Monday, December 20, 2010

The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia

Gentle reader, will you join me on a trip into the hills and hollers of West Virginia? Into the midst of Boone County where there resides a clan of infamous hillbillies known as the Whites? Will you examine the festering branches of a moldering and rotted family tree to examine where society can go so very, very wrong? If yes, then I sincerely hope that you've had all of your shots because we're going in.

As is the usual, I watched this documentary on Netflix streaming. I was drawn by the description and Netflix's insistence that this was dark and raunchy. You don't have to tell me twice. I expected a family with severe dysfunction and a bit of a history of breaking the law. I was astounded by the rampant law-breaking, drug use, and general redneck tendencies of the family members presented by director Julien Nitzberg.

The first family member we meet is "The Biggest, The Meanest, and The Baddest" White, Mamie. She explains to us that her father, D. Ray White, was famous for inventing a type of tap-dancing known as Mountain Dancing. This is something that I have never heard of, though I suppose it isn't surprising given that I don't live in Appalachia. Mamie is a brute of a woman and someone you might picture if asked to describe a mountain woman. Top-heavy with brown hair pulled into a ponytail, a cigarette or joint between her fingers, Mamie has the weary appearance of someone who has seen it all and either kicked its ass or snorted it. She's terrifying because you know that when she proclaims that she doesn't give a shit, she is not fucking around. 

Jesco White is brother to Mamie and son of D. Ray. Jesco is carrying on his father's legacy and is repeatedly referred to as the most famous man in West Virginia. We are shown Jesco performing at hole in the wall dumps full of sweating, cheering drunks. Jesco and his dancing are also joined by Hank Williams III. He performs upon a picnic table while the singer croons a tribute to the late D. Ray. Jesco is a sad figure that remains high and/or drunk at all times in order to deal with the celebrity, whether real or perceived, that follows him around.

This is Sue Bob White:

She's the sexy White and sister to Jesco and Mamie. She made her living as a stripper and still shakes her ass like you might stuff a dollar bill down her pants whenever she's in public. Her voice sounds like Miley Cyrus's and Cathy Moriarty's rolled into one. She and her boyfriend fought about how to cook a ham and the resulting fallout involved a hot ham burning her leg and police being called. 

This is just the tip of the white trash iceberg, folks. There are eleven children born to D. Ray and matriarch Bertie Mae (shown in the first photo). Some are living. Many are dead. There are even more grandchildren and great-grandchildren carrying on the outlaw legacy of the family. Some participate in the documentary and are shown clearly impaired in some way, assisting their various aunts and uncles in impairment, and raising children in grossly negligent ways. Just as their parents before them. Ah, circle of life.

The Whites have been scamming welfare and snorting crushed pills since before any of us were born. During the course of the documentary we have a birth, someone released from prison, someone sentenced in prison, someone entering rehab, a child taken by the state, snorting drugs off a toilet in the bathroom of a bar, children smoking, and someone dying. This documentary starts off as a voyeuristic peek on par with an episode of Cops and slowly turns into the realization of what a community faced with deadly work in the coal mines and an early grave will turn to when they no longer feel their lives have any real value. 


  1. I remember seeing the trailer for it and immediately knowing this is something I need to see. This sounds right up my misery/trash loving alley. And your review is AWSE, lady.

  2. Awesome review, really. And now I'm adding this to my queue, though I'm not sure I'll be able to stomach the entire thing...

  3. You won't be able to look away, Figgy. Seriously.

  4. Man, my queue is so chock full of documentaries but this is getting added anyway.

  5. This is ONE family portrait taken from thousands of decent, intelligent, hard-working people in Boone County and other places in WV. The documentary was played up because many folk like looking at train wrecks. Sex, misery and drugs sell "documentaries" (a poor excuse for one). Huffing vapors like gasoline, paint and lighter fluid do horrific things to the brain. This habit is going on right now in the best of neighborhoods in the best of cities. The real dregs of society are those who enjoy seeing the misery and mistakes of others. West Virginia...almost Heaven, unless you are looking for something else which you can always find anywhere.