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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

A Day Out In the Life of The Real World

From left to right
Jenn Solomon, Mathew Torbit, UMB Student Casla Lampkin-Jones, Shay Milkouski, and Rick Shreck.
From left to right

One of the main rites of passage for those of us who are Generation X and younger is watching The Real World and the slightly less popular Road Rules. Who could forget Theo slapping Irene, Ruthie’s alcoholism, or Julie’s struggles with her Mormon values? What I fail to understand is, what is it that is so fascinating about other people working, paying bills, fighting with friends and lovers, and indulging in their vices or hobbies. Welcome to the enigma that we call reality television.

Why would you want to expose all of your private foibles, fantasies, and false fronts? Why is it more interesting watching someone else screw up their life when you’ve done many of the same things? Whether it’s morality or macaroni, no subject is too dull for MTV’s model society to talk about.

With offers of a rent-free, cool house, cushy job, and exotic trip, who wouldn’t want to do it, right? The only catches: you have to share this house with six other strangers and you’ve signed up for twenty-four hour exposure. Whether it’s bodily functions or bodily fluid exchanges with either sex, you’re sharing everything with the camera. After a few thousand hours of footage are shot about every aspect of your life, your personality is distilled and encapsulated into eleven and a half hours worth of footage for the general public to decide whether you should be deified or crucified. No pressure, still want to sign up?

Surprisingly, most people still do, if the line stretching around the block from The Rack, where open casting auditions for The Real World Paris and Road Rules were held, is any indication. These are the folks who will bare it all.

Originally, I was assigned this story with the directive “go, try out and see if you can get in”. Sadly, I missed my chance to toss self-respect to the winds and commercially whore myself to the television industry, or so I thought. I watched The Real World with the same morbid fascination like everyone else, but generally held a low opinion of most of the people who did it. Maybe I’m a snob, but I never thought much of people who feel proud to parade their personal neuroses in the name of fame and fortune.

Another bone of contention: it’s not even real. I, like the rest of the population, assumed that the fights were engineered. I mean, anyone with common sense wouldn’t think to put someone with semi-racist views in the same room as those he might or might not discriminate against right? Again, this is all part of experiment.

These are only a few of the thoughts I had running through my little head as I made my way over to the line to find out what possessed these people to play virtual show and tell. What I got was not what I expected. Initially, I figured I would get the star-struck, media-obsessed types who would lie and/or sell their own grandmother for the wealth of opportunities MTV had to offer. Once again, I was reminded that there are indeed two sides to every story.

Instead of drooling maniacs, what I got were…people. Just kids between the ages of 18 and 24 (like the show specified). Although there was the odd personality disorder here and there, most of them were there with the belief that they each had a story to tell or something to add. Some were marketing themselves, aiming for future careers, or just there because they wanted to be on television. The only thing they all had in common was their complete lack of fear of the backlash of public opinion, and an innate openness that you wouldn’t normally encounter.

For the hell of it I figured, at the suggestion of the people in line, that I’d try to get a word with whoever was running the show to find out who, what, how, and, most of all, why. Not only did they let me in, but I was allowed to speak with Tracy Chaplin, the producer of The Real World, sit in on the group interviews, and see a few of those who made the cut.

In talking with Chaplin, I was able to speak of my prejudices and preconceptions. I told him flat out that I believed people edited themselves. As to the kinds of people they choose, “There’s no real formula to the show other than we really look for people who can’t help but be themselves. Because it is such an invasive process, we need people who don’t have a strong filter. You really have to be able to put everything on the line. You and I would have a hard time living our lives in front of a camera and most people tend to become more introverted.”

Chaplin describes this as one big experiment, where seven different personalities are put together to see what will happen. There is no plan, they merely film people and document their relations, lives, conflicts, and thoughts. It is the minds in the story department that decide who and what goes into a half-hour episode out of the many hours of footage they have.

The executive producers of The Real World and Road Rules, Mary Ellis-Bunim and Jonathan Murray both have backgrounds in soap opera and news documentaries respectively that helped to influence their idea for a reality based dramatic show.

Sitting in on the strenuous process of selection was informative as well. The so-called “beautiful people” weren’t always chosen; after viewing two or three consecutive round-table discussions with an interviewer and groups of eight or twelve people, I started to understand just what they meant by genuine. The questions ran the gamut of “what is the worst thing you’ve ever done that you’ve never told your parents” to “what would you do if you got to go to Paris”. I saw plenty of backstabbing, friendships forming between those who met during the process, heard scandalous secrets, and learned that, no matter what your age, you always worry about what your parents will think. Those who were picked were those who had a story to tell and a presence to add.

For the few that are chosen out of the thousand that were interviewed, there will be follow-ups in the form of an hour-long phone call and a fifteen page application to fill out asking for even more detailed information than the single page. After that, people meet face to face for more in-depth probing before the final seven are chosen in December.

They are poked at, prodded, screened, and examined until the only people are left are those who are themselves. The casting crew works hard in the screening process in order to be true to the idea of behind reality television. I could go on for a while longer on just what I saw, but what it boils down to is that these people are real.

About the Contributor
MiMi Yeh served as arts editor for The Mass Media the following years: 2001-2002; *2002-2003; 2003-2004 *Evan Sicuranza served as arts editor for Fall 2002 Disclaimer: Years served is based on online database and may not detail entire service.