Pop Torture: The Real World Season 1

In honor of The Real World: Las Vegas, I revisited the season where it all began.

By Lina Canney

I was lounging on my couch last weekend when I saw the trailer for The Real World: Season 25. I had two thoughts: first of all, holy shit — twenty-five seasons of this? And second of all, what the hell happened to it? The one-minute-fifty-eight-second-long trailer manages to squeeze in shots of stripper poles, girls making out, hot-tub make-out sessions, grinding, more making-out in bed, three more shots of make-outs, wall-punching, a possible sex tape, and a maid cleaning the apartment in a bikini.

Now, I watch The Jersey Shore with as much guilt and as much pleasure as the next girl, but that doesn't mean I want The Real World to become its clone. Wasn't The Real World once kind of a serious TV show? What happened to the days when The Real World was about real people with real issues — like Pedro, an openly gay man with HIV who actually got married on television in 1994? Was I remembering correctly?

Instantly, 1992 exploded all over my face.

My editors wanted me to find out, but with the new season premiering this week, it had to be fast. They proposed I test my theory by watching the entire first season of The Real World in one day. I accepted, feeling curious and a little cocky. I once watched twelve hours of Lost back-to-back, with no editorial mandate spurring me on. Marathoning The Real World would be child's play.

9:53 a.m. - Episodes 1-3

Ah, the first utterance of the famous intro: "This is the true story of seven strangers..." I curled up on my couch, pulled a blanket over me and waited for the joy. Instantly, 1992 exploded all over my face. I forgot over-sized khakis and baggy turtlenecks weren't always accidents; sometimes they were fashionable choices for ladies. In the first episode, we meet the cast: Julie is a wide-eyed nineteen-year old from Alabama, Heather B. is a black rapper from Brooklyn, Andre is a musician with terrible, flowing grunge hair, Norman's a gay painter, Becky's a musician, Erik is a model, and Kevin is a black poet. Good to see that The Real World got their cast formula figured out early — though it's interesting that they're all creative types. They're also all way older — the average age is probably twenty-five, whereas nowadays cast members have just graduated from high school.

Right off the bat, we're into the serious stuff: Julie, did you have to ask the one black woman on the show if she was a drug-dealer because she had a beeper? (Also, beepers!) Jokes aside, there's an amazing amount of candor around race. Who today would admit their father doesn't like black people? Julie does! So far, I'm really impressed: in the first ten minutes they're calmly discussing race, and Kevin the black poet says, "A large part of my history was denied from me" — to which Julie the naïve nineteen-year-old replies, "Your history is my history." Heady!

This must be the most intensive documentation of mundane shit ever.

The second episode brings a flirtation — Erik shows Julie how to eat pasta, very Lady and the Tramp — but otherwise, it's low-key to the point of boring. Heather's rapping in the studio, Julie's twirling around in a dance class. This is unbelievably PG so far: the roommates are literally having water-gun fights. I'm about two hours in and no one's gotten wasted, made out, or fought yet. In fact, they're currently at a roller-rink. Julie does call her brother and say, "I went skating today. There were a lot of homosexuals there." Again I'm impressed by how different this show is from what it’s become now. The roommates go to art openings. don't even really do that. 

The third episode is called "Tempers Flare." "Thank God!" I think. But the titular incident is a real let-down: all the roommates come into Kevin's room and jump into bed with him while he's trying to sleep. Scandal! In the confessional, he looks quietly at the ceiling and says, "Yeah, I was pissed." Imagine what would've happened on Jersey Shore.

1:56 p.m. - Episodes 4-8

My initial excitement about Season 1's documentary realism is waning. All these people do is argue in very respectful, tame ways, and talk about race, also in respectful, tame ways. I'm all for calm discussions about race, but watching four hours of them back-to-back is starting to get to me. Also, my ass hurts. I've been fantasizing about what to eat for lunch for the last two hours. That's how you know things are slow. I'm on a diet, so I order an egg-white veggie-scramble wrap. It seems unfair that I have to pay for it when it arrives.

Back in a world that is potentially even more boring than my own life, Julie is completely scandalized because Kevin has forgotten the name of someone he's slept with. They're having a snowball fight. They're shopping for their family dinner, a Mexican fiesta! Erik is just staring at the shelves saying: "Tuna! Beets! Cheese!" Erik is pissed because Norman ate a Twinkie right before dinner; it's the closest we’ve gotten to an argument in two hours. This must be the most intensive documentation of mundane shit ever.

