GW at the millennium: Looking for friends in `The Real World’

In the beginning, there were Julie and Eric, a docile Alabama dancer and a buff New Jersey thug aspiring to be a model. The television gods at Bunim-Murray Productions plucked them from obscurity, set them up in a spacious (but austere by later seasons’ standards) New York loft and proclaimed that their sappy country-mouse and city-mouse chemistry was good.

The producers blessed the couple by tossing five other strangers into their groundbreaking, TV-verit? fishbowl, pumped up the hip-hop soundtrack and proclaimed themselves the creators of a new world: The Real World – New York.

New York begat a slew of bastard casts, each living it up in stylish cities around the country, brawling, bickering and bemoaning before the omnipresent cameras in their very important lives. Yet even as the cast members whimpered though their seasons, warping into jaded shadows of their formerly feisty selves, the fans, at least, were fruitful and multiplied.

This is the true story of the MTV docu-soap fans say they love to loathe. They watch it religiously, critique it to minutia, decide it’s all absolutely ridiculous and beg for more.

I can say I’m an addict, sophomore Ariel Gibbons said. I can acknowledge it’s bad for me.

Despite its often mind-numbing content, or perhaps because of it, she said the show always entertains. In the past eight seasons, there have been love triangles, messy secrets, one death and too much bawling to mention. But what many fans say they long for are the inter-character hissy-fits-turned-blow-outs for which the show is famous. Long before Jerry Springer, it was The Real World that made screaming matches a valid form of interpersonal contact – or at least on television.

There is a danger, says Gibbons. People might start to believe things really are this way in the world.

Whether the show represents even a small reflection of today’s young adults is its own debate. The cast members, selected from thousands of hopefuls every year, tend to be hyper-eccentric, stereotypical or just plain beautiful. Few appear to have much direction in their lives beyond achieving the neo-American dream, fame and fortune for free (at the expense of MTV).

The characters’ self-induced drama make or break the show, now MTV’s highest-rated series. The most successful seasons, like the recent one in Hawaii, presented more than their share of bad behavior. The eighth cast’s island antics included an alcohol-induced near-death and the first on-screen coupling between characters in the show’s history.

I just like to see what will happen next with these people, sophomore Vikram Bakhru said. When the season was over, I was really sad. Even if it’s manipulated, there is still something real about it.

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