You should be warned that this is in no way funny. For some reason, I haven’t been in the mood this week. Sorry.
So the trailer for the 20th season of The Real World was released recently. Yes, the 20th. And as much as the creator wants to contend that it’s very much the same show that it was when it started in 1992, things have obviously changed in the house that seven strangers share. The show began as a compelling mixture of seven young strangers who shared and grew with each other while they battled over such complex issues as race, sexism, abortion, homosexuality, and alcoholism. Slowly, the show started to morph into the alcohol fueled and sex crazed trainwreck that it is today. I think the last legitimate season was Seattle, and when it hit Hawaii and New Orleans, the booze had started to flow and the manipulation of other house mates had really started to set in.
I remember when I was a kid and I started watching the show. I came in late to the show – most likely around Miami – because my mom was a little bit of a TV Nazi in our earlier days. Eventually I caught up on most of the back seasons because it was hard to avoid them. I loved how people who I looked up to, at the time because of their age, were on TV and living a pretty posh lifestyle of hanging out and learning about each other. I was convinced that I would be best friends with Lindsay from the Seattle season, or would fit right in with the cast of the Boston house. I think it’s fascinating that the first season had seven people and six of them already lived in New York. The newer seasons have such an ingrained awareness of the cast’s “diversity” that six New Yorkers living in a house with a 19 year old virgin from Alabama is mind-blowing. Fast forward to about 7.30 on this video.
Ever since the tenth season Back to New York, and creating an entire new level of low with Las Vegas, the show has thrown together blandly hot douchebags to fuck and drink their way through five months in a mansion. The intrigue is gone, the learning is gone, the compelling growth is nowhere to be seen. We used to see Julie and Kevin battle over racism and real issues between blacks and whites, or Jon learn about abortion, or even Pedro teaching America about AIDS. Now we have six housemates judge Paula for her body image issues or the girls in Sydney turning against Parisa because of her differences.
Once I started college, I was pretty regularly asked to try out for The Real World, and that continues to this day. People put the link to casting calls on my Facebook wall or shoot me a text message once they see a commercial. I’m not really sure what it is that people think would make me a compelling house guest. Maybe it’s because I’m funny, maybe it’s because I’m blunt, maybe it’s because I’m an asshole, but I am regularly reminded by tons of people I only have another year or two of eligibility and I should send in a tape. But the fact of the matter is, the show that created reality TV has become practically irrelevant as it continues to caricature itself. As the quality continues to slide and the issues are all but forgotten as the house guests are manipulated by producers for more drama, the essence of the original show has been destroyed. There have been numerous stories of producers instigating fights by making pointed comments or creating drama during their weekly interviews. The house is always fully stocked with alcohol. What’s real about seven college aged kids living in a house that costs millions?
At this point, the show that brought significant issues and topics into the living room of millions of people has become a joke. Some people say Cops created reality TV, some people say Survivor. Cops was one of the first, and Survivor was one of the most successful, but The Real World fully established a genre that was profitable, entertaining, and enriching. And it’s a shame that it no longer can claim that last adjective.