it won’t cost a lot. You’ve seen Drop Dead Fred on Radio Free Charleston, and Beaver Knievel right here in this video:

Next Week in PopCult

If I can manage it, Cool Comics Of The Week will return on Wednesday. We’ll have our usual regular columns, and probably a new episode of Radio Free Charleston.

1 Comment

  1. Elvis Capone

    I don’t understand all yor fancy talk, but you ought not talk bad about Jessaco. He preg nated my sister and the resultin off spring is a angel. Both heads look like Elvis. Bet they’ll sing like ‘im too, once the docs surgery up they cliff palettes.

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