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June 19, 2003

depends on your definition of "real"

Posted by Phil on June 19, 2003 4:11 PM

My wife and I work in publishing, and our friend and her colleague Brice is a publishing director for Frommer's travel guides. He is also the cast's boss on the current season of MTV's "The Real World." Which means we have to watch it, even though watchers of the show (guilty, your honor) will know that its editors keep the cast's "job" in a distant back seat behind booze, sex, and cat fights.

But since I have to watch it, and since Mike hasn't jerked my leash yet, and since life isn't all rage and tediously reasoned political analysis, I thought I'd provide sporadic summaries and analysis until I get bored or the complaints pile up. So click below for...

OK, I'm somewhat loathe to do this, but here's a link to The Real World: Paris homepage, so I don't have to waste time providing bios on the cast. If you get curious as we go along, go there. (There's loads of hot pix!)

So, by way of propers, Real World has been a guilty pleasure/compulsion of mine for awhile (one for which I suffer much scorn from my wife, Cindy). But this season we have to watch--and we get what seems like the most callow, shallow cast yet. I have to wonder if they intentionally picked the dumbest Americans to send to France thinking it would make for what show-biz types call "great television." Our friend Brice is supposed to supervise their assembly of a hipster's travel guide to Paris, and that's why we're watching.

The only thing compelling about "Ace," the partying rube who's made willful ignorance central to his image, is the presumed universal appeal of his down-home charisma. (Is MTV trading in political metaphors?) He owns a string of bars! (And his mother died.) His lost-puppy bewilderment when required to demonstrate internal conflict over being confronted with the open lust of not one but two genuine babes while a third waits at home is cute, if disingenuous. (But his mother died.) Beneath his backwards ballcap, his attic-window eyes show the gears of his mind contemplating a) How next to draw himself and everyone else into the intoxication that excuses everything, and b) How to slide off-camera and get busy. A plan determined, he gets in-character as everybody's favorite wacky guy! "Limbo party"! (Remember, his mother died.) And then, eyes wide with fright, his affected bravado failing to hide that his frat-boy insouciance has vanished, he announces at the first editorial meeting that he doesn't like Paris, doesn't like the French, and is "an American true and true." Or was the Georgian consciously adopting a Brooklyn accent--"t'roo and t'roo"--as a post-modern homage to the "Yankee G.I. in France" archetype? Discuss.

Much more interesting is "Mallory," whose mother has expressed concern that this sojourn may not be part of God's plan for her, and who is acting out before our eyes the classic Jerry Lee Lewis internal conflict between idealized moral purity and the downward pull of the flesh: Incapable of believing these are not mutually exclusive--if you're not following Jesus, you're following the Devil--she swings between extremes of high morality and complete abandon. In other words, she gets calculatingly DRU-UNK, and when she gets DRU-UNK: ANYTHING GOES! No longer responsible for herself or her behavior, because she has been told and believes that it's all or nothing, she drinks to high excess, makes out with boys, loses her purse: Comes completely undone. How could she do otherwise? Her mother tells her SHE IS NOT STRONG ENOUGH to handle temptation. The next day, in a wild fugue of guilt and self-recrimination, she succumbs with relief to fulfilling her mother's prophecy: "I deserve to be exposed." She's a bad, bad girl. Hey, honey: Just try stopping at two or three, and keep a grip on yourself. There's only a devil in the bottle if you believe in him.

"Adam" has some intellectual promise, but his means of personal expression seems confined to jotting down raps (which with his apparent mixed-race background I guess makes him the token minority), and he's clearly in the grip of a chemical imbalance that constantly threatens to send him flying off his tether. If he gets the right meds or determines which number of "Ace's" vodka concoctions is the one to quit on, he may have something to teach his housemates, but ain't no way he's gettin' next to any of the girls.

"Chris" is inarticulate, yet perhaps has more going on mentally than we've seen thus far. The only opportunity to explore his workings was his egg-based interaction with the Vegas diva-in-training "Christina," which he carried off with a refreshingly grounded aplomb. Otherwise, he seems aloof and a bit out of his depth, though he certainly dresses fly.

As for "Christina," she manages to look like the most mature and sophisticated cast member, and it seems likely that, despite her brief play for "Chris," the boys in the cast will prove too young for her. (After her third Cosmopolitan, she probably goes for the 27-year-old stockbroker.) But so far her intellect and character depth are best revealed in two words: boob job.

"Leah" will likely end up being the wise den mother of the bunch. She showed her hand early on and, humbled yet wised-up by her ill-fated tilt at the enigma that is "Ace," she has realized that she's a junior in a dorm full of freshmen. As the weeks progress, she will issue forth like a Greek oracle lessons in responsible drinking, sensible up-hooking, and playin' it off legit the next morning.

"Simon the Irish homosexual" is the most sympathetic and interesting character, mostly because, however smart he is or isn't, he's a European who sees his castmates as the real real world sees them. He will almost certainly fade into the background as he realizes that he shares a house with six living examples of why America is a despised and disrespected global Rottweiler, opting instead to explore alone Paris's bohemain underground. (There will be at least one incident where he will overhear evidence of the American boys' thinly veiled and boorish homophobia.)

See you next week!



Most excellent. I've been a RW watcher ever since the first show aired (and have sat on the couch for more than 5 hours on two occasions watching marathons, I'm ashamed to admit). I look forward to reading your insights further. Thanks for keeping me amused.


Posted by: Mikal B at June 19, 2003 6:28 PM