Art and Entertainment

the buried life, mtv
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The cast of "The Buried Life" celebrate the new year during MTV's "Top 9 Of '09" at the MTV
Times Square Studios on Dec. 31, 2009, in New York City.

“The Buried Life” Intends to Inspire Pursuit of Lifelong Dreams

January 18, 2010 06:00 PM
by Sarah Amandolare
The new MTV series debuts tonight, signifying a new direction for the network and an example of Gen Y’s socially conscious leanings.

Helping Others, Helping Themselves

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“The Buried Life” features a crew of four men in their early 20s that trek around the world in a purple bus. Their aim? To fulfill their list of “100 things to do before you die," the things that often become buried in everyday responsibilities. For each completed item on the list, the guys, who come from the same town in British Columbia, help someone else come closer to achieving one of their lifelong dreams.

Inspired by a Matthew Arnold poem written in 1852, the trek began with a two-week tour around southern British Columbia in August 2006. During that time, the team completed 26 items on their list and helped 24 strangers, according to “The Buried Life” Web site.

Asked why they decided to pursue the project, the guys (named Duncan, Ben, Dave and Jonnie) said, “It’s complicated.” They hoped “to slow down and enjoy” life, and to figure out what they wanted to “achieve or experience” before dying. Their ultimate goal is “to get people excited about doing whatever it is they dream about doing,” according to their Web site.

Dawn of a New MTV Era

Writing for The New York Times, Tim Arango called the series “MTV for the era of Obama,” representing a departure from the network’s tendency to celebrate “wealth, celebrity and the vapid excesses of youth.” Similar changes are being seen “across Viacom, the network’s parent company,” Arango writes, coinciding with a cooperative agreement with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to creating programming that is “more supportive of education.”

Background: “The Buried Life” poem

Read “The Buried Life” by Matthew Arnold on Poets.org. The poem includes the following lines, which inspired the show:
“But often, in the world’s most crowded streets,
But often in the din of strife,
There rises an unspeakable desire
After the knowledge of our buried life;”

Opinion & Analysis: A cast of privileged do-gooders?

Reaction to the show has varied from praise for the emphasis on giving back, to criticism over the crew’s less than sophisticated antics.

Hank Stuever of The Washington Post says the show is “a cute idea shot down by its own nauseating sense of self-satisfaction.” He considers the mission an excuse for “four entitled kids to goof off,” and also senses that the team is only interested in doing good because “television cameras and Facebook status updates” are involved.

The guys don’t consider their series reality TV. “We made it for our friends and we made it so that we would like it,” Jonnie Penn said to The Canadian Press. But some of the stunts the team pulls seem to seek attention in a distinctly reality show way. The first episode, for example, features an effort to crash a Playboy Mansion party by hiding inside a giant cake.

But Paige Wiser of the Chicago Sun-Times sees it differently. Although she was skeptical at first, “especially since No. 54 is “To get our own TV series,” Wiser finds the results of the project “very sweet.” She calls it “a testament to friendship, adventure, perseverance, and giving back.”

Related Topic: Pursuing dreams

In some ways, “The Buried Life” is similar to “A Map for Saturday,” a film that documents the lives of long-term travelers. Released in 2007, the film features the yearlong, around-the-world journey taken by Brook Silva-Braga. The filmmaker left behind a cushy job at HBO to join the backpacker circuit from Australia to Southeast Asia, Europe and South America in pursuit of one of his dreams: to travel the world. According to the film’s Web site, the question “What would it be like to travel the world?” is the spark that led each traveler to take the leap.

In another case of pursuing the dream, in August 2008, a 67-year-old man spent his life savings to perform at Radio City Music Hall. Jack Moelmann, a retired Air Force colonel, forked over a total of $120,000 to perform on the venue’s celebrated Wurlitzer organ.
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