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Dear The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia,

Just because a story is fascinating, does that mean it is good? After all, mankind always expresses a kind of morbid curiosity with relation to tragedy or misfortune, but do those qualities alone make a narrative worth following? This is a question I found myself asking repeatedly during our time together. The story you tell is enthralling and engaging, but in a way that is almost entirely motivated by a desire to see how deep the rabbit hole goes, how many more insults to decency or reason can be found.

Still, the entire documentary genre is based upon the idea of exploiting human curiosity about the oddity or wonder of our world for entertainment and education, so I suppose in that respect you are a rousing success.

The White family of West Virginia is a study in the unchecked depravity of a people unmoored from any sense of social conscience or greater purpose. The history of their family is one of bloody violence, heinous crime, and petty mischief. There is no level of criminality to which they will not descend. Yet in this way, and primarily because of the actions of pseudo-patriarch Jesco, they have achieved a measure of fame in their home state.

You show us an intensive and unflinching portrait of this family’s life throughout the course of one year. We see and hear the stories behind their current circumstances. “The Miracle Woman” used to house orphans and castaways, giving them shelter and comfort. Now she lives alone with her pets, only to be visited by her miscreant children. The youngest generation is just beginning to have their own kids, yet is completely unsuited to the task of rearing children.

One the clan, just having given birth, immediately begins snorting crushed up prescription medication while still in the hospital. Her newborn baby is taken from her by Child Protective Services, and she begins a fledgling attempt to turn her life around for the sake of her child. This tale will become the single  ray of light, the single movement toward “civilization” that we see, save for the only White to have left West Virginia. Surrounding it are tales of attempted murder, drug dealing and taking, and endless strings of philandering and cheating of all kinds.

Are you a good film? As I said, you hold the attention of an audience rapt. In a way, that is a the only victory necessary to be recommended. Do you do anything more, though? Do you use your form and your story as a means of enlightening us to some great thought or concept? Can the Whites be said to be indicative of the tenuous thread by which we all hang? Perhaps, but then again perhaps not. Their situation and their attitudes seem so singular as to be alien upon reflection. If there is a greater meaning to your tale beyond exposure and curiosity regarding this clan of oddities, I cannot see it.

However, special mention must be made of one of your more laudable aspects. Though the White family could have served as an easy source of ridicule, could easily have been turned into a comical and stereotypical example of “hick” or “redneck” idiocy, you stay yourself from taking this path. The Whites are treated with an evenhandedness and a dispassion that few films would have managed. They rarely appear to be anything other than perhaps the most lowly and inconceivable of reprobates, but they only ever hang themselves. Even though there are interviews with lawyers and lawmen who have had experience with the Whites, their testamonies serve only to highlight and expound upon the mystery of the Whites, rather than the debauchery therein.

Who are the Whites? What made them this way? Will anything ever change them? I do not know, and you don’t try too hard to tell me. All you do is show me a world I can scarcely imagine or believe. I’m left reflecting upon my own feeling of humanity, juxtaposing it against theirs, and wondering where that line exists.

Curiously yours,

Brian J. Roan

10 thoughts on “Dear The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia,”

  1. George says:

    I think your last sentence validated the movie. I haven’t seen it, but I absolutely want to now. Simply watching people who behave like that can offer insights into humanity without trying too hard.

  2. Thedude says:

    To them you people are the strange ones, and to many others. They are simple people living a life that has been shown to them. You probably didn’t take any time to understand the history of the area and what many of the people around there came from.

    1. Brian J. Roan says:

      You’re right, I didn’t take the time to understand their area. Sadly, I would think that was the job of the film, and in that respect it failed slightly. I understand they were dealing with a sense of immediacy, and didn’t go into the history much. They did talk about it a little, but aside from a few off-hand remarks the area’s history remained something of a mystery.

      Also, I firmly acknowledge my outsider perspective. That’s where the joy of the documentary comes in. These are people, like me, living a life that they were ushered in to, much as my life was shown to me before I knew it. It’s just a wonder to see the gulf between what I think is acceptable and what they think is.

      Thank you for your response, by the way. I hope you enjoy the site.

  3. Rebecca says:

    I tell everyone to please watch the bonus features that are on the DVD , it answers a lot of questions people often have about the movie. There is footage from 20 years ago when the director first met the family. If your interested there is the first Documentary that was about the father D.Ray White then the PBS Documentary about his son Jesco “The Dancing Outlaw” . & the official Jesco White and The Wild & Wonderful Whites West Virginia pages on Facebook keep fans & friends updated . The movie was done from a good place that Julien Nitzburg, Storm Taylor, Johnny Knoxville and countless others wanted to share. It’s their part of this planet and it just let’s you see how they live. They don’t ponder it much. They don’t have that luxury. What you see is right this very moment how it really and truly is for them. I understand it and I also understand people that cannot . They are some of the nicest folks you could ever meet. Jesco does a voice on Adult Swim’s animated series “Squidbillies”. His sister, Mamie White who is the biggest,the baddest did a spot on the show as well.

    1. Brian J. Roan says:

      Thanks for all the information. I would love to see “The Dancing Outlaw” someday, so it’s good to know its out there.

      I don’t doubt the purity of the intentions behind this film. It really does feel as though the filmmakers wanted to bring their local heros (anti-heros?) into the greater national consciousness. I sort of wish they had taken a moment to ponder it much, to maybe level a few more questions at the Whites just so I could get a better picture of them psychologically.

      I understand that they might not do that on a daily basis, but I think it would have been interesting to see if the filmmakers could have tried to make them do it just for this doc.

  4. Ozzy says:

    They’re pieces of trash who are in no way a representation of the good people of Boone County, WV

    1. Brian J. Roan says:

      I don’t doubt that these people, the Whites, are not entirely representative of the people of Boone County. That film did a good job of showing that just via the interviews with the lawyers and law officers. Still, calling anyone a piece of trash is a harsh jump to make.

  5. Michigansfinest says:

    We love the Whites!!…. The excessive drug use, it not ideal… BUT, their I dont give a f*ck attitude, We do what we want when we want… make our own rules.. Family sticks together thru everything… Is pretty impressive! I feel the same way!! :)…. The world revolved around ME… I surely do NOT revolve around the world!! :)… I hope the Whites come out with another movie, shoot.. I wish they would do a reality show! I love them!… Makes me want to go to West Virginia just to meet them!! 🙂

    1. Brian J. Roan says:

      The concept of their family sticking together definitely came through – particularly when the one man said he wanted to kill the boy who tried to kill him, but that he still loved him. It would be great if, in ten years, they did do a follow-up doc on the Whites, but I think a reality show would be corrosive – if not impossible. The Whites aren’t exactly TV-friendly.



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