Photo Credit: MTV
I know what you’re thinking. How can I even start to defend The Real World, that bastion of inane, clearly-calculated twenty-something “reality show” that centers around hot tub hook-ups and made-for-TV dramas?
But it’s true. I think the show – which premieres its 24th season, set in New Orleans, tonight on MTV, still has cultural relevance. Because when you think about it, MTV’s fishbowl experiment, perhaps the reality show in its earliest form, was groundbreaking television. And despite the rep it has earned over the years as a train wreck disaster, it still manages cultural relevance today.
I mean, just take a look at this quick rundown of the show’s many TV firsts or forerunners.
-The very first season, in 1992, opened up an interesting take on race relations when housemates Kevin Powell and Julie Gentry faced off. Powell later became a scholar who wrote on the subject and eventually ran for Congress in Brooklyn, New York.
-In the second season of the show, set in Los Angeles, castmember Tami Roman decided to undergo an abortion and discussed the aftermath with her roommates, including the very Christian Jon Brennan, who tried to understand her perspective and also share his.
-Recall Pedro Zamora, the Cuban-American gay rights activist who put a human face on the AIDS epidemic during the San Francisco season of the show in 1994. Zamora was later lauded by then President Bill Clinton, who said that because of his activism, no one in America could say they didn’t know someone with AIDS.
-In 1999,Real World: Hawaii castmate Ruthie Alcaide came out on national TV before nearly getting kicked off the show for alcohol abuse. In the decade since, she’s spoken out at college campuses nationwide about sexuality and substance abuse.
-In the 2008 season, set in Brooklyn, The Real World offered up two slices of life. Katelynn Cusanelli, a transgendered woman, talked about her experiences undergoing gender reassignment surgery and living life as a transgendered person. Meanwhile, Army vet Ryan Conklin, who spent more than three years serving in Iraq, learned during the show that he was being recalled to active duty. He also talked about his bout with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder since returning from war.
For every threesome in a hot tub, there is a truly relevant Real World moment – and one can only hope that with season 24 -- which premieres tonight at 10 p.m. on MTV – the show’s producers continue on the path they picked up again with the Brooklyn cast. Considering the location and the post-Katrina rehabilitation that’s still being done in New Orleans, the show is ripe with opportunities to do just that. And it might be worth tuning in tonight to check it out.
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