Commentarium (19 Comments)

Mar 11 11 - 9:38am

It is turning into the Jersey Shore. Everything is turning into the Jersey Shore. We are all Snooki now...

Mar 15 11 - 10:43pm


Mar 11 11 - 9:40am

I like this series - you guys should read the Sandra Lee one too if you liked this, it's hilarious

Mar 29 11 - 9:16pm

That article is what got me hooked on this site actually

Mar 11 11 - 11:16am

oh man, remember the days when bitch was a bad word?
overall, very interesting analysis of a more wholesome time.
can you do this with all 25 seasons or at least until the pop torture is truly unbearable?

Mar 11 11 - 12:46pm

Gawd, I remember when that show was groundbreaking and awesome, and the people were actually, literally real and not just a bunch of dramatic, sex crazed, drunken college students.

Of course, the same could be said for MTV as a whole. It used to mean something, it used to be revolutionary. Not so anymore.

Mar 11 11 - 6:08pm

Revolutionary? Now, now.

Mar 11 11 - 8:24pm
Edward SF

Real World Season 2 was light years from Season 1. The producers and crew learned alot from the first season. The writer should have compared Season 2 to Season 25.

Mar 12 11 - 1:03am

Yes, the cast and crew learned a lot after Season 1 -- the cast realized they were nearly always being filmed, that MTV would do what they wished with the footage, and how to try to avoid the cameras (e.g., Season 2 Beth having sex in a closet) and the crew learned how not to miss pivotal moments (e.g., night vision cameras in the bedroom; see Cara in the Chicago season). (Yet, they did still miss Brynn throwing the fork at Stephen.) And by the way, I am so not proud for having these names and situations stuff in my brain. However, I can feel superior in that I've never seen an episode of "Jersey Shore." Yeah, that makes me feel SO much better, ha ha.

Mar 12 11 - 2:14am

I've always kinda had a hatred for The Real World because my family once got so engrossed in a Real World marathon that they pretty much forgot my birthday and then didn't understand when I was upset. But, enough of my own problems.

Reality shows mostly suck, imo, because it is usually a way to make "entertainment" with the least possible cost in production. And, it works, for the most part, because with things like the jersey shore people think "well, I might not be proud of everything I do but at least I am not that trashy." (If I were to make a generalizing statement assuming why people watches jersey shore) If it were more of the people having thoughtful discussions as was in this first season, or at least what the writer said was there, it would be interesting. But, I have those discussions in real life anyways, so I don't need TV for that kind of intellectual stimulation. If I watch television, my usual preference is comedy.

Mar 12 11 - 3:47pm

thanks for writing this article. it further reiterates my firm belief that tv has been on the down-slope and has turned into sex- selling, drug doing stupid teenagers all my own age (give or take ten years mentally) since 1994. thats why i stopped watching the majority of tv around 2006...i do admit my ardent devotion to Maury and the paternity results though...yes hypocritical i know....but at least when i watch maury i know its a step up from jerry springer and more real than jersey shore...

Mar 14 11 - 11:54am

TV sucks

Mar 14 11 - 10:03pm

haha.. loved the part "Yep, she's still pretty", been there many times...

Apr 13 11 - 3:28am

well if that picture isn't 90's fashion at its finest...

Jul 22 11 - 2:20am

You're the getarest! JMHO

Jul 22 11 - 9:15am

Help, I've been informed and I can't become ignrnaot.

Jul 22 11 - 11:02am

You're the one with the brains here. I'm wtaching for your posts.

Sep 02 11 - 9:39pm

TV is Poison"madonnAquote1999

Jan 26 12 - 9:13pm

I remember watching season one, every episode. Fascinated by the "drama" and "conflict" that as been stated in the article, is by today's measure tame and boring. I was born in the mid 1970's and for me, I cannot stand to watch half of the shows that are on TV today. Naked young girls puking, guys using words as "whore" and "cunt" like it was going out of fashion. Cat fights, real fights, abusive drinking, sex with anything that moves and so on and so on. I am sorry, but I really think this is not only TV's fault but also a generation lost. People born in the early 1990's seem to be out of touch with reality and the only way to "be someone" is to take your top off on national TV. Where is the education, the passion for social change, the sense of urgency to change injustice? I firmly believe that the reason MTV does not air shows with young people like Season 1 of The Real World, is because these people are not around anymore.