As anyone who follows me on Twitter will remember, I recently dug out a VHS tape of Real World Boston episodes and gave it a watch. The tape itself is from MTV’s late-2000 celebration of itself, “best of MTV.” I remember seeing that one of my all time favorite seasons was being run as a marathon, so I popped a tape in, hit record and went about my business for the day. The season itself aired in 1997, so it was a strange and interesting double time capsule between the fashions and ideals of the mid 90s and the commercials of the 00. The only bummer was that, just as we were about to get to the episodes where Montana got fired from their tutoring job, the tape cut out!
I realized how influential this season was on me while watching the dozen or so episodes I captured. The previous year’s Miami season was probably the first I ever watched all the way through. I wasn’t supposed to watch MTV because my parents said that rap videos objectified women. I figured since I wasn’t watching those videos, it was okay that I was watching a series dealing with pre-marital sex, substance abuse, sexuality, relationship parameters, race issues and the idea of self examination. Okay, I didn’t really think any of that. I’m sure there was an element of “I’m not supposed to be doing this” but I also just liked the people.
You had Elka the religious girl learning about the world outside of her dad’s influence, Genesis the closed off lesbian, Kameelah the strong black woman with far too many expectations for the men in her life, all-American boy Sean, ladies man Syrus, open-minded and unfaithful Montana and introspective Jason. I wanted to surround myself with people like this and basically wanted to be Jason. I’ve succeeded here and there.
I credit this particular season for advancing a lot of my views on social issues. I don’t know if at 14 I had really thought about homosexuality or race relations in the modern age or the complexities of romantic relationships, but I’m sure I did afterwards. It’s not like these topics were taboo with my parents, I just don’t think we’d gotten there yet, you know? Besides, experiencing these things through cool older kids is way more interesting than your parents, right?
And I think that’s what the importance of a show like Real World is: broadening horizons. I guess this can be done by watching any number of reality shows, but it seems like the personalities selected for such things are chosen more for their explosive potential than their emotional potential. It’s too bad because the original reality show could show some real initiative and originality by just going back to doing things the way they used to.