Calling All Freaks

MiMi Yeh

I spent most of last week mulling over reality television. Not the deep philosophical meaning, just how to treat it in an article. Reality television has been despised and revered, reviled as heralding the degradation of society and hailed as a new equalizer. But it’s been done. I had the chance to interview Cameran, Randy, and Ace of “The Real World, Paris” during their store visit promoting Sprint PCS, but I didn’t. Since I was scheduled for dinner with them on Saturday, February 7 at Brother Jimmy’s in Harvard Square, I decided to do just what the rest of the public had done: sit back and watch.

Having been to Avalon the previous evening, I expected a Saturday night in a bar to be no different than a Friday night at a club. When there’s alcohol flowing and twenty-somethings of either sex dressed stylishly and scantily, I didn’t think there would be much of a difference. Besides, having watched a fair amount of reality television before it lost its charm, I wouldn’t have been shocked to see antics involving body parts, booze, general brainlessness, and an arrest or three.

What I got, however, was a normal crowd of people dining together. There was no lack of alcohol but it wasn’t being forced upon us. The conversation was mundane in the sense that we didn’t discuss sex with circus midgets or stop by a hot tub for a quick threesome. In fact, the liveliest debate stemmed from whether Cameran or Ace had more of a “country” accent, both being from the South. If I was expecting a combination of Hugh Hefner, Attila the Hun, Groucho Marx or some other fitting character for “The Real World” cast, it was not to be found among this disappointingly normal group.

Compared to the meat market at Avalon where I watched kids dancing wildly out of beat even when there was a pause in the music and tongues running along any exposed flesh, this was a Chuck E. Cheese kiddy birthday party. Ace, who was seated at the far end of the table, managed to construct a three-foot-long straw to get to a drink at the opposite end, using ingenuity that is to be expected when alcohol is involved. Randy strolled in casually, an hour late, and took his seat at the head of the table. Cameran flirted with and smiled at various male fans. It was the people seated across from me who ended up drunk, waving their arms in the air, and singing out of tune. Most of the time, it was too loud to get a word in edgewise unless you were planted cheek to cheek with your neighbor.

The only difference between the reality trio and the rest of the crowd was that people were asking for their pictures, autographs, and greeting them with a “hello.”

They’re individuals who have moved on to make a certain success out of a persona marketed for television but whose actual personalities would fail to impress many viewers. They’re neither good nor bad, just bland, proving that editing means everything. They made the cut and gave the viewers what they wanted, keeping the networks in ratings. They’re derided as media whores but how many of us wouldn’t go on “The Gauntlet” if it meant the opportunity for a slice of a $100,000 pie or chances at further promotional rewards?

When you subtract fame from the equation, what other enticement can reality television offer? The answer: money. Granted, the financial component is only one aspect, but a driving one in a society that values competitiveness, innovation, and the self-made. These kids have managed to appeal to the widest demographic and maintain the show’s popularity. It’s hard to find fault with that. With graduation and student loans looming ahead for some, suddenly it doesn’t look so bad. does it? If the ink is thick and red on the pile of bills in your mailbox, how disdainful are you going to be? They have to be paid somehow. Unfortunately, that’s reality.