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Matthew Mitchell: Wyoming County, ‘Oxyana’ and Sean Dunne

Sean Dunne, producer of the documentary "Oxyana, a look into the underground drug culture in Oceana, WV," is a word peddler - the misguided type, the kind that preys on the eccentricities of subculture then portrays them as the community's norm.

His movie comes out July 1.

Dunne's target: depicting the prescription drug problem in Oceana, Wyoming County.

Dunne's mission: Make a splash in the filmmaking industry to further his career.

Oceana and its people are the means to an end, a target to explode and exploit on his way to a greater mission - movie-director stardom.

Exploding the target and accomplishing his mission requires an arsenal - the sensational, the exaggerated, and the embellished - the drone missiles of yellow journalism.

Dunne paints a picture, mixing white facts and black fiction, and with broad, gray strokes swipes together a dark, ominous painting of hopelessness and gloom.

One only needs to read his own description of his documentary to see the shades of sensationalism and embellishment.

Oceana is "God's blind spot," the "addicts" are "the vast majority," the "indignity" of the "mines," "everyone looks twice their own age", "a little village in the valley of Death," a place "the rest of the world would just as soon forget", and a "Biblical narrative of American forsakenness."

This is not Bob Ross and happy little trees.

The sensational drips from each sentence - stereotypes magnified, catastrophized, and globalized.

A whole people stereotypically objectified as ignorant hillbillies who can't "imagine an existence outside of coal, subsidies and prescription narcotics" (www.oxyana.com/about.html).

Dunne shapes the narrative. He chooses the juiciest sound bites. He majors in extremes.

He focuses on the fringe-finding: the must-see cultic,

Appalachian icons that fit the prescribed "hillbilly" mold. He is the sculptor of words and phrases, chiseled propaganda furthering his filmmaking fantasies.

The truth is Oceana has a drug problem. Dunne is dead-on correct.

Oceana has had its share of drug-related casualties, and drugs have ravaged many southern West Virginia communities.

Scratch that. Drugs have ravaged communities across the whole United States.

But for the seniors who share cups of coffee each morning in the Oceana McDonald's (where I am presently writing), for the Church of God men and women who graciously shared with me their chocolate peanut butter Easter eggs, for the impressive local Westside high school girls basketball team that demonstrated resolve and competitive courage, for Dr. Joy Kissel, the local optometrist who exemplifies professionalism and a kind-hearted disposition, we are not the uncultured hillbillies Dunne portrays, our only festivities expressed through "firearms and poor decision-making" (www.oxyana.com/about.html).

If Dunne so desires to take a slice of a community's drug culture and portray it as the norm, he need only to look in his own New York backyard (or block).

There he will find all the down-and-out, drug-addicted pop-culture icons he needs to exploit, embellish, and sensationalize.

Mitchell is pastor of the Pineville Church of the Nazarene.

 


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