February 22, 2024

It was 1992. Two impressive television producers, Mary-Ellis Bunim and Jonathan Murray, embarked on an experiment to gather seven young people of different backgrounds, races and places, to put them in a Manhattan loft for three months and leave them to the cameras. They called him The Real World, and as the show’s tagline said, it was all about finding out what happens when “people stop being polite and start getting real.” It was a daring sociological experiment that ushered in a new era of reality television.


It was not the first time that an unscripted series chronicling the daily lives of individuals was broadcast. That first happened 19 years ago An American family, the 1973 PBS series The Louds, which followed the comings and goings of a middle-class Santa Barbara family. But The Real World it was groundbreaking because it was the first time a camera was pointed at a diverse group of men and women from across the country who were strangers to each other. It started as a curiosity but became a phenomenon that goes beyond mere entertainment. The Real World Bright — sometimes uncomfortably bright — on issues like race, class, gender and sexuality, redefining water-cooler television. The series educated, informed and created critical conversations. It also became one of MTV’s biggest hits, He has played an incredible 33 seasons in 27 years.

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Although the show was highly influential in its early seasons, it quickly became a victim of its own success, devolving into a trashy spectacle of alcohol-fueled shenanigans, silly catfights and candid voyeurism, losing any premise of its original propriety and grit. such as the way to dispose of future products Keeping up with the Kardashians and The Real Housewives. How, and why, did it all go wrong?

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It was the risky premise that struck “Real World” TV gold

It’s likely that Bunim and Murray didn’t know what they were creating when they assembled the first one The real world throw away In fact, In a 2011 interview, Murray admits, “there was no concept of what (the show) meant. I don’t even know if we used the word ‘reality’; it was just this crazy experiment, so no one had any preconceived notions about what they were doing.” But the couple struck gold with their assembled Gen Xers: a farm girl, a male model, a writer and an activist. , a hip-hop artist, painter, folk singer, and rock guitarist. Their experiences, perceptions, and viewpoints led to frequent clashes, some of which centered on issues such as racism and privilege in America, but this distinct mess between lofts. the partners enjoyed their adventure and were open to the lessons learned along the way. By the time the show ended its 13-episode run, it was clear The Real World It was 30+ minutes of fun about kids hanging out in SoHo; it was a socially relevant video document that reflected some of the country’s most important and sensitive issues.

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‘The Real World’ was a series that constantly explored uncomfortable topics

Image of the real world

MTV moved the action to Los Angeles in Season 2, where viewers watched a cast member struggle with the difficult decision to have an abortion and the housemates dealt with a possible sexual assault on their team. But it was the third season of San Francisco that was arguably the toughest and toughest, as it introduced audiences. Pedro Zamora, an openly gay man living with AIDS. Television viewers have never witnessed the daily obstacles faced by an HIV-positive person, both in terms of their health and their perception and frequent rejection within society. The audience also saw the evolution of Pedro’s relationship with his partner Sean Stasser, including airing the couple’s engagement ceremony, would make same-sex marriage legal in the United States before they turn 21. With the San Francisco season, The Real World became a pioneering series that made television history, Winning the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Documentary Series in 1995

Hello, Miami; Goodbye, Credibility

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Image via MTV

The show began to fade during the 1996 Miami season. The series, in its fifth season, became an international wonder. Participating in the show meant instant fame and the possibility of stardom. The competition for a coveted spot in the series became wild. Being quirky or artistic or overcoming life’s major obstacles wasn’t enough to get noticed by MTV’s casting directors. Now young hopefuls had to be outrageous, bold, shameless or even better – outrageous.

Puck Rainey, the snot rocket-busting bicycle messenger of the San Francisco season, was a polarizing figure, and his appearance on the show raised the stakes for potential future cast members. Enter Flora Alekseyeu, the Sunshine State’s Cruella de Vil, a shameless badass who proudly proclaimed her disdain for people who weren’t physically attractive and rarely passed up the chance to mingle with her roommates. Flora’s presence marked a change in tone The Real World. Audiences were no longer tuning in to witness the journeys of a group of young people brought to life. Instead, viewers clicked remote controls hoping to see that the villains were serious Jerry Springer-style punches, drag fights. What was once a program that offered meaningful insights was now voyeuristic escapism. It didn’t help that the Miami season revolved around a premise where the show’s producers gave housemates money to open a business. This failed trajectory only fostered further discord and dysfunction among the cast.

