There’s a voice in my head telling me that I have absolutely no right to write anything about Shain Gandee, the 21 year-old star of the MTV reality show Buckwild who was found dead in his truck near Charleston on Monday.
I never watched Buckwild and am one of those people who openly worries about how the show portrays West Virginians. If I had run into Shain on the street, I wouldn’t have given him a second glance because he looked like so many other young men in the Mountain State.
That’s why the louder voice in my head is telling me I absolutely must write about Shain Gandee.
I have a son who, like Shain, was born in Charleston and has lived his entire life in West Virginia. From what I’ve read, my son is absolutely nothing like Shain. Shepherd is six years younger and thinks a day without his iPhone or computer is pure torture. Instead of mudding, he has a passion for music.
But both young men grew up in a state that is growing increasingly older, and even though wisdom may come with age, so do more traditional attitudes and judgments. Our young people, whose brains are wired for adventure, need more than that. They need creativity and opportunities. They need to know that the rest of us recognize and hear them. They need to know they are important.
Despite my feelings about the show and some of the behaviors it encouraged, Buckwild appeals to those needs. And although it may have been scripted, Shain’s personality wasn’t. He was chosen as a cast member because he was charismatic and radiated youth. He had energy, a passion for life and confidence. When he was given a once in a lifetime opportunity, he seized it.
Because of that, Shain represented a lot of what I want for my son and for all young men in West Virginia – a sense of self, a sense of pride and a sense of place.
Shain’s death was a tragedy, but his life is a reminder – at least to me. I should give a second glance to the young men who look and act like he did. I need to remember they are unique individuals who provide the gift of youth to the Mountain State.