Wednesday, March 1, 2006

The Triumph of Simulacra: The Real World Turns 17

The Real World, MTV's pioneer reality show wherein, season after season, a half dozen or so young people fulfilling various stereotypes--the poet, the slut, the gay guy, the sensible minority member, the capitalist, the alkie--are given plush digs for six months, financial stipends, and are filmed as they flail about
in multi-tasking demonstrations of self-seeking, enters it's seventeenth season this year , and all I can think about is the seemingly irreversible atrophy of our collective common sense and good will. Barnum famously (and perhaps allegedly) remarked that no one lost money underestimating the intelligence of the American people, and by extension MTV hasn't lost a dime producing The Real World. It was a neat trick with their variation, which was pawning stupid teens and young adults as objects of entertainment, and it's even a neater trick that they've been able to sell their demographic the same sack of crap for seventeen years. The conceit with the show is that audience derives the simple and pure sense of superiority over a house full of stereotypically shallow, vain,
whining and rudderless gatherings of unmotivated youth, a tawdry distinction that enables them to watch the episodic disasters with a smug remove. This
underscores the audience's willingness to settle for less and accept fathomless half hours of moping and doping as entertainment, some even going to the extent of discussing the events as if the ongoing seasons of selfish bad faith are instructive of some higher point. It's the willfully dumb watching the willfully numb, and it's the kind of convoluted narcissism, that view of the very familiar, that brings audiences back again and again and allows MTV to sell back a downgraded version of their lives at top dollar.

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