Seven strangers! Picked to live in a house! And have their lives taped...and if you don't know the rest, you are a better person than I.
True Suebob Confession: I watched season after season of the Real World, following each cast from NYC to LA to Seattle, New Orleans, Europe and points in between.
"Why do you watch THAT?" asked my friend Jack, since by then I was far past the age when someone should be interested in such juvenile brain-wasting crap.
"It reminds me of a time when everything seemed possible, when everything was so important and dramatic," I answered.
"You watch it because you are nostalgic for stupidity?" he shot back.
I had to admit "Well yeah, sorta."
After a while, though, the trick began to get old. Each cast became more and more aware that they were putting on a show, and it wasn't so fun once Oz popped out from behind the curtain.
"So which one are you?" they would ask as their roommates arrived to the fabulous new house in the amazing location. "Are you the gay one?" "Are you going to be the angry black man?"
The casting was a crucial part of the show's success in creating a story arc. You had to throw not just seven strangers, but seven diverse strangers, into the mix. That way each cast member would have Learned Something Important and Broadened Their Horizons by the final episode.
That was necessary for my continued viewing, because it satisfied my Pollyannish need to have everything come out right in the end. Something good had been done. I hadn't just wasted 12 weeks watching callow youth behave like idiots. I had been observing growth. It was practically a National Geographic special, so complex was the sociology. (Right! That's it! Complex sociology!)
In the beginning, the producers seemed to try to cast rather extraordinary people. Kids who had big ideas, big dreams, who wanted to try to launch careers - mostly in the entertainment industry - via the show.
But I hadn't seen the show for a few years. I guess I got busy being doing more important things. Like watching Wife Swap or something.
This week I spent 2 days feeling deathly ill, and, due to the lack of a TV in my home, I chose to watch ALL 24 episodes of Real World Season 19 - Sydney - in a row online. Yes I did.
It is not as bad as it sounds. Each half-hour episode, stripped of commercials, intros and teasers, runs something around 14 minutes. But 24 episodes was A LOT and it was made worse by the fact that, well, the Real World ain't what it used to be.
Am I going to waste valuable bandwidth actually serving up a critique of The Real World? Well, it's either that, or I can describe my cold symptoms or I can tell you all the ways I love Barack Obama (again).
Fine, I thought you'd see it my way. Here we go.
Crime Number One: The producers have apparently abandoned all pretense of casting diverse people. Previous casts did tend to have an annoying "United Colors of Benetton" quality, but this cast was all bleachy bleach white, with the exception of one lonely girl of Persian heritage.
There were even two skinny "blonde" (ahem-yeah-right) girls who were so identical that I was STILL confusing them 23 episodes later at the reunion show (is that the not-so-bright Christian girl or the one with the controlling boyfriend?)
Crime Number Two: while The Real World has always had more than its fair share (waaaay more, really) of on-camera hook-ups, that's all the 24 episodes of this show were about. Either people were getting freaky in the hot tub or they were fighting about who groped who first and who was entitled to grope and who wasn't.
There were about 10 minutes of them working at their fabulous Real World jobs (researching package tours for wealthy young people) and 2 minutes of any kind of introspection in the whole season. It made for a long, long two dozen episodes. If I hadn't been burning up with fever, I hope I would have abandoned the effort after half an hour or so.
I began to wonder at the editing choices. Is it possible that the cast went four and a half months without saying anything remotely interesting or intelligent? Without talking about hopes and dreams and life? Is it that 20-year-olds have abandoned that kind of youthful idealism, that MTV just wants you to think they have, or that people who watch this show only want to watch hot tub sex? I don't know which option disturbs me most.
I hope that, after all the casting hoopla MTV puts these people through, that they didn't just pick seven stunningly attractive complete idiots, but rather that the smart stuff they said was left on the editing room floor.
It's like they took out everything that made early adulthood interesting to me - the "How do I want to live my life?" questioning and searching, but left all the parts of that age that now seem so boring ("Who am I going to hook up with?" "Do they like me?" "I hate them!")
In the end, it was all quite wearying. I guess it finally hit me: what happened when people stopped being polite and started getting real wasn't more interesting than me taking a nap. Goodbye, Real World.
Do/did you watch The Real World? Who was your favorite cast member?> Mine has a blog.