Exploiting the 'Real World'
1/10/2003 12:00:00 AM - Brent Bozell
After a holiday lull, in which the Cable Channel Formerly Known
as Music Television actually spent some down-time hours playing music
videos, MTV is back to thrill your children with another year of profitable
porn masked as "reality" programming.
While "The Osbournes" continues to capture the lion's share of
attention by coasting on Ozzy's talent for fitting a curse word into every
sentence, the real news on the MTV front comes from "The Real World: Las
Vegas." It has managed to stay under the radar of public scrutiny, and
that's unfortunate. Parents would be shocked to learn what their children
"The Real World" is so chock-full of sexual situations,
pixilated nudity and alcohol abuse that MTV has expanded beyond the usual
number of episodes to get it all on the air.
For 12 seasons people have been looking into the camera and
expressing silly things designed for teeny-boppers. When they complain how
they're being insulted behind their backs, they are complaining to the very
producers who encourage this in the first place. That's how inane the show
really is. It should come as no surprise, then, that the formula needs a
little more shock value to keep the franchise going.
At MTV.com, a female cast member bizarrely named Irulan sums up
the whole series this way: "This is the true story of seven dirty-ass birds
picked to lush it up in a casino, completely lose their work ethics, have
their most embarrassing moments taped, and find out what happens when
cirrhosis of the liver sets in ... and (people) continue to drink."
Devotees of "The Real World" know the drill. Seven young people
are put together in a fancy location -- in this case, a Vegas hotel -- and
are monitored electronically at all times of the day in the hopes of
capturing a very formulaic "reality" -- fighting, gossiping, crying,
drinking, dancing and what the network calls "sexploration." Fans can cruise
the MTV Web site and keep up on the canoodlings in a weekly "Hookup Report,"
complete with a "Hookup Photo Flip-Book."
The hookup "highlight" of this series came in Episode 3, during
which two girls and a guy shared indiscriminate fondling in a hot tub.
Should this spectacle seem a little irresponsible, not to worry, MTV's
hookup reporter demands that careless sex be accompanied by a condom: "No
glove, no love -- live it!" Condom promoters like the Kaiser Family
Foundation will still be aghast, as two of the hot tubbers, cast members
Steven and Trishelle, regularly play around without "protection."
This season, the show is aggressively expanding the boundaries
of its camera work. A few years ago, in Miami, a shower with male and female
roommates was presented from outside the shower. Now, we're inside with the
camera regularly focusing on cast members in multiple settings of pixilated
nudity. The dialog also has been ratcheted up. The cast's black male, Alton,
recently was all the talk of the program over the impressive size of his
private parts. Even Entertainment Weekly, in its weekly roundup of
commentary on the show, found it "shocking to hear such frank conversation
about a reality star's package."
That's not to say that "Real World" honchos Mary-Ellis Bunim and
Jonathan Murray aren't on the march with their usual doses of political
correctness. Alton is designated as this season's poor schmuck desperately
in need of treatment for his "homophobia." The cast does include its usual
(at least by comparison) straight arrow. This time out, it's Frank, who
wants to meet a nice girl and settle down. That means viewers don't see a
whole lot of Frank. Interestingly enough, with all the boozy hot tubbing you
almost forget that this season doesn't feature an openly gay cast member to
campaign against religious phobias, although other seasons have
overcompensated with two.
The show also features that which makes it the easiest to
satirize -- its overdramatic fights over next to nothing. In one recent
episode, former hot tub partners Brynn and Steven nearly came to blows after
she threw a fork at him, after which Steven wanted Brynn thrown off the
show, since violence is against the rules. What commenced was nearly a
half-hour of boo-hooing, for there's no greater terror to these
self-absorbed camera-kissers than the prospect of being knocked off
The franchise is in no danger of dissolving. In fact, it's
headed to the movie theatre next summer with "The Real Spring Break." At
what point does this deliberate attempt to line corporate pockets by
corrupting impressionable young ones constitute child abuse?