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'Real World' anything but real
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by Ross Gianfortune

Jan. 9, 2004

Recently, the twelfth season of MTV's "The Real World" graced TVs across the county. "The Real World" is a study in amazing pop culture phenomena, if only because it was the first popular "reality show." And, as everyone knows, reality TV is very popular.

Not that anyone wants to admit watching it. In fact, reality TV is like pop music, pornography or fast food; no one admits to consuming it, yet it's vastly popular. "American Idol" is one of the highest rated shows on TV. Fox's Paris Hilton/Nicole Richie/Green Acres vehicle "The Simple Life" drew a better rating than President Bush addressing the nation after Saddam Hussein's capture.

"The Real World" is no different. While not MTV's highest rated show, the series is one of the network's longest-running shows. It works because "The Real World" was (and still is) a genius idea. The producers would find seven or nine strangers, throw them into a house in a cool city and make them live together.

(Just an aside here, it always bothered me that the producers chose stupid cities to put the show in. The first two seasons made sense: New York and Los Angeles. The show then moved to San Francisco, which makes a fair amount of sense, as San Francisco is a pretty hip town. Being from Chicago, I expected the show to get to Chicago soon, but it took MTV until the eleventh season to go to my hometown, the third largest city in the U.S. Washington, D.C. has yet to host a season. San Diego has one. Las Vegas had one. Honolulu even had one, for Pete's sake. MTV, get "The Real World" to Washington, soon. You are neglecting the nation's capital)

In the show, the makeup of the people (and the differences between housemembers) was integral and MTV understood that. The first season was a feeling-out season and it worked out well. House members fought a little; they kicked someone out and ratings showed Americans' true voyeuristic tendencies. MTV soon found this to be the formula: get two different stereotypes and have them fight.

Each season found a new stereotype collision. In season two, it was the country hillbilly brought o LA to be a C&W; singer clashing with the young black man from southern California. The next year, in San Francisco, the dirty bike messenger clashed with everyone in the house, from the California Catholic to the Cuban-American AIDS sufferer to the Bay Area-native Jewish Mensch cartoonist. Later seasons had such illustrious characters as the small-town race car driver, the Mormon who got kicked out of BYU because of the show, the latently homosexual playwright, the punk-rock Londoner, the leggy Australian primadonna model, the totally off-balance Hawaiian and the muscle-bound singer who sang the "Be my baby tonight" song (easily the most bizarre moment in RW: New Orleans). The list goes on. If you are a stereotype, you're on.

Life, obviously, is not that one-dimensional.

We're not simply "the bike messenger guy" or the "sassy urban black lady" or the "crazy German guy." Human beings are more complex than that. So, a reality show that accurately reflected reality would be too complex, too dense and impossible to follow.

Moreover, the real real world stinks. Take my life. Do you want to watch me sit in traffic on the Beltway every morning for an hour? Do you want to watch me microwave TV dinners while watching cartoons? Do you want to watch me walk my dog? Of course not. My life, just like yours, is probably pretty boring.

Life is boring. TV is not boring; we watch TV to get away from life. This is why the real world isn't the real world. It's what I want to be the real world; it's what we all wanted the real world to be. The Real World was successful because it wasn't the real world. It was the fake world with seven to nine people living in absolute splendor, acting like spoiled rich kids. It was what we all wanted our real worlds to be: exciting, sexy and interesting.

Once a network comprised only of music videos, MTV now only dabbles in reality television. Once, MTV had some nice original programming. "Remote Control" was a fun, innocent game show. "Beavis and Butthead" was an edgy cartoon. Now, the station now boasts such illustrious programming as "Becoming," (fan-boys get to play dress-up) "Made,"(fat kids get personal trainers) "Fraternity Life,"(rich kids get drunk and hurt one another) and- I am not making this up- "Rich Girls," a show profiling two millionaire teenage girls as they shop and cavort.

One of the stars of "Rich Girls" is a hotel heiress (kind of like Paris Hilton, without the anorexia, vapidity and sex tape) and the other is Tommy Hilfiger's daughter. In each episode, we see them dropping thousands of dollars at swank New York boutiques. Maybe not the Real World, but certainly better than the real real world.

To contact Ross Gianfortune, e-mail rgianfortune@gazette.net


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