reality (m)tv

In a few weeks, the story of “seven [new] strangers picked to live in a house and have their lives taped” will begin being told in weekly installments on MTV’s The Real World: Hollywood. Hollywood is the 20th season of The Real World and it will premiere on Wednesday, April 16th at 9:00pm CT. But before season twenty begins, MTV will celebrate the history of the show with the first ever Real Word Awards Bash, airing this Wednesday, April 2nd at 9:00pm CT.

mtv-logosvg.pngThe awards show will bring together cast members from all 19 seasons to share what they’re up to today and find out what moments, individuals and seasons the voting viewers thought were most memorable. Just like the show being celebrated, many of the award categories will highlight behavior and perspectives that are far from what I would consider wholesome (like “steamiest scene,” “biggest playa” and “best fight”) but for viewers like me who have been watching The Real World since (or at least near) the beginning, the show has always been about more than sex and shenanigans…it’s been a window into the lives and relationships of regular people and an opportunity to watch them “do life” together.

Since the first group of strangers lived together in 1992 (New York), each season of The Real World has been like a time capsule of what is cool at that time in history (fashion, music, technology, cars, home decor and more) and the diverse cast members have represented the pulse of young people living in the realities of the day, as they dealt with and discussed issues that viewers of all ages could relate to (racism, sexuality/homophobia, addiction and even faith).

The Real World was ahead of it’s time, forging the path for reality TV as we know it.” – MTV.com

Created and produced by Mary-Ellis Bunim and Jonathan Murray, The Real World is MTV’s longest running show and is most likely the first American reality show. Today, nearly sixteen years after the first episode of The Real World aired, MTV (as well as most other networks) has several reality shows in its lineup. Among MTV’s menu of shows depicting the “real” world, one of the most popular is The Hills, which is the spin-off/continuation of Laguna Beach (which was MTV’s response to The OC, since it followed the lives of teens living in California’s Orange County). As if an awards show and a new season of The Real World isn’t exciting enough for MTV reality fans, the third season of The Hills started last week and new episodes will be airing on Mondays at 8:00pm CT. This is especially good news since season three of Rob & Big is almost over.

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Farewell to Real World Sydney

In case you missed it, tonight was the season finale for The Real World Sydney. It was a roller-coaster episode of typical Real World drama, complete with roommates saying hurtful things to/about each other (including things like “I don’t care if I never talk to you again after we leave”) and then — less than an hour of TV time later — they were all crying and hugging each other before they left the house for the last time; exchanging I love you‘s and promising to call each other and possibly even hang out when they got home. They only lived together for four months and they had cameras crews following them and taping nearly everything they did the entire time (and let’s not forget they’re wearing microphones with battery packs with the exception of when they’re in bed or in the shower, but even then there are mics built into the house to make sure anything that’s said is picked up, and in case it’s not, it’s sure to be deciphered by someone and translated into subtitles). There’s just nothing about the situation that is Real, yet at the end of each season the housemates act like they’ve become best friends during the experience…what’s wrong with them? and at the end of each season I get kinda sad because I feel like I’m losing seven new friends…what’s wrong with me?

The Hills: real-ity TV?

Sorry if I’m a bit behind in passing on this story, but apparently The Hills–MTV’s spinoff of Laguna Beach that follows rich young adults as they live (and work?) in LA’s Hollywood hills–has been facing a lot of controversy recently about whether or not it is really “reality” television. I know I know, it’d be a huge shocker to anyone who has ever watched Lauren’s glamorous life or observed Heidi and Spencer’s ridiculous relationship to find out it they were acting, but those are the rumors. Anyway, check out this interview from Best Week Ever with a guy who went on a date with Lauren in an episode earlier this season (it’s the guy she took to Brody’s beach house party); he was incredibly honest in the interview (about Lauren, Brody, and the show in general), it’s really interesting stuff. Lauren has never specifically responded to the interview (that I know of), but she did comment on the rumors that The Hills is scripted in Us Magazine (there is even a viewer poll on the question, “Do you think the show is real or fake?”).

A lot of people watch shows like The Hills and its MTV counterpart Real World (the original reality show) and they’re not all teenagers. I watch both shows every week and so do several other people I know who are older than the shows characters, yet I think I watch them from a different perspective than most. To say I don’t view them as entertainment would be a lie, but I also watch them as a cultural or societal study; seeking to discover how the shows connect with viewers in real ways, as if watching an episode of The Hills has the ability to meet a person’s needs on some level or help them make sense of life and has a potentially scary way of shaping how we make meaning. If I am truthful, I cannot claim that watching these shows is always part of my social/cultural “experiment,” but I do like to think of it as homework for the masters degree I am currently pursuing in the areas of “Theology & Pop-Culture.” It’s from a theological perspective that I attempt to observe culture, and when considering shows like The Hills I am lead to ask several difficult questions, like, Why do we watch these shows? What is so fascinating about Lauren and her friend’s lives that we care so much if they are real or scripted? Are we jealous of how they’re living? Is it perhaps just some strange way for us to “experience” what it would be like to be young, rich and beautiful living in Hollywood? Why do I watch The Hills every week (with my roommate) and get so wrapped up in the story lines (e.g., why do I get so frustrated by Spencer?). These are all interesting questions and I’m not sure I have any answers, but shows like The Hills are very popular right now and even though it probably won’t be a show for very much longer, I’m sure it will be replaced by something else that will appeal to people in the same ways (MTV seems to know what it is that we are looking for and they give us just enough of it to keep us coming back for more every week).

For anyone who is interested, MTV is airing a two-hour special this Sunday (December 8 at 5:00pm central) called “Lauren Looks Back,” following Lauren from her high school days in Laguna as “LC” to her fashion career in Los Angeles today. My DVR is already set.