MTV, please go back to the days when The Real World
resembled anything that could be classified as "real." Case in point: the current season of "The Real World" is set in the usual controlled environment yet all things being equal, putting a "let's see how personalities react together" show in this location is laughable. Cancun? The first thing that pops to mind with Cancun usually isn't "real." It's like the poor college kid's Vegas - which MTV has already graced with the presence of their "first soap opera."
The show originally was MTV's version of a soap opera. The experiment began in NYC as a scripted drama, with a few shoddy cameras and fairly polite people willing to "have their lives taped" for only a few days. That was scrapped in favor of the current model. Well, it was a little interesting...and they went forward with a full-fledged series.
The concept that seven strangers from different ethnic, socioeconomic, and cultural backgrounds would all be roommates in posh living quarters with no TV and limited access to the media is anything but real. The concept should have indicated it was a social experiment - which is exactly what the first few seasons seemed to be, nothing more. The voyeuristic public, of course, watched and helped the unusual show survive into its current infamy. Mind you, this is prior to the Millennial Generation's "you have to hear what I did today!" lifestyle that started with journals, exploded into blogs and has gone beyond Facebook into real-time Twitter updates.
Image © MTV
The lure of becoming a faux-celebrity brought in caricatures instead of characters (where do you find somebody like Puck from San Francisco?), and people with serious issues instead of those unique and interesting people from across the hall in your apartment building - you know, the ones you think may have something worth saying. This fixation on broken personalities strayed from an idea of "real," which turned out to be boring. It began to be more marketable and soon "entertaining" replaced what "real" used to mean. It worked, and it has continued to work. Train wrecks will catch your eye before a steady moving train, no?
Some of the characters - pardon, people - involved in the show were memorable for being genuine; others were memorable for being heinous. Sometimes, it happened to be the same person depending on where the season was at. Throughout the different seasons the usual topics are looked at: conflicting personal issues, hooking up, breaking up, sexuality, behaving badly, "discovering" something about oneself, etc. Put any group of 18-25 year olds together and these same themes will reoccur. Although, there aren't many instances where people are freaking out over their bills to truly make things "real."
The ability of the show to grab an audience by the face and keep them watching for a season, a decade or 22 years shows that the voyeur is alive and well in American culture. Viewers essentially could stage the same type of scenario if they decided to go out and meet new people, but somehow the safety of that 4th wall and the cast made more familiar each week is a big enough step in that direction. The commonality of each cast seems to be these consistent themes of growing into an adult - no matter what the season.
As the show has developed the serious issues have as well. Early on, abrasive personalities and misunderstandings led to violations of personal space, disrespect, and the booting of some housemates. Intra-house violence is commonly seen as a one-way ticket home. Other ways out have popped up in unfortunate and heart-wrenching scenarios. People have publically been the face of a few life-changing diseases, notably Pedro from San Francisco and his battle with AIDS. These cast members let the world watch as their health or relationships dissolved or family members passed away. There have been confrontations over alcoholism, sexuality, religion - and even confrontations over calling somebody chubby. This show mixes the mundane and ridiculous moments with the raw and vulnerable ones in a choppy, but efficient manner. Those teasers that play the week prior to giant bombshell episodes can be torture.
The scariest realization about "The Real World" is that it's in its 22nd installment. A cast member must be at least 18 to participate...next time in Washington, D.C. (reportedly) and there's a possibility of having an entire cast that has never known a world without Bunim/Murray Productions' landmark series. This shouldn't stop any of them from making the same mistakes as the casts from New York, LA, San Francisco, London, Miami, Boston, Seattle, Hawaii, New Orleans, Chicago, Vegas, Paris, San Diego, Philly, Austin, Key West, Denver (inhale), Sydney, Hollywood, Brooklyn, Cancun…..but we'll have to tune in to see if that plays out.
Story by Kate Kostal
Starpulse contributing writer