Jeff Gordiner tries to tease out the societal impact of The Real World in Details this month, and he mostly succeeds. I'm all for affixing big ideas onto shallow pop culture, the bigger and more out-there the better. Gordiner says that this reality show most in need of disinfectant "ushered in a New America"! One in which we not only navel gaze, but navel videotape and broadcast. Remember that little Real Real World book that came out a number of years ago? That was an early Facebook, he says! All the mundane and inane aspects of people's lives suddenly take on import, simply by being there, available for consumption. That sounds pretty accurate. We care about some pretty meaningless shit these days. But what he doesn't get into, and I wish he would, is how performative the cast members have become, how the show has ceased to be reality and now exists somewhere between fact and fiction, between a low budget documentary and community theatre.
The show isn't staged the way The Hills is; it's not that sly or calculated. Rather the falseness is self-generated by the seven strangers, seemingly unhindered by the extreme producer prodding that Lauren, Heidi, and crew are faced with. And these yokels have good reason to ham it up: a potentially years-long career on various Challenge shows awaits them; the bigger their stupid personality, the better. I think that's all tied up in Gordiner's idea of the "New America" that the Real World has been gurgling about. A place where debasing oneself is not just possible, but a sacred rite of passage. Though, I don't want to be all Joan Collins about this. America isn't by definition stupid. The stupid one is the second country, the New America. The New America that lives in our TVs and glows and flashes and does sad sexy dances, all trying to convince us that it's all real, that evolution has knelt down and is just going to take a nap for awhile. Sometimes I believe it, but mostly I don't. Nah, the Real World hasn't changed our country, it's simply created a gross, distorted copy. Thankfully it's behind glass (or whatever that is on plasma TVs) and can't reach out and grab us. For now.