Despite all the cacophony, Miami’s season was a ratings winner for MTV, so in subsequent seasons, the show continued to feature polarizing personalities in situations that would amplify their abhorrent behavior. Alcohol and partying became the norm for housemates, replacing conversation and reflection. The series’ 12th season in Las Vegas was the true point of no return. Cast members located in the penthouse suite at the Palms Casino and Resort, The Real World became a cross between Lost Weekend and late-night Cinemax-style softcore titillation. The youngsters who managed to land spots on the show scrounged for camera time by amping up their amazing behavior, while crossing their fingers that their awesomeness would guarantee them a spot on a spin-off show. Real world/road rules challenge or a guest appearance on a network sitcom or other growing reality show. In an ironic twist that creators Bunim and Murray probably never anticipated, the groundbreaking series that once disrupted the landscape of television and advanced critical and important issues became a parody of itself, an example of a program famous for becoming everything it is. it was never meant to be.

‘The Real World’ cast reunions highlighted unhealed emotional wounds

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Image via Paramount+

This is not to say The Real World important moments completely abandoned. Season 7, set in Seattle, focused on mental health issues, while Season 9 in New Orleans included a gay actor having a relationship with a closeted service member in the Clinton-era “don’t ask, don’t tell” military policy. , and San Diego’s 26th season featured a cast member living with cystic fibrosis. To a large extent, however, those stories took a back seat to the debauchery, hooking up and, of course, the outbursts of rage that drove audiences in and ratings up. This is unfortunate, as it has become evident in recent times Real world homecoming series of reunions, the impact of some of the more serious themes and events that left lasting wounds on cast members. The season’s housemates assembly in New Orleans was particularly contentious Julie Stoffers arrival sparked deep hurt and resentment among many of his former friends. Things got so uncomfortable housemate Kelley Wolf he left early and packed his bags for home. Even the original cast of New York had a hard time overcoming the controversial debates about race and privilege 29 years earlier. Becky Blasband leaving the attic after he and Kevin Powell they could not solve their problems.

But it was in 2000, when MTV held the first official reunion of the cast from the Miami, Boston, Hawaii and Seattle seasons, that it was clear that bitterness and animosity were still alive. Seattle cast member Irene McGeeby the recipient of a slap Stephen Williams In a Season 7 scene that still shocks me to this day, she didn’t attend this first reunion taping, but cast members let Williams know how they felt about the incident, almost leading to another physical altercation. Over the years, McGee has spoken out about his traumatic experience on the show and its impact on his life. In a 2013 article for Vulture magazine, recounted a deliberate effort by the producers to create tension between the actors. “The environment became so toxic, it was unbearable; everyone was fighting all the time, and these fights led to more fights. I reminded the cast that under normal circumstances we would all get along, but they couldn’t see, or didn’t seem to care, that the producers were putting us in contention.” .

The “real world” eventually gave birth to “Hyperbole TV”.

the hills
Image via MTV

And that is perhaps the main reason The Real Worldits disastrous decline. A program once brave for shedding pretense and artificiality began to manufacture these things, cheating viewers out of a real experience and, even more shamefully, deceiving and emotionally manipulating young people on camera. After the sensationalism and gross exaggeration short-circuited the electricity that ignited the show’s early seasons, producers tried to up the ante with several seasons that played like cheap game shows.

Real World: Ex-Plosionfor example, cast members were surprised by their former romantic partners dumping them, and Real world: skeletons brings up a person from an actor’s past each week, usually one that has caused pain or been part of a scandalous incident. The series tried to return to its roots in 2019 for its final season in Atlanta, but by then, the dead horse had been completely beaten, and The Real World he exited the television landscape with little fanfare or recognition. What it left in its wake, however, was a new culture of what can best be described as “Hyperbole TV,” where viewers are led to believe that what they’re watching is real, and that couldn’t be further from the truth. think Laguna Beach: Real Orange County, the hillsand Vanderpump Rules: unscripted series that claim to be video journals of the lives of a new generation of young and attractive people, but are nothing more than telenovelas in disguise, resplendent with theatrics.

Has it reopened in the topography of television for anything like the original The real world, where posturing is missing and credibility can prevail? It may seem like a no-brainer, but the extraordinary thing about this medium is its ability to continue to amaze, even more so nearly seven decades after the first prime-time network series was delivered to American homes. Hope is eternal, so maybe some savvy creator out there will get back behind the camera and find a way to “start making it real.”

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