"The Real World" is a reality television show that first broadcasted on MTV in New York in 1992. This show focuses on social relationships and social interactions amongst seven strangers living together. These relationships and interactions are documented and edited into 22 minute episodes. The casts consists of men and women from all walks of life; different racial and ethnic backgrounds, different religious beliefs, different political beliefs and different sexual orientations. In many ways, these individuals are forced to viewed everyday life through different lenses and perspectives, and to gain a knowledgeable understanding through these lenses and perspectives.
Moving into its 21st season next year, "The Real World" gives the viewer or the audience an insightful and in-depth look into how U.S. society's popular culture recreates powerful meanings to individuals and how these meanings are used to define and in some cases, force individuals to conform to society's ideals about them. "The Real World" is taped over an extended number of hours and days, and is edited to document the most entertaining and interesting clips in a 22-minute time slot.
As a result of editing, much of the casts are portrayed in a negative light and are only used for entertainment purposes. This depiction can be applied to pimping and prostitution, in that individuals are used for the sole purpose of producing more money for MTV. The more money in their pocket, the higher the chances and opportunities for them to stay on the air as well as produce other shows. In their book, Ouellette and Hay explain that, "Television, especially in the United States, is not required to do much more than maximize profit...'We have no obligation to make history; we have no obligation to make art; we have no obligation to make a statement; to make money is our only objective". (Ouellette & Hay, 3). This shows the capitalist society in which we leave in.
Unlike its title, "The Real World" in many ways isn't real at all. Some of what is shown is used to boost higher ratings, and to 'put on a show' for the cameras, so to speak. For example, in an online article written about the show regarding a London episode from 1995, it was stated that cast member "Lars Schlichting of the London cast related an anecdote in which roommate Mike Johnson asked a question when cameras were not present, and then asked the same question five minutes later when cameras were present, an incident that Schlichting adds was not typical of Johnson". (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Real_World). Images like this display the power and control that society has over individuals and their lives, and in some ways individuals are forced to conform to society's ideals about them.
There are also some cons regarding "The Real World" as well. One such con is that in displaying many of the clips, viewers are aware of negative consequences that occur as a result of negative behavior. This image can be displayed in a "Real World:Hawaii" episode, in which cast mate Ruthie Alcaide was hospitalized for alcohol poisoning and was temporarily dismissed from the show to treat her alcoholism. Scenes of Ruthie throwing up, her eyes rolling to the back of her head, being unresponsive to calls of her name, paint a vivid picture as to the negative impications and effects of excessive drinking. These scenes could have been used to encourage others to either quit drinking or limit their use of alcohol, and to place a strong emphasis of the seriousness and danger of alcoholism.
'The Real World"in many ways forces us as viewers to formulate our own ideals about individuals, and in some ways forces us to either accept or reject individuals for who they are based on how they are portrayed and how they portray themselves. In order to support this theory, I have chosen to focus on two cast members from different "Real World" episodes, Pedro and Brianna, to show how dominant beliefs about gender are reproduced and challenged in individual episodes, and how these beliefs can formulate our own beliefs about others.
Brianna was a 20-year old exotice dancer from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania from "The Real World:Hollywood" cast. As a result of her occupation, she was viewed as being very sexual and promiscuous, and was often taped wearing skimpy outfits to the clubs, and walking around the house with her bra. In a couple of clips, Brianna was actually shown 'dancing' and 'putting on shows' for her castmates. In one scene during the season, Brianna was brought to tears through a phone conversation with her mother in which her mother denounces her lifestyle and begs her daughter to change her way of living.
Brianna's mother's views are shared along with a majority of society. Society has this desire to place women 'in-a-box', and tries to enforce and apply traditional roles to them. For generation after generation, women played typical housewife roles; cooking, cleaning, being obedient to their husbands. Anything outside of these 'norms' is unacceptable and not condoned. What gives a woman the right to have sex outside of marriage? What gives a woman the right to flaunt her body for money? These questions, along with others, aim to limit women's power and control in society over their lives.
Wolf argues that, "The beauty myth is not about women at all. It is about men's institutions and institutional power". (Wolf, 122). Wolf's analysis shows how even reality TV can create, transform, and change hegemonic/counter-hegemonic understandings. In Brianna's case, the hegemonic understanding what that exotic dancing is not a field women should be, it is not something that a woman should be doing. A woman should be doing other things with her life, rather than flaunt it around men. It is a man's world, and there are certain roles that women should play. Brianna's mother did not overtly say these things, but through her comments and reactions, the message was silently relayed.
Pedro was a 21-year old openly gay, HIV positive male from Havana, Cuba. Upon his arrival, Pedro made his other castmates aware of his sexuality and his illness, and some were receptive and others were not. Pedro was belittled and criticized by one castmate in particular named Puck, and was the focus of repeated homophobic and racists rants by him. Puck called Pedro a "faggot" and criticized his Cuban accent.
Pedro's roommates' hesitation to accept shows that society is unable to accept what is different, unable to accept what is considered 'out of the norm'. Society is afraid of change, afraid of what they don't know, because it goes against everything that they believe in. Anything different poses a threat to tradition. Newman explains that "American culture is heteronormative-that is, a culture where heterosexuality is accepted as the normal taken-for-granted mode of sexual expression. Social institutions and social policies reinforce the belief that sexual relationships ought to exist between males and females. Cultural representations of vrtually every aspect of intimate and family life-dating, sex, marriage, childbearing, and so on-presumes a world in which men are sexually and affectionately attracted to women and women are attracted to men". (Newman, 60). Puck's reaction to Pedro's homosexuality and even his race displays the hegemonic ideology that a white, heterosexual male is the 'ideal man'. Puck reinforces the hegemonic understanding that heterosexuality is right and should be the ideal way of living for everyone, and that homosexuality is wrong and not an open topic for discussion.
Reality TV has the great ability to influence our thoughts, feelings, emotions and ideas about ourselves and about others. It has the power to create/recreate, transform, and change our understanding of the world. Reality TV shapes our views and opinions about others, based on how they are portrayed. We can either accept or reject what seems common or foreign to us based on perceptions. For example, Puck's reaction to Pedro's sexuality could have reinforced someone's homophobic beliefs or it could have created new ones. One may think, "Well, if there's nothing wrong with being gay, then why would someone react like that on national television? Also, if a closeted teen viewed the show, they would have probably been too ashamed, guilty or embarassed to 'come out of the closet' so to speak for fear of the same reaction.
WORKS CITED PAGE
1) Hay, James and Ouellette, Laurie. "Better Living Through Reality TV". USA, 2008.
2) Newman, David, M. "Manufacturing Difference: The Social Construction of Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality". New York: McGraw Hill, (2007):30-70.
3) Wolf, Naomi. 'The Beauty Myth". Gender and Women's Bodies (1991):120-125.