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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?
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!
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. I 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.